G a i l
Age 8, part 5
8 years (the same July night)
I’m dizzy – scared to death. For a second, time stands completely still.
But then my brain kicks in. “You’re doing it! You’re doing it! Now don’t lose it! Kick your legs! Flap your arms!”
I start moving my arms and legs like crazy, as if I were trying to keep my head above water. I look down. I’m not far off the ground – close enough to see blades of grass. I see Mama’s sandals, a little ways away.
The thing is, I’m parallel to the ground. If I would fall, I’d fall flat on my face. I keep kicking my legs and flapping my arms. And… and… I’m floating! I’m actually floating!
I can’t turn. I can’t go higher. I’m just stuck in place. In the air.
But then I get tired, and I can feel how my arms and legs can’t tread air anymore. Gradually I get closer to the ground. I’m able to shift my body upright so I land on my feet… and then stumble to the ground.
I scramble up too fast, and have to gather myself for a second. I just stand there, not knowing where to look. The light is dim, and the crickets in the grass are loud. The first stars begin to twinkle in the purple sky. There’s no moon, and all the haze of the day seems to have been lifted away, leaving behind something clear. I don’t move, don’t even take a step. If this is all a dream, I don’t want to wake up. Maybe if I don’t move at all, the universe won’t notice me – won’t notice that what I had just done was impossible.
I’m still standing there, as the purple turns to dark violet and to black, as all the noise of the meadow softens to a velvety tone, like a lullaby. More stars poke out of the darkness, joining me.
Suddenly, I hear a noise in the distance, coming closer. Jingling, and little feet in the grass, padding toward me at a gallop. It’s Wendy, and I’ve never felt happier to see her. She comes to me with a tired face, like she’s been searching for me for hours. I hug her close, and she wriggles in my arms. We tumble down to the ground together. I’m laughing, and she’s all over me.
After a while, we calm down and just sit. “Look, girl, look at the sky.” Wendy tilts her head upward, and I see the glittering from above reflected in her dark eyes. I put my arm around her. It feels like the sky is a dome that shelters us, like all the stars, crickets and even the darkness are my friends, looking at me in wonder, as I look back at them.
Inside, the mad dog has gone to sleep.
The night deepens, and the silence gets bigger. Wendy is trying to stay alert by my side, but I can tell that she’s having trouble staying awake. Her eyelids droop.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see a bit of moving light far, far away. All at once, I understand how alone I am and that even if I wanted to hide from whomever or whatever was out there, I wouldn’t be able to. The light gets bigger and bigger. I realize it’s a bike headlight, approaching. I try to get down flat, so that whoever it is can’t see me, and I pull Wendy down, too. But she bounces right back up again and starts growling. She barks, and there’s nothing I can do to stop her. That’s when I see the beam of light turn toward us. I hear the bike stop. Another light – a flashlight this time – points toward us and whoever it is runs in our direction. For a moment, I’m scared. But then I recognize the voice: “Gail? Gail!”
“What the hell are you doing out here?” he yells at me as he comes running. When he reaches us, Wendy jumps up and puts her front paws on his chest. But John is angry, and he pushes her away. “Do you know how scared we were? DO YOU KNOW HOW LATE IT IS?”
The flashlight swings upward for a moment, and I see his face, streaked with tears and sweat. I stand and stare at him, not knowing what to say.
“I… I,” I stumble.
“Let’s just go home. Come on.” He’s already turned around, heading back toward the road.
For some reason, I don’t move.
“I don’t want to go home,” I call after him.
John is furious. “I don’t care what you want. You’re coming home. Right now!”
I wait a second, and then I say, “Can you just come back and sit with me?”
“What? Why?” John turns around, looking at me. “Dad’s worried. Let’s go!”
My voice wobbles, “Please John! I’m sorry, but please, just come back. I promise we can go back in a few minutes.”
John sighs. He looks at me, digs his hands into his pockets, and kicks at nothing in the field.
“Please,” I say.
John walks back. I sit down, but he stays standing. We don’t say anything, but both look up at the sky, Wendy between us. I don’t know why I can’t go home. I need to stay for a little longer in the place where it happened – where I did something that no one would believe. I don’t want to let go of this night. I can’t say a word, but I just need to be in this field, under this sky, for a little bit longer.
John takes a long tired breath, as he looks up at the sky. I see his face, and I’m glad he’s beside me.
The star-pricked sky seems to be moving closer.