The more Jill tried to grasp it, the harder it was to get hold of. Transforming into flight took a precision touch, and the lift-off was never guaranteed. She knew it would be complicated tonight. There was no moon and the wind was already whining towards the Southern Plains. But she desperately wanted to fly. It was already an addiction, stronger than the hook of books or chocolate. If she had a book she must read it until. If she had chocolate she must eat it until. As sporadic as the success of flying was, she still wanted to do it every time she thought of it. It was better than sex, which was good, but never great, with Franky.
In order to fly she had to side-ways wish it into existence. It took more effort than she liked. It relied on a kind of pushing and squeezing of her mind to re-birth her anatomy into this new, transient flight-full form, made all the sweeter when she managed it after sustained effort. It was a longing, a knowing and a fulfilment like nothing else. Flying simply ignited her. This separated her from everyone else, made her special, divine even. No one else would ever know this secret. There was no way she was going to share this with anyone, not her husband, nor the children and certainly not with strangers. This gift was hers and hers alone.
Calling it flying was a misnomer really. The magic gave her no wings, no feathers, and no light as air hollow bones. The launch was simply a shoving-up-ness, using some unknown, unreliable internal fuel source that needed the spark of concentration, tempered with slight disinterest. It was this thing, this indifference that she found hard to master. It was like turning your head and seeing something out of the corner of your eye. If you turn too far you lose it. If you confront it head on it’s too bright, too shocking and too dangerous. If she did that the ability to fly would be lost for days.
The first time Jill flew it had been accidental. It was a normal Tuesday. Franky was at work, the two older children were in school, and the twins were sleeping post breakfast cereal. She’d cooked porridge that ended up more on the floor and in their hair, than on their spoons and into their gaping mouths. Standing in the back yard hanging out the wash, she was holding a blue peg in her hand, and she watched the pair of bower birds circling their bower in the far corner. She had declared this place a protected space, and no-one was allowed near it. Each season, as she watched the male in his glossy shimmering plumage, perfecting his placement of found blue objects to attract his dowdy olive mate, she felt connected to another place, another time and another body. The bird was a prince, the gifts to his partner more valued than gold.
That’s when it happened for the first time, her virgin flight … she felt her mind shift. She felt the lift off as a pressure from her subconscious. Her bare feet lifted from the overgrown kikuyu grass gone to sticky seed. She was looking down on the clothes line, on the line of daggy house dresses. She didn’t need a new dress, Franky said, she never left the house. She saw the row of grimy overalls that he didn’t even care were clean. He’d wear them til they fell apart, suffering the quarry where the men worked, in the chain gangs of capitalism. Most prominent, the long lines of nappies, nappies, nappies that took all day and every day to wash, and were never white again, as the grey mining dust settled permanently into the scratchy terry cotton fibres.
Suddenly she was high enough to see all the street’s clothes lines and all the daggy dresses, and all the grubby overalls, and all the rows of grey nappies on all the other lines, and she wanted to go higher, go further. Skimming, touching the tip top of the gums with her fingertips, she gripped a handful of the soft pliant pink leaves, the ones koalas loved so much, dozy, drunken sovereign emblems, so like Franky and his mates.
She was swimming across the sky with a breast stroke, and then she thought, ‘I’m still holding the peg,’ and she fell out of the sky, down past the trees, down to the lawn. Heaviness took over and she lay in her yard on her back, with the grey washing spinning round, on the Hills Hoist invented by an Australian man called Hills, how clever. She felt amazing. The male satin bower bird was strutting and he swooped and stole the dropped blue peg. He was building a palace for his bride.
Over time Jill sorted out the necessary from the irrelevant, and had worked out some ground rules for flying, and she laughed at the funny side of that statement. Flying was fussy. Night was harder than day. It didn’t like rain, or wind or people watching. It was more successful if she first drank some cheap Chablis straight from the cardboard box. It’s not called Chablis anymore, just plain white wine. The French had given it a special name, but then they took it back. Jill liked to use a jam jar glass with Homer Simpson on it, from a set of six, but this was the sole survivor. She stored it up high, away from the children, a cartoon mug for an adult occupation. Franky looked like Homer with his beer-belly and stray head hairs. The image on the glass always made her smile, a wife’s secret well kept.
This new day, Jill, in her back garden tried again to fly. ‘Change, change!’ She knew it was the wrong word. ‘Morph, morph!’ Maybe there was an abracadabra to be said, some special witches chant or maybe she needed a talisman.
She still had the piece of gumtree in her bottom-saggy, mummy jeans back pocket, and she took it out now. The smell was still fresh in her nose, she felt the sudden taste of it, a cold medicine hit of nights up with hacking children, and suddenly she was flying again.
Ooh, so cool in the still night air, the temperature several degrees lower than the baking summer backyard she had taken off from. Her arms were bare tonight and the little hairs were reacting, tingling with excitement. Her face smiled the wedding smile, but without the imitation of happiness she had plastered on that day – stiff muscles, cheeks so sore for days afterwards and for what, a smile in a fading photograph no-one looked at anymore. She wondered what it would be like to fly naked in the dark. Oh, I will fly naked next time, enjoying the memory of the skinny dips in the creek with adolescent Franky behind her childhood home, in the days when it mattered to him to be clean. She moved through the air like it was something half way between water and air, sliding and slicing through a sort of thickness, a physical form with no shape or visible substance. It occurred to her that the magic could be a spell on the air itself and not on her.
No! As soon as she questioned it, the connection was lost, the line of emotional traffic severed, cut off from the power like a phone bill not paid. There was no negotiation. How do you argue with magic? Down she slipped, catching herself with breast stroking arms, frog strong legs, willing her body back into the formation of flight. It was too late though. Once that part of her mind became conscious, she lost the magic of flight, her buoyancy turned into a weighted anchor, the chain driven deep into the earth.
Her yard looked small, like a family burial plot. Her life, apart from flying, was bounded by the chain-link fence.
Even as she thought, ‘How can I safely land?’ the peculiar anti-gravity effect was over. Pulled heavily downwards, she crashed into the front garden of her home.
Jill was covered in scrapes and grazes from the hydrangea bushes she’d fallen into, shrubs gone wild and covered in dried out petal heads. She would have liked to just lie there and remember her flight, but the neighbours’ Rotty started up, barking and running along the fence, and that turned the motion detecting lights on.
‘I hate that fucking mutt. How do I explain the scratches?’ she thought. ‘I don’t care, it’s worth every mark.’ Each one was a tattoo of time well spent.
She couldn’t get round to the back yard from here, and she carried no key.
‘Why would I even have a key when I never went anywhere?’
Now she’ll have to make something up to tell Franky, as beer-full and burping, he took his time to get to the door.
She waited for days until he asked her why she was locked out of the house, in the dark, on a night with no moon and a gusty Southerly breeze. She had her answer all set.
“I was out flying,” Jill said, looking directly at him to gauge his reaction, and ready with a fistful of lies if she needed to tell them. Franky nodded, changed channels with the remote, and poured another beer. He was a master of disinterest.
*Published in Hunter Professional Arts Magazine Mid September/ early November 2012.
*Published in Writer’s Voice Summer Edition #237 September, 2012 Cover Story.