SUE ANDREWS

 

Learning Flight

     The sky is a color I love. Colors really. A full spectrum of blue. That color that reminds you how huge the sky really is. A slice of white moon, the only edges in a perfect deep blueness. And the dewy grass seeps through my sneakers. This is my reality, this place with its chips of diamond stars and its reaching spreading sky-bound trees.

     A woman boards the train. It's Friday night and week weary commuters stare at each other looking at nothing, the air tense with that dangerous Friday combination of excitement and exhaustion. We are all eager to get home, to not think, to not think for two whole days in fact. But a woman boards the train. She is weeping. Wracking sobs.

     "I am homeless. I take lithium for depression, I don't drink or do drugs, I was raped and robbed for all my money. I am riding the train for money for formula and diapers and some food for myself. Can someone please help me?" We've all heard this tale before, but the way she is crying . . . Everyone shifts a little in our Friday postures, but nobody moves to help her. She repeats herself, and again, and again. Her sobbing grows frantic. And we all don't want to think about her. We are used to such displays of misery, but usually one slow walk through the car and they move on to the next one. Why won't she just leave? But she doesn't leave; instead she goes person to person.

     "Will you help me?"

     "No," the first person answers.

     "Why? Why won't you help me?" she cries. Of course he cannot answer. We all pray to the smiling faces of subway advertisements that we won't be the next asked. It goes on one after another, "will you help me? ....why won't you help me?" The shifting of Friday commuters has become its own frozen dance. Shifting hoping she won't perceive the motion and target us next.

     And the stretching branches of trees build spider web fingers across my sky. Arms and legs tangled against deepest blue. And my socks are growing damp now in this swimming sky of trees.

     I hand out clumps of Chore Boy scrubbers and rubber joints for crack pipes and picture burn-split lips sealed with dried up blood. I'm smiling casually as I load a paper bag with cookers and cotton and extra bleach and distilled water, joking with the next sallow faced man on line. There are only condoms enough for a handful each but this man's eyes are pleading, outstretched hands, "for my daughters" he whispers. I shovel handful after handful into a bag for him and try not to think of that girl with her worn pelvic bones slicing through what once were the walls of her vagina.

     My toes are now wet in my sneakers. I am angry at the trees for their perfect greenness and at the nerve of the daffodils pushing their yellow smiling faces through the dirt. "Stop smiling" I want to scream, but the color of the sky steals my breath and I can't.

     Shaniqua is the angriest little girl I have ever met. Her little girl face is glued into a sneer, a glare that prevents me from forming any warmness. I touch her shoulder without realizing it and a shudder shatters from the place I have touched like an electric shock. I remember to never touch her again. I am afraid of this little girl; her thinness more a threat than a frailty.

     And I am not breathing and I am floating through the blue, with dripping soppy sneaker toes and dragging dirty damp shoelaces. Surrounded by sparkles of sky held starfish.

     But Phaedra loves me more than she should. We have just met but she is clinging to my neck so tightly I can scarcely breathe let alone think about putting her down. She will do this every time I walk into the room. Her mother will scold a little, I will disengage and meet the clinging tackles of the other children who love me more than they should. They will make me their jungle gym, they'll run their hands and brushes through my strange silky white girl hair. And they will shiver in the summer, get the flu in July, and Delores will be sent "home" with ringworm because she lives in a place where the staff advises me to avoid the bathroom.

     For dinner we eat warm crusty bread, fresh tomatoes, avocado. The rice is dressed with summer vegetables and a sweet spicy peanut sauce. We eat juicy mangoes with brie. After dinner we join a drove of half dressed, blonde-haired teenagers at the local Dairy Queen. The summer is so hot the frozen creaminess practically steams as we scoop it into our mouths. And later I take a walk. Half a mile into the woods a field spreads out suddenly around me. It is twinkling. Really truly twinkling. A million fireflies laughing at me, absently swatting mosquitoes, slack jawed, forgetting wet sneakers.