This Small, Other Life

Samuel Snoek-Brown

Samuel Snoek-Brown teaches and writes in Portland, OR. He also works as production editor for Jersey Devil Press, and he lives online at snoekbrown.com. His fiction has appeared here and there, including Bartleby SnopesEunoia ReviewAmpersand Review, Fiction Circus, Red Fez, and SOL: English Writing in Mexico.

This Small, Other Life

At night she dreamed she could fly and when she woke it was true. She threw aside her arm and the blanket ran from her—her whole body hovered a few inches off the mattress. In her panic, she rolled and fell toward the floor, stopping inches from the carpet. Her arms splayed like airplane wings, a sudden memory of herself as a little girl propped on her father’s socked feet. She stayed like that for several minutes, her eyes wide. She heard what she thought was rain but was only leaves blown against the window in heavy wind. She caught her breath.

It took her several tries but she discovered a kind of central axis in her hips, a counterbalance between her breasts, perfect equilibrium. She felt cocooned in air, her arms around herself. But when she relaxed, her limbs opened up. Her feet hung limp above the floor and her loose nightclothes ballooned around her skin.

Her flight surrounded her, everything resisting her like magnets of the same polarity. She pushed off walls to swim down the hall, never really touching anything. She floated past empty nails and pale squares in the paint. There was an oily handprint on the bathroom door that she always covered with her palm whenever she passed it, but today her hand hovered over it and strained against the empty space.

She’d hung one photo at the end of the hall, some family and their golden retriever, all of them in sunglasses. The dog wore a life vest and bright red swim trunks. Behind them, a faded blue catamaran, the red sail furled around the folded mast. She’d found it in the attic and brought it down out the dark, this other life small but bright on her wall. Whenever she passed it she would touch the glass, but this time the frame swayed on its nail, listing away before she could reach it.

She wafted through the whole house, pushing off from her few pieces of furniture, reaching upward for the ceiling, spinning slow cartwheels. By noon, she discovered that if she approached a thing from the proper angle, if it was heavy enough or if she could trap it somehow, she could will an object into her grip. It took her an hour to take down hangers and open drawers, chasing yoga pants and sports bras and zip-up jackets and socks.

In the back of the closet she found the expensive Bordelle bustier-slip an old boyfriend had bought her. The lingerie gleamed like armor, all black bands and silken straps. She gripped it in her fist and floated it out into the bedroom. She needed to feel strapped in.

In the kitchen, she squeezed a plastic cup—she couldn’t risk glass—and gripped a fork and knife, forced food and drink between her teeth. She couldn’t taste the leftover pasta and she chewed numbly as though fresh from the dentist. She worried that the food would fill her mouth with air. As she reached the counter, the empty dishes slipped from her grasp and clattered into the basin.

A pane in the kitchen window rattled in the wind and a low whistle called over the countertops. She floated over and put her hand near the glass. She had always wanted to get the window fixed, but now she enjoyed the cold brush of air against her skin. She cupped both hands against the thin stream of air and realized she was slipping slowly backward.

In the living room, she hovered near her one narrow bookshelf and stared at the rows of spines, considering the constant, finger-cramping effort it would take to turn the pages. She drifted past her window; the maple leaves spun on their stems, the unmowed grass swam in ripples around a skeleton of fallen branches. The sky was thick with white clouds, the sun racing past in strips. Even from here, she could feel the neighborhood turning its collective gaze on her. Every curtain fluttering, at every window a set of eyes. Her cheeks went hot, her eyes wet. Her chin trembled. She drew the curtains and pushed away to eddy in the middle of the living room.

In the silence, she fell asleep on her feet, woke in a flailing jerk when her phone rang an hour later. Wheeling in the air, she tumbled to hover face down over the floor. She was still half-asleep, had forgotten she could fly. When she pushed against the floor to stand, the motion sent her into a barrel roll toward the wall, caught her in the corner.

The phone chirped its voicemail tone but when she managed to catch it and turn it on, the number was strange, the computerized message from a bill collector looking for a name she’d never heard of.

Another hour, and then another. Several times she heard a car out on the street and peeked through the curtains: neighbors, a couple of delivery trucks, once a patrol unit. She held her breath each time, but no car ever parked at her curb.

Then one did. It was across the street, but the driver looked at her window, looked right into her face. She wheeled her arms but went nowhere, tried to duck but only somersaulted. The sun neared the waving treetops. The driver, a man, looked up the street, down it. He crossed to her lawn.

She flew away from the window then wheeled, her arms spinning—she couldn’t see from the middle of the room if her front door was still locked. She wanted to hear the catch of it, just to be safe. She pushed off the coffee table and swam toward the doorway. She inhaled deeply, braced herself against nothing, gripped the latch and turned.

The limbs of the maple trees shook like applause. She had gripped too hard, turned the whole knob instead, and the wind caught the door. She swung out onto the first step, caught herself on the doorjamb. The air raced through the hairs on her arms. The man was in the next yard, heading for the other house. But when he heard her door open he turned toward her. He smiled at her, waved.

Her eyes wide, her mouth open. One hand still gripping the doorknob. The other moving on its own—she let go of the doorjamb and waved back. The door swung further. Her flight ripped her fingers from the knob. She slipped off the step and coasted.

The man laughed and shouted over the wind, “Nice outfit!” She looked down at her exoskeletal bustier-slip. Her skin showed in bright strips through the snug bands of fabric. Her cheeks burned as she began a slow pivot in the wind.

The man whistled and clapped. She couldn’t control her flight in the wind. When she finally managed to face the man again, he was staring at her, pointing. His mouth twisted into words. She kept pivoting in the wind, heard his voice while her back was turned. “What the hell?” he said.

On the other side of her driveway, away from the man, a long stretch of sunlight passed over her lawn, a huge gap in the clouds as they raced across the sky. A sudden gust caught her into a quick circle and she began to drift further over the grass. Away. She saw glimpses of him filming her with his cell phone, then gesturing to his friend, her neighbor. Everything passing before her so quickly in her spin that she couldn’t connect one image to the next. She closed her eyes to them. She felt the wind against her.

She stopped spinning, still drifted slowly away from the man and her neighbor. Her toes dragged the green, white dandelion ghosts tickling at her ankles. The sunlight on her face, her hair dancing from her nape. She spread her arms, cupped her hands to catch the wind. She could hear the two men calling to her, running after her. But the wind was strong, and she was far too swift to follow.

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