“Fairy Tale” by Justin Torres from Wilde Stories 2012 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.
I’ve mulled this brief story for a long, long time, yet still feel that I barely have a handle on it, but here goes. It’s told from the perspective of a youth, and the visceral descriptions capture a fascination with the adult body that’s common to adolescence. The narrator is writing to his absent father, telling him about a curious development in their family: the men have begun to sprout wings behind their ears. The narrator is fascinated by the wings, but his uncles’ reactions are mixed. Uncle Ramon is proud of what, for him, is an indication of virility, though he is careful to cover them up when in public. Uncle Miguel’s wings are much smaller. More than anything else, he’s unsettled by their presence, and covers them even in private. Uncle Gabriel’s wings are smaller still, but also newer, and the family hopes they will continue to grow. That’s curious, considering their treatment of Uncle Tito, who has the largest wings of all. He’s been all but shunned because they disapprove of the attitude he displays concerning his wings. Tito isn’t conflicted or embarrassed by them. He’s comfortable with himself, and even worse in their eyes, he doesn’t hide that fact from his nephew.
There’s a lot going on in this tale. It’s a treatise on sexuality, gender roles, and sexual orientation (the narrator realizes that he feels about wings the same way that his Uncle Ramon says women always react). And, of course, the fact that the narrator’s father is removed dredges up the tension felt between fathers and gay sons.
You get all of that in a handful of pages. It’s astounding.