Necessity is the mother of Invention, and, as everybody knows, a skinny woman named Poverty is the mother of Necessity. Necessity is gritted teeth and a rusty helmet of hair. Invention is a real shock — she’s beautiful, sleek and lively, eyes the color of sky. Necessity can hardly believe this girl belongs to her. Sometimes it seems Invention doubts it, too. She’s forever looking beyond Necessity, over her shoulder, for someone else more plausible. Necessity doesn’t want her daughter to leave her, though she knows that’s what daughters often do.
Invention was planted in Necessity’s belly by Inspiration, one of a significant number of wandering men who, years ago, came through the town on the trains. He was, he said, looking for work. He and Necessity lay down together in the ditch on the field side of the railroad tracks. They might have been heading for the long grass, or for the trees over by the river, but they didn’t get that far. Necessity’s need was too strong. It wasn’t like making love. It was more like some kind of desperate struggle. Before Inspiration left, he chicken-scratched two signs in the dirt: “Kind-Hearted Woman” and “Get out Fast.”
Whatever Necessity has to do, she does. So she married Duty, the son of the stationmaster, Stipulation. Eight months later, Invention was born with a caul covering the two tiny wings on the back of her neck. While the other children learned their ABCs, Invention was learning to fly. After work, in the evenings, people gathered in the field to watch her move across the sunset. No one was prouder than Duty.
Now and then Invention pretended to fall — she came spiraling down out of the sky like a twirling maple key — and Duty ran to catch her. She kissed the tip of his nose and everyone smiled.
Stipulation, who had a bad squint, remained suspicious.
If Inspiration were there, he’d have scratched Invention a warning: “Bad-Tempered Man.”
Stipulation told Necessity that her daughter was unseemly, that she put on airs and shouldn’t be permitted to show off. His opinions of Invention got the better of him once and he came at her with a pair of rusty scissors, threatening to cut off her wings.
But that’s all in the past, and now Invention is grown. Young men try to woo her. Her childhood pal Imagination claims to be in love. He’s attractive, he’s charming, and Invention can’t believe a word he says. Patent is the most persistent. Every time he sees her, he makes a grab for her hand, trying to push a promise ring onto her finger. Invention, thinking fast, introduces him to her cousin Novelty. Novelty is pretty and a little bit silly — just perfect for him. With Patent distracted, Invention walks out with Amusement, even though she knows better. And then there’s Commitment, waiting in the background. A pleasant, steady fellow, Invention thinks, though perhaps a bit too eager to please. She agrees to keep him in mind. But while she dithers, Creativity, the town’s other beauty, manages to seduce him. The two of them marry and have so many babies so fast, no one can keep track.
Invention seeks her grandmother’s advice. Poverty tells her granddaughter, “A thing cannot be both a door and a key. A thing cannot be both a pair of glasses and an eye.” But Invention believes a thing can.
If Inspiration were there, he’d chicken-scratch her a sign: “Turn Left Here.”
Invention looks at pictures of city people in the newspaper. She reads their names and the stories about them: Ambition, Achievement, Triumph, and Success. She’ll leave town and soon. That must be what the wings are for. Yes, soon she’ll kiss Necessity good-bye and go.