I’ve done things for a boy before, but this was too much. James scrunched his nose as he watched me jump up and down repetitively.
“I just can’t do it.”
I must have looked defeated but I didn’t really care. A lot of people can’t fly. He had to think that I cared, though. He had to think that my mom and dad did not have time to teach me to fly before they left, since most kids start when they are younger, and that I had noticed James’ impeccable skills, and had to ask him to teach me. No one else would be sufficient.
“You will get this! It’s not that hard after awhile, you just need to practice.”
“Of course you would say that. Your parents are flying champions. Everyone in town thinks you and your siblings are the best fliers around.” I pushed his shoulder and then awkwardly recoiled.
James laugh was like charming little sleigh bells.
“You’re the best, but listen all you need is practice. Once you build up some strength it’s easier to carry yourself.”
“Hey, I’m strong!” I held up my fists, jokingly.
“Dawn, I don’t think you could be any more slender.”
A strange adjective, slender. He could have just said I was too thin, like some other kids say. I keep myself this thin purposely so the other kids assume I can’t fly yet because I’m too delicate. They would think I’d be too worn out to use all that energy. It’s not like I’m scary looking, but my legs and stomach are a bit too thin for my height.
“I didn’t mean that in a bad way! Not to offend, Dawn, I assure you. It’s graceful, the way you move.” I’m often clumsy, so I couldn’t agree. “You ever read stories?” I didn’t know what he was referring to. “You know, the uh-the made up ones. My parents don’t let me read them much, but I snuck a few books.” He looked embarrassed, but continued. “And so, those books. They talk about these mythical kinda creatures. I don’t usually believe in that stuff, Dawn.” He looked up at me. “But the creatures are beautiful. The stories sometimes come with pictures too. They have pictures of these wonderful things. Ballerinas. They have pointy toes, and long legs like yours. And they have hair tied up on the top of their head. I think your hair would be too short to tie like that. But they are ‘slender’, as I said. Just like you. And their not ugly at all, Dawn, their more beautiful than any other girl I’ve seen in our town. I think that the girls in our town are pretty,” He waited for my response. I just stared. “But not a good kind of pretty. I don’t see the beauty in the long flowing hair some girls around have. I don’t understand how they can keep their hair so shiny and so colorful too! The ballerina’s have darker hair. It doesn’t blind you quite as much. And they have straight little noses like yours.”
It was ridiculous, what James was saying. How could he believe in a mythical world like this? It was forbidden to even think of such a thing.
“I’m sorry, Dawn. I shouldn’t have brought this up. By the way, I don’t think I’ll be here for the lesson next week, my friend Michael is happy to fill in though. Maybe he will be a better teacher for you anyway, more progress, you know?”
“Uh.” I was silent for a moment. “It’s okay, I guess I just don’t need to learn.”
“You only want to learn if I teach you, right?”
I bit the left side of my bottom lip, hard; embarrassed that James knew I preferred him as my teacher. Finding it difficult to look him in the eye, I fixed my glance on the pink mountain floating behind James’ head. It was my favorite time of day, when the mountains were this way, because they turned this milky pink color, and the wind swirled around our heads like cotton candy. Every little kid at some point assumes that the mountains will taste as good as they look and they take a bite. It’s like a right of passage, taking a bite of their first mountain. I watched some children float by with their parents close behind.
“Did you hear about Timmy the other day? He took a bite of a pink mountain!” One mother remarked.
“I remember when my little Julia took her first bite. I explained to her that the mountains just smell like raspberries, they don’t actually taste like raspberries.”
The mothers laughed. One of them was pregnant. She lowered herself closer to the ground and scooped some gold dust into her hands and onto her stomach. The baby liked it.
I used to sit with my mom on the edge of one of the pink mountains in the winter time, when the snow on the top looked like frosting, and we would watch everyone fly, and laugh at the people with bad genes, who were always more klutzy than the good fliers. The good fliers were put into good schools by their parents, the rich schools, that is. My mom was not rich. My father had some money, but he died the year after I was born, when mom was fifteen. So the two of us would sit hand in hand, young enough to be children, and close enough to be sisters, and listen to the wind sing a tune.
