The Good Fortune To Not Be Wearing A Skirt
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Lugubrious"
Originally featured on 09-10-2009
As part of our series "Falling Into the Abyss of Wordiness"

And then, and then, and then, and then,

And then nothing.

My trainers wanted to see who could climb the highest, not the fastest. Then they ran out of ropes. Once over the ridge, rocks and dirt were in scare supply. Turned out I didn’t need any.

They craned their necks, bodies twisted in guffaws, watching me rise. I’m not sure if it was sheer awe or an indiscreet motivation that compelled them to watch me; thankfully I wasn’t wearing a skirt at the time, so I'll suppose the former. Then I stopped looking down. It’s not any easier than pushing your body against gravity. People think flying is effortless, except for the fact that it’s impossible. People think the most arbitrary things. Like I’m not lovable.

It’s getting thicker, trying to see the Cascades. I cough. This cloud tastes like old coffee. My arms feel like…if you could collect a two-month long scream and stuff it in a bottle, and then melt that bottle into something malleable and smaller, something that’s actually a muscle in the throes of fatigue, that’s what my arms feel like. My legs feel worse. I don’t use my arms for propulsion, only for stability. The body can become lighter than air if you focus in the right way; beams of sunlight can be used as ropes.

Men like their Freudian caves, that’s the cliché; a dark, isolated place nobody can muscle their way into. I prefer the sky.

Sometimes I knock on the windows of passing commercial aircrafts, just to see children’s faces get wider than their little bodies. I’d wave, but I have to keep my arms moving fierce. Once I tried flying naked, but it gets damned cold over fifteen thousand feet of altitude. I should stop dawdling and get back to work; the Conservation Society pays me twelve dollars an hour to document the migratory habits of Osprey.

My sister Lil called the other day, told me her cat needed a new home. Before I could say no she yelled, “Why can’t you be the responsible one for once?” She said it in that fast speaking tone of hers like she’s trying to bat at tiny flying menaces with her tongue.

I get excellent cell phone reception at twenty thousand feet. The words crowd in my throat, slide inward in a clog of salty fluid and the cloud goes instantly black. That’s because my eyes are shut and I’m falling fast. I open my mouth and air enters my stomach so rapidly I might be a balloon. And then I stop mid air, or at least squint my eyes so as to allow that perception.

The back of my tongue heaves, spits out what I have to say, and then I can see the Cascades again, the pink sunlight glinting off tiny blades of glass that might be lakes.

My lungs open wide, but they’re too late. I’m falling and my only source of this knowledge is the pinch behind my left earlobe and the feeling that I just swallowed more air than is beneath me. I don’t know what falling sounds like on the other end of a phone conversation, and I don’t know if Lil is listening. I picture Stephen curled in the corner, but the next moment after I think that, I don’t remember who Stephen is.

The heat burns my shoulders, sweat so heavy and thick it fools me to think a hand is rubbing my back. I want to tell it, softer.

Softer.

And then I’m home. With a note on the table. I forgot to pay the cell phone bill.

Flying takes effort. Just like all the other things. Some just take more.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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