Sunday, May 8, 2011


When I was a child growing up (they call it growing up!) on the Island, I would sip clover honey on summer afternoons, lie under the rose 'o sharon abutting the Paterson property, muster my imagination, and fly up into the white oak that stood guard above Laurie's garage. There, amongst my brother crows, I'd sit during the hottest hours of the day, looking down upon the fences and hedges that kept our properties private. Water shimmered in above-ground pools and chrome-plated grilles blazed in the sun. Once in a while, I would leave my perch and soar back and forth above three or four yards at once, not once flapping my limbs, instead relying on the rising currents of warm air, like a circling hawk. I could see far, from the water tower on Arlington Avenue to the Capobianco's corner property, with its fig trees and vegetable garden. I could see a pack of dogs running over the double-lot that had been cleared to build new homes. I had no past to encumber me. The smells of mown grass, roses, chlorine, mock orange, gasoline, and barbecue rode the air that held me aloft. I saw everything and smelled everything. When the air got too thin, I glided back to the oak's shady branch to catch my breath.

Back then, there was never any fear of falling out of the sky. My mother looked up at me flying and waved encouragement. My friends swam and played ball, ignoring me. All of the neighborhood kids were blonde, except for Rosie, but I was the flyer, the one who could swoop down and shake the tops of the fruit trees. The others were grounded. When the summer sun moved west toward the tall dark city I grew chilly and gently flew to the ground near the back patio to retrieve my gray sweatshirt. Like a flicker, I watched ants follow a trail of crystalized honey across the walkway between the stoop and the trellis rose. They moved like little men.

At dinner time, my mother called my brother and me to come in and wash up. The dog always showed up first, panting, crying for hunger's sake. The two of us followed, asking, "What are we having tonight?" Four and twenty blackbirds baked into a pie. Cling peaches. A salad called miseria. I ate fast, wanting to go back outside where the fireflies hovered in the strawberry patch by the back fence. My abdomen was aglow under the translucent skin just like theirs. I was burning. I could see the blood pulsing through the veins and capillaries surrounding my full stomach. My mother put her hand over my navel and my belly gradually cooled and dimmed. Then it tickled. My mother's hands were very small. She smiled with those small teeth of hers but in the darkness I could barely see her. Bats darted and dipped above the pool, filling their mouths with insects. I wasn't frightened of them but my mother was -- one time a bat had skimmed past her head and brushed against her hair, now she couldn't bear being outdoors when they were around. She used to say that my brother and I drove her bats.

I asked her if I could fly one more time before bed. I could tell she didn't want me to, but she said yes anyway. I leapt up, held my arms open wide, and, with a great arching of my back, took off into the solid air. I ascended maybe thirty, forty feet above the ground and looked back down at my mother's silhouette as she went into the lighted house. In those days, I wanted to live with her forever.

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