Icarus Revisited

This is the narrative piece I wrote behind one of the next photo shoots I will do. It's for a group project I have at university. The theme is the Estuary, and the story itself is based on that of Icarus in Greek mythology.

       The first thing she felt was the cold water slithering over her toes, her ankles and her calves as each wave rose up the bank in a rhythmic motion, before it retreated to the depths of the sea. She was face down in the sand and mud, with sand crunching between her teeth. The searing pain in her right temple made her want to scream, but her throat was too dry. It thumped steadily, in unison with her increasingly rapid heartbeat.

      She blinked. Once. Twice. Three times. She was trying to get accustomed to the bright day.  She was failing. Her eyes, which echoed the blue of the most beautiful seas, didn’t make it easier for her on days like these. She brought her trembling fingers up to shield the sun, wishing, more than expecting, that this would help. Only then did she see how sullied they were.

Her entire body ached, she realized, as she attempted to move her long legs in towards her torso. She looked awkward and gangly as she floundered in the sand, like a mermaid who suddenly found herself with legs instead of a tail. She was eventually able to sit upright and survey her body in its entirety. Shell fragments pierced into her skin, sand was embedded in every crevice, and moss combined with her long fair, untamed hair.

She was alone. She looked far out in every direction, and all she could see was land or water; coast or sea; tide or foam. She felt trapped. Asphyxiated. With every beat of her heart the urge to run, to swim, to drown, to disappear grew.

The seagulls agitated her. They aggravated her every nerve and all she wanted to do was scream out at them to just go away. To leave her alone. To let her be. But she couldn’t. Her dry throat kept exasperating her. She needed water. She needed to get out of here.

It was in that moment of panicked frenzy that the idea dawned on her. Icarus.

She recalled learning about Icarus and Daedalus in school, as a young girl. Daedalus, the genius inventor, crafted wings out of feathers, wax and thread, which he and his son Icarus used to escape the prison in which they were held captive. Icarus though, despite Daedalus’ warnings, was far too elated by his new found freedom. He flew up high and found himself far too close to the sun, and in a moment, without realizing, found himself flapping wings that no longer held a single feather. Daedalus watched helplessly as his only son endlessly plunged into the sea, flapping the arms that would no longer allow him to fly.

She cast her searching eyes around her desolate surroundings, willing and pleading them to yield some answers. The seagulls flew above in innumerable flocks which scared her. There were stones, shells, sand, and fragments of wood everywhere; expected findings. There were traces of human activity long since passed: a broken glass bottle – probably a beer; a large number of sand-scoured cans of all shapes and sizes; the characteristic gleam of glass shards and metal bottle caps which stood out amongst the natural shells and sand, like tar would stand out on a butterfly’s wings. And seaweed. Seaweed which disgusted her. Seaweed which enthralled her. Seaweed which could prove to be her salvation.       Each leaf is like a feather…maybe they can… she thought to herself. Granted, those thoughts took a lot of creativity and hope to seem even slightly plausible.

So she stumbled and inched over, more like a baby first learning to crawl than an almost woman who was attempting to fly, embedding the shells and sand more deeply in her skin and hair than ever before. She lifted the repelling mixture of green mush and brown guck, and draped it over her ivory shoulder with a splat. She instantly shuddered at its touch, and felt Goosebumps break out all down her spine and legs.  She fell to her knees, dry heaving for just a moment, then, shaking her head, stood up trembling, and continued collecting more seaweed. Her throat ached more than ever, and the sun burned her cheeks.

Once her hunt was complete, she began the weave. She tied the fragile ends of leaves – for after all they were just soaked leaves – together into something that could resemble a net, onto which she could later add layers and layers of more seaweed.