“I mean, I can cancel my plans. I like teaching you, Dawn. ” James said after the seemingly endless pause.
“I know.” I turned away for a moment and my bangs fell into my face. “But-” When I turned around, he was already gone. “I’m never going to learn.” I spoke into my chest.
My legs folded into a pretzel as I propped a cheek up on one hand. The mountains weren’t pink anymore, and based on the song the wind was humming, I knew they were about to turn blue. And it would be too hard to get home, because the ocean would be too cold to swim in. It would be difficult too, when the mountains were the same color as the water, and I would bump into things. It’s lonely to swim home. All the other people got to fly, besides the young ones, and the homeless people who would linger around the water, tickling the legs of little girls who swam by. No one liked that, of course. It was unsafe to swim home. The wind grabbed me by my hips and tangoed me towards the ocean. I dipped one long leg into the water and the rest of my body followed it. The water was heavy and pulled my head under. I puffed my cheeks out like a fish. I knew there were other fish around me because I felt the fat ones bumping into my legs, but it was too dark to see them. I raised my head above the water and began to swim. I’m a very strong swimmer. Stronger than anyone probably. But no one knew how to swim besides the ones that had to. The rich kids never even learned when they were babies because their parents just carried them when they flew. There were others around me, less fortunate children who had to first learn to swim before they learned to fly. It is not a good thing to be a good swimmer. If the other people my age, especially James, knew I was good, they probably wouldn’t talk to me anymore. It’s frowned upon. It shows poverty. This got me angry and I swam faster. A little girl struggled behind me.
“It’s cold!” She cried when she saw I was staring.
I coughed from the mist. It bothered me that her parents were probably home, all warm. It’s not that they didn’t care enough that she could freeze to death. But they probably did not have enough money to send her to school yet, or her education is just so poor that they hadn’t even gotten up to the flying essentials. I probably knew more than her just from my lessons with James. The little girl bobbed her head above and below the water. A homeless man saw this and smiled. He swam toward the little girl, and in one swift motion she was pulled under the water. I swam faster.
Soon I approached some other children, much older than the first girl. They were smart enough to know to swim in groups. They all looked at me and whispered. They wondered why I was swimming even though I was a teenager. One of them waved to me. She was new out of the group. The others shushed her and whispered too loudly, that I was not one to make friends. And I wasn’t. I didn’t want to make small talk while trying not to die. They were swimming fast too though. The young ones, who swam, swam fast to get home to their parents. I swam fast anyway, just because I liked the way the water felt. I wondered if in that mystical world that James was talking about, there were creatures that swam for fun. But in this world, there was no reason for me to swim fast, because even if I drowned, no one could call my parents. My mom was forced to leave because they found out her secret. They found out she wasn’t a flier. That she physically could never fly. She was born that way.
So the rumor is that she left, because if anyone ever found out what they did to her, people would leave town. The only ones who knew that she wasn’t a flier, was me and the people who kicked her out, the head fliers of the time. They died of old age a few months later and now, six years later we have new leaders. So I guess I’m the only one who knows. They let me stay here, because my mother told them that dad was a flier, and there was no way to test it because he was dead.
“Why can’t Dawn fly?” They asked mom.
“Because we never taught her.” She lied.
“We’ll test her. But you’ll say your goodbyes.” Mom was only twenty-four and saying goodbye to her baby girl was a task a young women should never have to take. The head fliers died too soon to test me, and I’ve been faking to be a flier ever since.
The head fliers had a meeting once before they died. I was spying. They called mom a weird name. It stings to think about it. They called her a “human”. They said she had to go to some world below with people like her. I wondered if it was like a mental hospital, or if it was even make believe. There couldn’t be such a world, where all people walked on their feet. It scared me to think of what a world like that could accomplish. What it would look like. I’m sure people would get along because they would all be the same. A world of “humans” would be a world with peace. I wondered what colors their mountains turned this time of day.
