Wednesday, April 9, 2008

To Carry Me Aloft

A story in four parts

“And what is the translation?” the small boy asks.

“Love,” replies the old man.

“But I don’t understand,” the boy whispers.

“You will,” the old man replies. “Trust me. You must trust someone, no?”

They walk hand in hand toward home, picking up apples along the way as a flock of birds passes overhead – squawking to one another in a foreign language, speaking of truth and direction.

The next day the boy wakes up to find he has grown wings. Not large ones like an angel or bird… not wings that replace his own, small hands, still sticky with dried apple guts from his walk home the night before. No… he has two small wings – grey and blue with downy, soft feathers – growing from his shoulder blades.

They are perhaps a hand’s width across (an adult’s hand, he notices calmly) and feel slightly heavy on his back. He realizes that by flexing and unflexing certain muscles (muscles that, only yesterday, he didn’t even realize he had), he can furl and unfurl the tiny wings … like a birthday party horn, or like a butterfly unwrapping itself from a cocoon and then reversing its curl back up until it is again coiled tight and small.

He cannot decide what to do next. His fingertips can barely touch the floating soft tips of his own feathers. He reaches behind his back with his right hand and stretches toward his left wing cautiously. The feathertips tickle the pads of his fingers and he notices a slight tingle on his back. His brother is still asleep in the bed next to his – legs tangled in cartoon sheets, mouth slightly open, eyelashes lightly twitching with dreams of trains and candies and dolphins.

He finds he can fly for short distances in the hallway… jumping just high enough to catch and ride the air down the narrow corridor to the tiny pink and blue bathroom on the first floor.

He practices for hours when alone in the house – his parents out in the yard or at the neighbor’s, his brother watching television or playing in the treehouse out back. The boy steals away from them all to stand, shirtless and solitary, at the end of the hall… the bedroom doors all carefully closed as he flexes and unflexes – stretching and relaxing his wings with each breath of the dormant, stale air that occupies the quietly expectant passage to the bathroom of fish and seashells.

He closes his eyes and runs across the hardwood floor, leaping at exactly the right moment so as to rest on the air… his wings anchoring on some invisible current, carrying the boy aloft for nearly three or four feet – an eternity of flight in this tiny stolen moment of afternoon.

“But where will you go?” asks the boy.

“I’m not sure,” the old man answers.

They look to the sky, silence settling through them, and watch the slow progress of geese across the clouds and setting sun. They pause, each breathing softly, surrounded by the gentle scent of clover and freshly cut grass, the distant buzz of lawn sprinklers, and the waning sense of one more summer day falling to sleep between them, exiting into the night.

“I trust you.” The boy is still looking up, his breath now held, his eyes straining in the settling light, staring beyond the sky… past the birds.

The old man says nothing. Merely nods and absent-mindedly brushes his pant leg with his left thumb – gently, as if erasing words written in chalk.

“I know,” he says, patting the boy on the back and gingerly leaning forward to kiss the boy’s head… his brown hair still warm from the sun and smelling like childhood.

“I know,” he repeats softly.

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