She stood with her ankles being licked by each passing wave, her white dress stained with green patches of sea moss, and her limbs threatening to abandon her, but successfully donning what appeared to be wings of a dark green mesh. She raised her burdensome arms gracefully to the sky and threw her head up towards the sun. The intricate webbing of nature beautifully framed her, but she recalled Daedalus’ warning to his son:

       Do not fly too close to the sea, for the sea’s spray will weigh you down, soaking your feathers, and you will drown.

In a moment of anger, regret and complete anxiety she understood that her feathers were nothing but weeds, and her hopes were nothing but fruitless efforts. Nature would not let her fly. She is a man, not a bird, nor a bee, nor a god, nor angel for that matter. She crumbled once more and surrendered to the salty tears that wracked her body exhausting her even further.

Hours passed, and she was still lying abandoned on the sand, legs sprawled where the water could barely tickle her toes each time it decided to go through the effort of moving all the way up the bank. She gazed at the seagulls, entranced. They circled around her at times like vultures. Then they seemed completely oblivious to her existence, as though she was not even worth the effort. The black tips of their wings captivated her imagination. She could picture friendly gulls painting each other or dipping their wings in black ink to get the perfect contrast. She noticed some had more black feathers than others. These were the evil birds – the ones who would peck at her toes and cheeks first, she thought. Of course, these were all thoughts she would attribute to dehydration after her escape, an easily accepted excuse.

She even wondered if she should try capturing a seagull and stealing his wings, or at least his feathers; if she could capture enough of them so that they could lift her up over the sea, to safety. If she should simply steal their feathers and turn herself into a half black half white angel, but she feared Daedalus was right. Nature would not be her salvation.

So she simply lay there gazing feebly at the magnificent creatures who soared above her, plunged into the sea at will, and then lifted back up to the sky without fear that their wings would betray them. She then turned to the crumpled mess that was her pathetic attempt at salvation. Seaweed. What had she been thinking. Must be the dehydration, or the desperation.

Her chiseled jaw slanted downwards and touched the sand, as she gazed out towards her side. Her eyes could barely focus, and she struggled to see clearly between all the tin cans, the seaweed and stones, but something was shining. Something that looked like…a net.

She instantly pushed up herself into a seated position and shivered as she realized the temperature was dropping. It must have been late afternoon by this point, judging by the sun. It was still cold in the summer time in England, once it was nightfall, you should be dressed in more than a summer dress. It was a net though; a metallic net. Possibly some old part of a fence. It was old and rusty, with little hexagonal shapes that were interwoven in a far better weave than the one she could have ever woven. This can work. She had hope.

She glanced around once more, now searching for the manmade rather than the natural and her eyes came across those countless cans that littered the seabank. Those cans which would have frustrated her so much in the past. She would pick them up and throw them in the trash, or try to explain to the culprit, who so casually was contributing to the destruction of the environment, that this world is the only one we have and we just Have to care for it. She laughed, heartily, and heard her croaking voice for the first time in what felt like decades. These cans will be her salvation.

She used the wire as a base, and collected the cans out of which she fashioned feathers. She broke them apart using some sharp glass, and created what would be the most beautiful set of wings she could imagine. She felt more like an airplane than a bird, and felt so grateful for this detachment from nature. The wind was beating mercilessly against her, whipping her hair in her face, and lifting sand into her eyes which made her shed tears from time to time. The rusty metal wiring cut her palms and fingers constantly as she tried to mold it to her desired shape. The tin cans did not make the job any easier. She used bottle caps to fill the gaps and more metal wiring to fasten these wings to her arms and chest.

The sun had set during her hours in labor, and she stood gazing at a large full moon, ready to fly. She lifted her arms once more to the sky. A gust of wind made her dress and hair flutter. In an instant, she was free.

We are focusing on two things in this project: myths which surround flight, and the new airport which will be built at the Estuary. We do not know if the environmental influences this manmade object will have, will be outweighed overall by the benefits of the construction, so only time will tell if the girl was able to survive by her need to fly.

Hoping you all enjoyed the read, and have a great pancake day tomorrow!