The jangling alarm clock announced that it was six o’clock. James jumped out of bed. Without thinking. He always got up at that time. This morning, however, he felt uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly. During the night a pair of wings had sprouted from his shoulder blades. Disturbing questions began pounding at James’ complacent daily routine. “ How will I get my suit on ? ” and “ What about that important presentation I am due to give this afternoon ? ” With each James felt another layer of his inner peace slipping away. Thoroughly agitated, he looked in the wardrobe mirror in the faint hope that this might turn out to have been a nightmare. The reflected image brought no relief. Growing from his shoulders he could see a most magnificent pair of feathered wings. Like those painted by the Renaissance artists he studied at University. Unwelcome visions of the reaction to his new appendages raced around his mind.
His restlessness finally woke his wife. “ What’s the matter ? ” she grumbled sleepily. “ Can’t you see ? ” James turned, to give her a good view of his new wings. Jill laughed : “ I always said you were an angel ! ” James did not consider this flippant remark appropriate. “ But what am I to do ? ” he wondered despairingly. Jill chortled “ What can you do ? You’re stuck with them, aren’t you ? ” James sighed. It really did seem he had been left with an insoluble problem. As he feared, it was not easy putting his clothes on over what he was already calling “ these wretched things ”. Only by choosing his largest jacket was he able to manage some semblance of normality, and even then he was conscious of a large lump on his back. “ What does Quasimodo want for breakfast ? ” Jill still refused to take his predicament seriously ; she knew that he always had two slices of wheaten bread, toasted with marmalade, and a cup of coffee.
Getting to his office was not as difficult as James had feared. After some experimentation, he discovered that he could still drive with his car seat back fully reclined. Driving with his back unsupported was tiring, but his journey was not too long to cause him major problems. Glad that at least one potential dilemma had been resolved so easily, James decided to ignore the quizzical looks his unusual driving posture drew from passing motorists.
At first his colleagues pretended not to notice his changed appearance. Eventually, however, it proved too much for the office wag. “ Joined the angels have you, Jim ? ” he smirked. James’ grin was forced through angrily gritted teeth. Driving home that evening, he reflected on his first day with wings. Apart from bantering from work-mates, it had gone rather better than his gloomy predictions. He remembered joking references to angels. Their wings usually had one key function, he thought, in making flight possible. Glancing up, he saw black flocks of birds wheeling and diving across the evening sky. How effortless they made flight appear, while here he was stationery in an interminable traffic jam. Were his wings capable of flight, he wondered. James pictured himself, high above the busy roads, easily and gently moving across the sky. A horn angrily honked him back to reality. The feeling, that his wings could give him the opportunity to attempt something new and radical, remained with him.
James faced the fact that he had become a creature of habit, uneasy at any disruption to his usual routine. For several years, he had stubbornly ignored Jill’s regular comment, that he was wasting his talents, and should apply for jobs where they were appreciated, and more used. Instead he adhered rigidly to an unchangeable weekly programme. Now he sensed that all this was being challenged by his unexpectedly acquired wings.
“ I’m going out. ” James muttered after tea. “ Where to ? ” Jill was surprised : after tea, he always sat down in “ his ” chair, read through the evening newspaper, and dozed in front of the television until bed-time. “ Just out. ” James was embarrassed. He did not want her to know that he was going to see whether he could fly. Two hours later, and just as Jill was starting to become seriously worried, James returned home. Muddy from head to toe. Literally. “ What on earth have you been up to ? ” James’ mumbled reply, that he had fallen over while out for a stroll, failed to deceive her. “ You’ve been trying to fly, haven’t you ? ” she exclaimed. Red-faced, James conceded that that was what he had been doing. “ And ? ” queried Jill expectantly. “ I almost managed it. ” He had spent two frustrating hours running across a nearby field, flapping his wings – and failing to leave the ground, even for an instant. As he did so, alert to the presence of curious onlookers, James felt a determination grow within him that, come what may, and no matter how long it took him, he would master this new skill.
Six muddy months later, James could fly. Not as elegantly as the birds : he never succeeded in working out what to do with his legs. But he was able to take off and land without falling flat on his face. In the air, he turned to right and left when he chose, and not at the wind's whim, and climbed and dived more or less under control. Jill clapped with delight on the evening when he took her out to demonstrate his flying ability. “ You see ” she said, aware that she might sound preachy “ doing new things may be challenging, but it can also be satisfying and fun. ” James had to agree. He could not, however, bring himself to tell her she had been right all along.
Next morning, James’ wings had disappeared. Later that day, he resigned from his job. “ I’m bored ” he informed his bemused boss “ I need to spread my wings… metaphorically speaking. ”