Only One Helga Macklewitz
For as long as she could remember, Helga Macklewitz had believed that she was a fairy kitty trapped inside of a human body. When questioned, she would explain with patience and patter, "It’s like a kitty, only with wings, but for some reason, I was born in a human body. I’m used to it, but sometimes I wish they got it right." While other children pored over the mirror for the first signs of a moustache or breasts, she pored over the mirror for whiskers or wings. Like many children, her biology betrayed her, and much to her dismay, she grew into a girl instead of a fairy kitty.
Her parents never disbelieved their daughter; on the contrary, they encouraged her to do whatever was needed to satisfy her identity. Miss Macklewitz, whose full name was now legally Sapphire, even helped her daughter make the first pair of fairy wings out of Saran Wrap and two coat hangers. "Be true to yourself," she advised, her braids bouncing with her nods, "you can make a million friends, but there will always be only one Helga Macklewitz."
A million friends, maybe not, but no one could argue that there was only one Helga Macklewitz. Dressed in her homemade fairy wings and a headband with felt kitty ears attached, she became well-known throughout the school, and a headache for those concerned with the dress code policy. Teachers made unhappy phone calls, but these were not as successful as they hoped. The parents formerly known as Macklewitz were merciless in debate, and they usually ended things with, "Wings? A distraction in class? I’m trying to nurture my child’s sense of self in an environment of numbers and standardized testing, and she can wear a thong, but not a pair of harmless fairy wings? What sort of identity are you trying to push on her? Call me back when you’ve made a decent dress code," and slamming down the receiver.
Of course, action had to be taken eventually, and after a three-hour argument between the principal and them, and then a one-hour argument between them and their daughter, a compromise was reached. At the age of six, Helga Macklewitz adopted the habit of wearing her wings under her clothing. Her parents only persuaded her through the brilliant piece of logic that wings, of fairy kitties or anything else, were attached to one’s back, not one’s clothes. Therefore, to wear them as lumps underneath clothing was not denying that Helga Macklewitz was a fairy kitty; in fact, it was more realistic anyway. Annoyed as she was at being restrained, Helga Macklewitz could not deny this, and she took secret pride in the stinging rashes the rubbing wings gave her, considering them battle wounds in the long war against Mother Nature. When her skin became accustomed to it, she took it as a victory. The teachers viewed her lumpy back with dismay and gave up the whole ridiculous business.
With her outlandish appendages, Helga Macklewitz spent her elementary school years cheerfully ignorant of the depths of her infamy. In her early years, a cohort of dress-up players had protected her, and by the time she was old enough for her regalia to be considered truly strange, she had become one of the largest girls in her grade and known respectfully as ‘Big H’ on the sports field. Strange or not, Helga was a great asset for games that required strength.
In middle school, however, Helga Macklewitz would no longer be larger than everyone. This idea never crossed her mind, and so on the first day, she decided to wear her wings visibly, for this was a new school with hopefully a more lenient dress code. She put on her wings (she had graduated to making them herself, with veins of glitter and glue), then put on her shirt, which was a button-down worn backwards to accommodate the new appendages, and placed her ears just so. After checking to make sure she had all her pencils, folders, spirals, and paper, she then put on her backpack, backwards so it rested on her stomach and didn’t interfere with walking or wings. Helga Macklewitz nodded in satisfaction at her reflection in the mirror, which still looked lamentably Homo sapien but fully equipped for the travails of a new school.
The moment her parents dropped her off and she entered the school, she was accosted by an eighth grader with a squinty eye, a ratty overbite, and six inches over her. "Nice wings." He told her, in a tone that meant anything but.
"Thank you," Helga replied. "I made them myself."
"You some kind of angel or something?" For it was the wings everybody noticed; they didn’t see the ears until afterward, when the shock had worn off a little.
"Actually, I’m a fairy kitty," she explained. "It’s like a kitty, only with dragonfly wings, but for some reason, I was born in a human body; it’s not a big deal, but sometimes I wish I—"
She was interrupted by a strong yank on her left wing. It didn’t come off, since the whole frame was one long piece of twisted wire, but Helga felt it bend and heard the rubbery sound of abused Saran Wrap. "I heard about a kitty girl, but I didn’t think she was actually real." The boy sounded awed that he was faced with a real live lunatic.
She tried to spin and confront her attacker, but she couldn’t do that without further harming her wing. "Hey! Let go!"
"Why? Does it hurt?" He replied with a sneer, and yanked again.
No one had ever done this before. Certainly people had teased her, but no one had ever grabbed her in cold blood like this. No possible protectors were in view; he had caught her at a little-used door hidden behind a field of lockers. Helga tried to follow the hand and minimize the damage. "Yes!" she cried. "Yes, it hurts! Let go of my wing!"
"It’s not even real! It’s just some piece of crap you made at home."
"It’s still my wing! I wouldn’t pull on yours!"
"I don’t have wings, kitty girl! Real people don’t have wings, real people don’t have cat ears, and real people don’t think they do. What’re you trying to do, look crazy or something? You’re not a fairy kitty." He yanked again.
Despite Helga Macklewitz’s efforts, she could feel her wing bending and tearing under the rat boy’s hand. She had a horrible feeling that she was going to be crying before the first day of school even started. "Yes, I am!"
"No, you’re not." Yank. Now he was pulling hard enough that it was an audible rhythm in his speech. "You’re just a spoiled brat whose mommy won’t tell her she’s crazy." He released her so abruptly that she almost fell; her shivers were invisible, but they made her tattered wings tremble in the air. Now that he had done his work, the boy appeared calm. He wiped the wing glitter off his hand onto his jeans where they left a silvery smudge, then paused, as though considering a proper finish.