What will James say after all the lessons, when he sees I can’t fly? There is no reason to put myself in a situation like this one. Is James really more important than my mother? Soon enough I was home. I ran across the grass into my cottage, and quickly into my bed.
“You ready, Dawn?” Out of the yellow morning sky, flew in James. His ears perked up as the sun pushed on his back, sending him closer towards me. It was beautiful to watch anyone fly, but James was extraordinary. He twirled in the air and the sky turned brighter with amazement. He glided with such fluency that his body was lit up with every color imaginable. His toes reached the ground before his heels did, and his arms remained crossed.
“We’re doing a crash-course.” He continued. His smiled shined, and his teeth looked like miniature pearls, which was quite strange but endearing.
“I have a feeling about today!” I stuck my thumbs up next to my ears.
James led me to the learning-center, where people do flying activities and things. I’d never been inside, but I could always see through because the building was circular and made of glass. The sun seemed to melt over the sphere instead of reflect off of it, and the trees around the center parted, as if for dramatic effect. We entered and made our way through the trees that grew inside, sprouting in all different directions. I examined the “crash-course”. Wires hung above the indoor-forest and tape was on all the obstacles, indicating the level of ability. James hooked me up in a harness where it said “fliers”, in quotes. The hardest level would be fliers, without quotes. I felt dumb.
“There you go!” James animatedly rubbed his hands together like he was squishing a bug. “I think you’re fine from here. The wires will move you around the track and keep you on the ground. Once you get enough speed, you should be able to use your own strength to fly. I’ll be at the end of the course.”
I began to hyperventilate and the air of the indoor-forest felt thicker and mustier than before. James tilted his head, supposing I was nervous. And I was nervous, but not for the reasons he thought. I was nervous because once I got to the other side of the course, I would still be on the ground, and James would see.
“Okay.” I told him.
“Oh and Dawn? One more thing.”
He threaded his fingers through my hair and kissed me slowly.
“Good luck.” And with that, I was off.
I glided throughout the indoor-forest, and if I went onto my stomach, the wires carried me just above the ground, my feet gliding along the floor. I began to gain speed and momentum, and for a second my feet lifted off the ground and the wires did no work at all. My chest felt lighter, and the wind caught onto my hair, and sang the same tune it used to sing to mother and me. And then my feet fell back to the ground. In those five seconds, I believe I flew. Or was it my imagination? Maybe all of this had gone to my head, and even I have begun to believe my lies. Maybe I was a flier, and what I remembered from my childhood was just a made up story. Or what if this entire world of unknown things was just inside my head? It all became too fast, and dreams and reality grew too close together. I reached the other end of the track and James unhooked my harness.
“How’d it go?” James asked.
“I was like that my first time too!” He pulled me in for another kiss. “It’s amazing, huh?” He begged me to speak.
“Yeah. Uh, in that middle section I got a ton of height.”
“We’ll have to show everyone tomorrow. They’ll be so proud of you.” James could barely keep in his words. His ego grew; he believed he was the greatest teacher around.
“I don’t think I’m ready for that, James. I only got a bit of air-”
“No, no, no, after the first time everybody gets it. I’ve never heard of a different kind of case. Trust me.” Maybe he’s right, I probably can fly, and next time it will be easy. Tomorrow I’ll show everyone that I’m a flier. I’ll show mom. “See you tomorrow.” I squeezed James’ hand and swam home while it was still light out.
I sat on the tip of the mountain outside my house, watching the pink ones pirouette around each other. I whistled to match the wind and smirked. I should practice flying now, so I don’t mess up tomorrow. I went closer towards my house and jumped up and down. Nothing. I probably needed a head start, like in the learning-center how I got speed from the wires. I ran back and forth up my little lawn, creating speed, and closed my eyes. Next thing I knew I was on the other side. I must have got some height! I looked around, excited. I stared out into the mountains. Imagine if I could reach those pink ones. I got a head start, and ran towards them, off of the mountain. And if only someone could have seen me vanishing into the pink.
Kimberly Murstein, Age 16, Grade 11, The Dalton School, Silver Key