From the author: Every bride is nervous on her wedding day. But this is the first ever wedding of two Wingless in the history of the planet. In front of intergalactic press. Runner-up in the Mother's Milk Prize 2018.
"Are you ready? The transporter is here."
I look in the mirror, rearranging my floral headdress one last time. The bridal jewels glow against the pale blue of my chest. They look radiant. Radiant but wrong.
Klip has reassured me a hundred times that I have every right to these jewels.
“But this the first time they have ever been passed from mother to daughter. I feel like the whole history of our planet is hanging around my neck.”
“It’s a beautiful neck.” Klip kissed me. “There’s nothing to fear.”
They say every bride is nervous on her wedding day. I wouldn't know. My mother said she was. My grandmother, of course, had no wedding day and no husband. She nurtured my mother and her six identical sisters in cocoons woven from her own hair, as every Wingless on our planet has done before her.
Wingless don't reproduce sexually. We can’t. That's the task of our Winged children, the ones who emerge from our cocoons. It is the Winged who live in families, who give birth to Wingless children. And so, the whole cycle begins again. Scientists say this is the only planet in our star system where this happens, and it's the same in every country. Customs and traditions vary, but one thing has stayed the same the world over. There has never been a Wingless wedding.
"But what do you want to get married for?” My mother said, when I broke the news to her. You’ll have children anyway."
“Yes, but Klip wants children, too.”
My father screwed up his face in confusion.
“But they won’t be his children. They’ll be yours. He’ll only be a sort of...caretaker.”
I tried not to lose my temper.
“Dad, there’s more to fatherhood than begetting. Just as there’s more to love than sex. You must see that.”
My parents struggled to understand. They had tolerated the Wingless Pride marches, the political lobbying, because they thought I would grow out of it. And Grandma, from whom I expected some sympathy, was scandalised.
"It's all the fault of these Mixed Schools. In my day, Winged and Wingless were educated separately. None of this off-world nonsense."
It was true. In Grandma’s day, Winged and Wingless didn’t even use the same transporters. It’s still like that in some parts of the world. In the Western Landmass, children are taken from their parents as soon as they are weaned, and brought up by their grandparents’ generation. Wingless girls are raised by their grandmothers; the smaller number of Wingless boys enter Houses of Brotherhood, where they are taught to follow a trade. Mixed Schools and Colleges are still a long way off in the West.
"Can't you and Klip just be friends?” This was my mother’s next plea. “That’s all you are, really. Just good friends.”
My parents edged closer together, their wings humming with mutual concern. In the wedding pictures, my mother's wings had been cream and gold, my father's bright blue. Now both resembled a summer sky with fluffy clouds and rays of sunshine. That happened between Winged couples. The longer they had been together, the more passionately they united, the more like one another they became. That would never happen to me and Klip. I would always be pale blue and he would be russet brown, just as we were born.
"Klip and I are in love. We want to marry. And as soon as the law is passed, we're going to do it."
In front of the world's press. And the media of the entire star system. I clutched the jewel at my neck, willing my hand to stop shaking. Klip and I were the first ever Wingless couple to marry. Our wedding would be at the Temple of Justice, with crowds of Wingless lining the street, and the whole world watching. It was meant to be a day of celebration for our cause. A day of celebration for me.
Eventually, my parents had come around.
“We just want you to be happy.” Bright blue tears shone on Dad’s cheeks. “If this is what you want…”
We had hugged, my slender body enveloped by both their wings. As Winged, they would never really understand what it was like to live without their kind of desire. What it was like to love without their kind of desire. But I guess they figured that, if I could love them, I could love Klip, too. And Klip could love me.
But could the rest of the world understand? What about those off-world reporters, from planets where there are no wings to distinguish between the sexual and the asexual. Where people like me are all but invisible. How can they possibly know what it is to be Wingless in a Winged world?
"Didn't you hear me calling?"
Klip was at the door. His own floral crown was on his head, and his sleeveless robe was dark gold. He looked utterly beautiful.
"Come on, everyone's waiting." His expression slowly changed. "Hey, what's wrong?"
"I'm scared, Klip. The reporters are going to ask all those stupid questions again. How can it be love without sex? Isn't this making a mockery of marriage? What do you say to those who think Wingless should keep to their traditional roles? I don't think I can face it."
Klip took both my hands in his. They were warm and steady.
"Listen to me. There's only one question that matters today. Do you want to marry me?"
I swallowed hard.
"Yes, Klip. I do."
He beamed all over his sharp-featured face.
"Good answer. So, let's go and do this. And forget everyone else. Today is about you and me."
He was right. We could do anything if we did it together. We took hands and walked out to the transport lawn, where our parents were waiting, their wings fluttering in the breeze. They were smiling with tears in their eyes. The sky was blue, with fluffy clouds and sunbeams.