This One Time, 32

This one time I was in that area of the world where the local civilization had, counter to popular belief, actually invented wheels — but used them only on toys. If they had bothered to put them on barrows, and then filled them with crops or lumber or stone, they would have spent a large percentage of their days chasing shit downhill over the crushed corpses of the people behind them on the trail and dragging it back up. This place had burros instead of wheelbarrows. Convince a burro that there will be fruit or candy at the top of the mountain, and you have defeated gravity.

To an extent. I was here to take it to the next level.

I love to fly. In airplanes, anyway, which has been my only opportunity to do so. I’m not wealthy enough to study for a pilot’s license. I doubt I have what it takes to study aviation at university, and I know I have little stomach for the military, though things might be different if we had a government that was worth taking orders from about who to kill. But I can save my money to go to places where I can hang from zip lines and spend time a little time in high places with the wind under my arms.

And I watch the birds and try not to hate them for having taken my place, even when it seems they are gloating.

I watch a squadron of birds and see it as five fingers lifted up through the surface of a still lake, so all you see are the fingers and not the hand. Watching them spin and dive, I can feel the presence of the hand. Everything that flies is part of the same creature of the heavens, poking through into the sky like the fingers through the surface of the lake. Even the fish that fly are those fingers, trailed in the water by the wind.

I know I am part of that creature. I am tortured, nailed to the ground by the whim of my larger self that governs all flight. Today I will fix that. Six of us are climbing this ridge in the Andes, a grueling climb, to assemble kites that we will strap ourselves into, two apiece, and fly down to the savanna.

My mother knows of my dreams of the sky. She is terrified that the sky will claim me — and then reject me and throw me onto the rocks. I worry about this too — but I worry more that I will have a death other than a death of birds and my god will not claim me into itself to fly into forever.

We started this climb in the dark. Two others accompanied us, nonfliers, to help with assembly and to guide the burros back down. The dawn wind is icy and eager to tug us aloft. We make good use of rocks to keep our kites from leaving early without us. Our three experienced pilots check all of the joints with wrong-sized tools and numb fingers too cold to tie strong knots. They joke and tell us that our weight hanging on the wind will tighten the knots beyond anyone’s ability to untie them, that they may have to rub the knots with sugar and let the burros gnaw through them.

I would not trust the flight if it was a certain, regimented thing. Birds play when they enter the air. They don’t fret over details. They wing it and snatch themselves into the sky.

We tie ourselves into our bright-colored plumage and pass small bottles back and forth between pilots and proteges. Whiskey freezes our lips and teeth and pours fire into our hearts. We point into the wind, one at a time, and run for the cliff. And the wind yanks us into the sky.

Under the instruction of my pilot I pull my balaclava up to expose my nose and mouth. The wind’s kiss feels like it is crushing my mouth and biting my lips off. “Your face will seek the warmer winds. Face into them and turn us with your body,” he shouts. “Birds find the updrafts by instinct, by trying to keep their little eyeballs from icing up. You do the same!”

And by trying to avoid the wind’s brutal passion, we spiral even higher. We cast shadows on condors to watch them slip to the side to keep the sun on their dark feathers. They have no concept of a predator above them, but this is the game they play with one another. Their biggest worry is that we will reach the meal before they do, monstrous beasts that we are, and eat their share.

Far to the south of us are the drawings my ancestors made that could only be visible to the sky, to the pieces of the sky god that peek through the surface into this world — pictures of sky-fellows to entice him near, pictures of prey to draw him closer.

I will see them from this vantage point someday. They may as well have drawn pornography, beautiful women in tantalizing poses, to try to draw me close. I am of the sky now, officially, and for the next few hours in a matter of undeniable fact. I am pterosaur, gliding lizard, bat, parrot, eagle, vulture — even Airbus and fighter jet.

I am of the sky. And when it is time, I will fall.


February 1, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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