Jerrin lies back in the sweet, clover-scented summer grass. He stares unblinking up at the clear night sky. At nine years old, the river of stars visible here in rural central Ohio amazes him. He wonders how anyone can live without views like this.
The longer he stares upward, the more his vision expands, until all that exists for him is the star-spattered dark. A strange vibration occurs behind his eyes, and then the magic happens: he is no longer looking up. He is looking out, and then looking down. The sky is no longer high above him; it is below him and it is deep.
Deep space! Jerrin thinks, shivering in ecstasy. Deep space!
He hooks his fingers through the grass and into the earth. He can feel a gigantic pull from the sky. He knows if he doesn’t hold tight to the ground, the earth will let go of him and he will fall up into the sky. In his mind’s eye, he can see himself sliding through the air far below, on his way to see things no one has ever seen. His heart pounds with vast fear and sweeping joy.
“I want to fly!” he whispers. “I want to go out there! Oh please!”
He stiffens, and then relaxes all over. His eyes fix on a single star, or perhaps it’s a planet; Jerrin neither knows nor cares. It is beautiful and its’ light calls to him. The desire to fall away into the sky fills him like a song and beats in his brow in time with his pulse. He imagines gravity like giant fingers opening to release him. Weight begins slipping away. His fingers loosen their grip.
He feels himself growing light, lighter, lightest.
He can’t feel the ground anymore. Only the tips of the grass blades tickle between his shoulders. He is starting to fall up –
You never give up, do you, son?” his father’s tired voice says from the dark a few feet away.
Startled, Jerrin thumps back to the ground. The spell is broken. He wants to howl his frustration, scream out his loss. A quiet, brittle inner voice – Jerrin knows this is the voice of the man he will grow to be if he doesn’t learn to fly – tells him he must not. Only the weak and childish, this voice says, vent their feelings that way. Jerrin obeys the voice and reigns in his feelings. For now.
He looks up. “Hi Dad. Do I have to come in now?”
His father lights a cigarette. In the brief yellow glow of the lighter, Jerrin sees how used up and tired his father looks. “Jer, I’ve said this before, too damned many times, so don’t make me repeat it again: You have to stop this nonsense! You can’t fly! Not like this! Maybe in an airplane or a balloon, or one of those hand gliders--”
“What did you say to me, boy?”
“I said ‘hang’, not hand. They’re called hang gliders.”
“Call ‘em bass-ackward buzzards, for all I care. You just pay attention: there ain’t no such thing as magic and you don’t have super powers. I’m getting sick and tired of coming out here to find you like this. I suppose you know all the neighbors make fun of you?”
"I don’t care. I want to go--”
“I don’t give a damn what you want!” his father overrides him. “Lots of people want a lot of things! Want in one hand and crap in the other and see which one fills up first! You will knock off this ‘flying’ nonsense or I’ll clout your ass backwards! Get up and get in the house and go to bed! And the good Lord help you if I ever have to come out here and get you again!”
Jerrin gets up and jogs toward the house, fighting back tears. Behind him he hears his father mutter: “…crazy kid thinks he can fly, fa’ chrissakes! Sheesh!”
I could! Jerrin wants to shout. He can still feel the lightness within him. He remembers how it felt to come free of the ground a bit at a time. If his father had waited just one more minute to come out, he would have found in the grass only the fading imprint of a nine-year-old boy… Now, Jerrin thinks, the last chance might be gone. What if, when he wakes up tomorrow, he believes what his father said and forgets how to make the earth and sky trade places? If that happens, he thinks, he will hate his father for it.
He reaches the patio outside the elderly, paint-peeling ranch house he calls home and pauses to look at the sky. A moment later, his father comes and lays a hand that feels heavy as a ship’s anchor on Jerrin’s shoulder.
“Jer, you know I love you, don’t you?”
“Yeah, Dad, I know,” Jerrin replies. His voice is dull. “I love you too.”
“Son, I’m sorry, but you have to get it through your head that there's no such thing as magic, or Santa Claus, or fairies or wishes. I wish there was, son, I really do. But there ain’t.” His father points at the patio and stomps his foot. “See that, boy? That’s concrete, and that’s what the world is. A wise man accepts that and prospers. You understand?”
“Yeah, I get it.”
His father hugs him. “Good. Don’t you ever forget what I told you and you’ll do all right. Now go on in to bed.”
“Can I just have one more minute?”
His father gives him a long, thoughtful look. “Let’s make that five minutes, okay?”
“Okay, Dad. Thanks.”
His father nods and goes inside.
Jerrin gazes up at the stars once more. He knows he should listen to his father, but the sky is so...inviting.
Deep, Jerrin thinks, and for him the sky is deep again. He feels vertigo and fear. He can sense how weak is the earth’s hold on him. He could fall now…The fear is swallowed up in a fierce joy and playful defiance. Jerrin grins and surrenders to his desire.
“Don’t worry, Dad,” he says, laughing. “I won’t try to fly anymore!”
He dreams of riding the wind.
He grows light, lighter, lightest.
His laughter pours out, overpowering the scraping sound of his shoes dragging across the patio.
His father comes out looking for him, just in time to hear the last of Jerrin’s laughter fading into the high, wild sky.
© 2009 David Rasey. All rights reserved.