He chose to pluck the cat ears from her head and stick them in his pocket. "Time to grow up," he said, giving her an encouraging slap on the back that made her wings shake.
He turned his back on Helga to leave, and she finally allowed her emotions to catch up with her. Panic on behalf of her wings had overridden everything else, but now they were bent and twisted to ruin. Nothing more could be done to them, and therefore nothing more could be done to her. She finally recognized her feelings as anger, and the realization that ‘Big H’ no longer applied to her hadn’t set in yet. She picked herself up, dropped her backpack for speed, and charged after him. The only warning the boy had before being tackled was a horrific yowl more befitting a cougar than a fairy kitty.
The rat boy lost his dignity, but Helga lost the fight. Bruised and ashamed, she would not wear her wings in public again except under a thick, protective jacket until she was seventeen.
Unfortunately, the policy came too late to help her. In the world of public schooling, six years of infamy is not erased that easily. Even with her wings hidden, she was often startled in the hallway by some faux-friendly hand patting up and down her back, searching for the telltale lumps of wire. The ears only lasted a year; the dress code did not allow for headbands with things attached. It was a senseless rule, one her parents trounced into the ground, but other children were constantly snatching the ears regardless. Helga Macklewitz finally stopped wearing them at school and switched to plain headbands, which allowed her to pretend that ears were still there, even if no one could see them.
Her wings, however, were a much larger part of her, and despite the trouble they brought her, she still wore them every day, repairing and making new ones as necessary. She found the way they pressed flat against the skin of her back soothing, a reassuring plastic presence in an otherwise unsettling era, and Helga developed a nervous habit of twitching her shoulder blades to make sure they were still there. The back-pats, smirks, and meows distressed her, but the thought of getting rid of the wings never entered her mind. She would have sooner cut off an arm.
Stress and strain had to be relieved in some constructive way, and so Helga joined the school rugby team, where she took the name of ‘Big H’ again. Her thick cobby body and powerful shoulders were appreciated there, and as in kickball, her skills trumped social standing. Her teammates saw her taking off and putting on her wings before and after every practice, but seeing the singular vigor with which Helga plowed into others, they left the matter of wings and ears out of all conversation, focusing instead on the cups in Australia and Britain. In this way, Helga managed to get through school in fair mental health, fairy kitty identity notwithstanding.
At seventeen, she still wore wings under her clothes; the jeering had subsided, but the isolation had not, and she still played rugby with unsettling enthusiasm. She was sitting winged and shirtless in the locker room one day, chiseling chunks of mud and grass from her cleats with a screwdriver, when she found herself approached by one of her teammates. The wings never drew mention; the women’s rugby circuit was a small, close-knit one, and they couldn’t afford to lose a decent forward over trivial matters.
"What’s up, Mattie?" Helga inquired, prying a chunk of sod from her shoe.
"Not much, H." Mattie stood there in silence for a while after that, shifting from foot to foot. She was a smaller, rather accident-prone girl, a winger, of all things. She was also new to the team, having moved from elsewhere this year, so the wings were still new to her.
Well, here it goes, Helga thought with resignation. It was about time someone had a problem. She continued knocking at her shoe, waiting for the storm.
"You never wear your ears in here," Mattie blurted.
Helga paused, then looked up. "What?"
"Your ears," Mattie repeated. "You never wear them." Seeing Helga staring at her, she rubbed her hands together and babbled on, "I mean, I’ve just, I heard you were a fairy kitty, not just a fairy, and that you used to wear ears, but you only wear the wings, and so—yeah."
Helga sat there, screwdriver hanging forgotten from her hand. Her mind sifted through the information, searching for a possible joke. But Mattie looked far too frightened of the team loosehead prop to be playing a prank, and there was currently no one else in the locker room to see her. And though Helga didn’t consider herself as having many friends, she’d never had a problem with Mattie.
"How’d you hear about the ears?" Helga finally asked.
"H, everybody knows about the ears."
Helga snorted. "Guess I should’ve figured that."
"So. I mean. If you want to, I don’t think there could be a problem." She tried a smile. "I mean, they can’t be worse than the wings."
Helga chuckled. "Nah. I’ll think about it. Why you mention it?"
Mattie was silent for a good long while. Then she said, "Fairy kitty, right?"
"Heh, yeah." It had been a long time, but she still said, "It’s like a kitty, only with wings, but for some reason, I was born in a human body. I’m used to it, but…" she shrugged.
"You don’t exactly look like you’d be flittering around the flowers."
"Can’t help the species; I didn’t choose it."
"I know." Mattie grinned. "I’m a fruit bat."
Helga burst out laughing. "For serious?"
Mattie spread her arms as though to say, what can you do? "And I hate bananas. Though I used to spend all of kindergarten hanging from the monkey bars; called me ‘Batty Mattie.’"
"You’re joking me. You’re kidding. ‘Batty Mattie’? Oh God…"
"I know, I wish! It’s just… yeah. Sorry I didn’t speak up, but—"
"No, don’t, don’t! I don’t blame you; I’ve just been doing it so long, I’m used to the ridicule. Wouldn’t wish it on somebody else."
There was a long, thoughtful pause.
"You wanna wear wings together someday?" Mattie asked.
"You don’t got any, I could make you a mean pair." Helga replied with a grin.
Apparently rugby attracted the right kind of people.