G a i l
Age 8, part 3
8 years (still July)
My scrapes are healing, but my mind is still burning as much as it did that morning, a week ago — when I took off. One part of me wants to pretend it never happened. Another part needs to see what would happen if I tried it again….
Daddy and John and the twins go about their lives without noticing that anything is different. That I’ve changed, that Wendy’s changed. I don’t know what I’d do without Wendy. She knows what happened, and I know that she knows, because I can see it in her eyes, in the way she stalks me like a guard. What does she want to protect me from?
One morning, I was up early as usual, rummaging around in my art supply box that I keep on a shelf in the kitchen. Daddy was at the stove, making coffee, filling his thermos. As he grabbed the lunch I had made for him out of the fridge, he suddenly stopped and looked at me, curiously. “Everything ok with you, Gail?” he asked. It was a strange question, because he asked it in a way that made it seem as if he already knew an answer that maybe I didn’t even know. And he said, “Gail” in a serious way.
“Yeah, fine,” I answered, still digging around in my markers and old paint sets.
“What’ve you been up to?” he asked.
“Nothing much,” I said. I stopped what I was doing and turned to look at him. “Why?”
“Well, you’re just always off somewhere, and I’ve been so busy with work. Thought I’d check in for a change,” he answered. “And,” he paused, “I found your flip-flops.” He held them up.
I realized that I hadn’t looked for them since that morning. I’d just tossed them on the pile of shoes by the front door, not noticing what had happened to them. And, because I hadn’t been going outside in the early mornings lately, I’d never picked them up again. I got up and went to him, who had questions shooting out of his eyes. He handed me the flip-flops. I couldn’t believe the state they were in. I took them into my hands. It looked like they’d been set on fire. What was left of the fronts was charred-black. The bottoms seemed to have been melted off. My mind was racing.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, and then I turned and went to my room, Wendy trailing after me.
“Gail!” I heard my father call after me. I didn’t turn around. And then he hollered, “Those were new! We’re talking about this tonight!”
I slumped down on the floor in my room, and sat with my back against my bed. I looked closely at what was left of my flip-flops. There was no denying it – they definitely looked scorched. But how was it possible? I put them down and looked at my feet. They were healing, but I remembered how after the strange morning, my toes had hurt, how they’d been scraped, bleeding – burned? It was starting to come back to me. The feeling I had had when I’d been running, how I had built up speed as I was coming down the street, how I had felt out of control, like my legs were moving too fast. And then, as though all my energy was burning into my toes, right before I lifted off, and…
I shook my head hard to try to shake the thoughts away. Then I threw the flip-flops across the room.
It was another hot summer afternoon. John was outside with the twins, playing under the sprinkler. Wendy and I didn’t want to join in, so we ran over to Shane’s house. Luckily, he was home.
The three of us were sitting in the shade of the enormous hickory tree in Shane’s backyard. Still out of breath after a game of tag, I blurted out, “Shane, I need to tell you something.” I didn’t stop. “A few days ago, I was running down the street, and it was really windy, and suddenly, I think I … I think I … ,” I stopped the flying words.
“You think you what?” Shane asked.
“I think I… flew ……. For a second.” After I said the words, I realized how crazy they sounded.
Shane was wiping the sweat from his forehead. He didn’t look at me as he answered, “Yeah, that’s happened to me, too. It’s a cool feeling when it’s so windy. You really feel like you could fly.”
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy explaining to him that this hadn’t just been a feeling. “No, see, I took off. I was off the ground. It was just for a second, but I know I really was off the ground. Like with both feet, like I was running, in the air. Like.. I was…” I was searching for words.
Shane looked at me. His eyebrows were all wrinkly, like they get whenever he’s confused about something. “What do you mean, ‘in the air’?”
“I mean, ‘IN THE AIR.’ I was running, and then all of a sudden, I felt like my legs were just going, and I wasn’t even trying. They were just moving. And then they moved faster and faster and suddenly, I was up in the air. And then.. I fell down.”
“If you really think you flew, do it now. Show me,” Shane said, with a grin. But then he saw that I was serious and upset. I never got upset, and I never cried. But I was about to cry then. “Hey, sorry,” he said in a softer voice, his eyebrows still wrinkly.
“I don’t know what to do,” I said. I squeezed my eyes, to try to push back the tears. “I’m scared about what happened.” Wendy jerked her head up and looked at me. I patted her neck and scratched behind her ears.
“Did anybody see you?” Shane asked.
“Only Wendy,” I replied.
We sat in silence for a while. Then Shane said, “It sounds like something happened. I don’t know what it is. And I don’t think you do either.”
“I do know! I…I…,” I tried to argue, but I couldn’t. My mind was a mess. I felt tears burning and my insides twisting. I felt a madness deep inside, and it was how I remember feeling when Mama left. It was like a mad dog pacing back and forth in my brain, growling and snapping. That mad dog pushed me to say, “I’m gonna show you.”
Shane raised his eyes to me. They were kind. He looked like he felt sorry for me. This didn’t help. Instead, it made the mad dog madder.
“Tomorrow morning, 7 o’clock, my front yard. Be there!” I shouted out.
Before he could answer, I was running home, Wendy right behind me.