Issue #83 Guest Editor Esmé Weijun Wang was previously featured as Issue #28's author. She is a writer and editor-for-hire; her site esmewang.com is where mental health advocacy meets meaningful work. As seen in Salon, Jezebel, and Clementine Daily, her site is the home of the Chronicles, a series of mini-essays that records her life with schizoaffective disorder, thoughts on compassion, soulful business, and writing. Her work with visionary entrepreneurs hones communications, such as books and e-courses, with an acuity built in service of legacy. Her book, Light Gets In: Living Well with Mental Illness, can be found here.
SKY AND GROUND
by Elise Winn
“We are going so fast the air around us is like water. It holds us up.” My daughter puts her hands over her eyes and turns to the man next to us. She is waiting for him to say, “Where did the baby go?” even though she is two, no longer a baby.
Issue #83 soundtrack: a million creatures "Red Sky Morning"
Out the window there is nothing but the white hug of clouds. We could be thirty feet up or thirty thousand, our wings made of paper or steel. It’s our first flight, and we took an online fear of flying class to prepare. I pointed to pictures on the screen and said, “See? Even with one wing, the plane can land.” I didn’t tell her the chances of surviving were slightly better than her father meeting us at the airport, closing us in his arms, and taking us home. I didn’t want to scare her. She doesn’t understand how he can be here one moment, gone the next. It’ll be a short trip, he said before he left. Up and down just as fast. He fluttered his hands over the dinner table to show our daughter what he meant, as if he would be riding around the neck of a goose. “You’re not migrating,” I said.
The wings of planes are meant to be flexible, I learned in the course. Wings are hardly ever pulled off; they fall like snow in Florida. I’m sure that is one of the things my husband wished for as he died, his plane another fish in the sea—he was always complaining of the heat, dreaming of long sleeves. The last time we saw snow was before we married, when I noticed rings everywhere: stained on tables and through whelk shells in the sand. It was only a flurry, flakes of salt, over as soon as it started. He must have wished for the Bethany of his childhood, which is not even a woman but a town so high in Missouri it may as well be Iowa. When he was seven, he told me once, the snow drifts were taller than his dog, then taller than him, and his own father, already sick for so long, stood with him outside, marveling at the difference a morning could make.
His father was gone before I could meet him. Years later, his mother came to visit. I made pancakes and we sat at the table, the three of us facing each other, and she said, syrup spreading across her plate, “Your father will be getting lonely.” As if she’d left him at home, she said it, and four days later, she died. We’d been married not quite a year, my husband and I. How do you compete with that?
We spent most of our time not wanting children, or one of us wanting, one of us not. I was usually the one who didn’t want, until one afternoon my husband came home with more love for me than grains of sand, he said, and I found I had no more love stored up; I looked for it where it always had been, but it had gone like the snow, drifted somewhere else.
My daughter is light, though I feed her and she eats. She was born early, her head the size of a peach. Look, I said, it will fit in your palm, but my husband was afraid to touch her. He dreamt she opened an umbrella into the wind and her feet left the ground. He thought she’d be above trees before he could stop her, with no way down but to let go of the umbrella and fall.
I used to dream of flying, too. One night my jacket became a windsock and I took off toward horizon that could have been ocean or more clouds; sometimes it’s hard to tell. Another night I flew above cars. I hovered over radio antennas, trying to see the faces inside. And one other time, I landed a jet like this one, softly, easily, on the floodlit field of a Marlins game. What I am worried about is this: Some years older, my daughter will ask about her father. I hardly knew him is the only thing I could say.
I close my eyes and think of the pilot with all those switches and buttons, flipping and pressing, making me an animal. Grief alone can’t crash a plane, I assure the man next to us, who has torn his complimentary pillow, desperate for feathers. Given the circumstances, it’s nice for a change—our rattling insides, this sinking into air.
“Bird,” my daughter says. “Bird.” But there is no bird, just the plume of another plane in the distance. It’s flying south, and I wonder if she knows that’s the direction we should be going. But we’re leaving home; we’re heading north, up and up until we can’t go any further. I want to see so much snow it looks like the ocean, the only thing that touches sky and ground. I’ll start small, with a marble of snow, and roll until it fits perfectly in my palm, and then I’ll give it to my daughter. I want her to understand all things are briefly felt: the fear that is shaken out of us in the sky as well as the warmth of another body against your own. In the heat of her hands, the snow will begin to melt. When my breath leaves my mouth, I want to see it there in front of me: a passing cloud, another ghost. Look, I’ll say, pointing out what’s almost lost.
On our plane, everyone presses red buttons. Are we going to live, each one asks. No, really—are all of us going to die? My daughter and I know better. Turbulence is routine and there are five kinds.
Elise Winn’s stories have appeared in American Short Fiction, Hobart, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere. She was awarded a 2014 residency at Hedgebrook, where she took a million pictures of bunnies. She was raised in Missouri and now lives in Northern California, where she is at work on a story collection and a novel. You can find another one of her stories here.
Susan Connor is a self-taught artist and textile designer who lives and works in New York City. Her work combines ancient techniques in block printing and love of the traditional decorative arts with a modern, reductionist style. She recently launched her eponymous home goods line, Susan Connor New York, which features her prints on a variety of limited edition wares for home and living. More information is available via her website susanconnorny.com and via Twitter @susanconnorny.
a million creatures is the stage name of Molly Murphy, a singer/songwriter interested in the intimacies and connectivity of music and the art of story telling. Sometimes, a million creatures includes other incredible folks. For more, visit her on Faceboook or Bandcamp.