And, just so you know, the main character's name is Ava, and she was born long, long before my goddaughter.
Summer shimmered in her memory as daybreak emerges from darkness. The fabric of night peeled back to rouse the garden; dust of the sun churned haloes above every blooming face. A hunched figure with a pointed head knelt among them like a wizard. The shadow of her straw hat bowed to the rising six o’clock dawn, secured under her chin with a fat, satin blue ribbon.
Sterling’s Morning Glory.
Avalon Getz had a problem with dreaming. Sometimes she even did it when she was awake.
She came to that morning as a somber rainbow folded into her bedroom, formed by the different cleaning solutions on a cart. Ava didn’t think of housekeeping. She saw the ice cream vendor that used to play music from his cart in the park. A melody rang in a distant, tinny feeling and a taste sweet like St. Basil’s: creamy, cold and pastel. Ava was about to order her strawberry ice cream before remembering the vendor wasn’t who she thought it was. That was Chicago, 1929. That wasn’t today. This cart-pusher was a youthful figure, medium height and probably still growing.
Amazing, Ava’s still-sleeping side whispered.
“Who are you?”
The stranger didn’t respond. It swung a mop out of a bucket and splattered pale spots on the ceiling tiles. A girl: rising bosom, swiveling hips, solid legs, so alive. Her skin seemed to glow rose. Her hair gleamed with color. Ava hadn’t seen someone so young for quite some time. She’d almost forgotten they existed.
Silence filled the room but for a dull scrub and a grunt accompanying each shoulder shove. Finally, the girl paused to hover over the toilet. She stopped avoiding Ava’s eyes, Ava’s age. Her jaw swayed under the struggle of taming her bubble gum into submission.
Hideous, the old-fashioned side of Ava quipped. She hated modern names.
“Pleasure to meet you, Mallory.”
Mallory just dropped the rag into a plastic bag and gave the cart a thrust out the door. She didn’t clean the sink. She didn’t wait for the floor to dry. As soon as the toilet was done, she heaved her cart back into the hall.
It wasn’t like Ava wanted to interview her or anything, it’s just The Dominion Post would only tell her statistics: how young people felt about cheating on their spouses, killing somebody, and breaking other 10 Commandments as if they were the 10 Suggestions. Nine out of ten said infidelity was “okay.” Years ago she’d gestured at a strewn newspaper with a mud-stuck spade and told a friend - her best friend - she’d shrieked, “They’re going to ruin everything!” She remembered the laugh that followed. She didn’t remember trying to be funny and now, come to think of it, she didn’t remember his name either. Blue eyes, maybe? Anyhow, Ava did know there were new things, new lists young people prioritized. Things to see before they died, children they dreamed of before falling asleep at night, the number of partners they could have before marriage without going to Hell.
“At least they care about something,” She mumbled. She had been beginning to worry. Her eyelashes fanned shut, conjuring the deep green and lush brown aroma of a lawn as she shuddered into sleep. The image of her summer garden closed her off from the present world of peach cloth and gray tile. As if those horrid colors were supposed to make her feel alive.
Monday, 10:23 a.m.
There were four hallways at Bruno House. Ava lived in the 100 Hall; Sylvia Schwartz had died in the 300 Hall.
Mallory came to clean Ava’s bathroom after scouring every mark of Sylvia from her former walls. Ava couldn’t see the housekeepers but she tasted the nurse’s perfume from the hustle and fuss. The muscle in her mouth was as good as it had ever been.
She hoped Mallory didn’t mean to boast about the pair of “vintage heels” she’d picked up out of Sylvia’s closet.
“Her family left all this stuff,” Mallory chose a washcloth from a plastic sack. It was the one she liked best to clean the mirror – violet with pink stitching. Ava found it particularly tacky. “They said they didn’t want it, we could give it to Goodwill.”
Ava peered through the crack in the door, towards Ivan Schwartz’ room.
“They go in pairs, you know,” She whispered. Mallory looked up. It usually took something drastic to get Mallory to peer over that bleach-stained collar. “Happened with Betty and Bob. It’ll happen with Ivan and Sylvia.”
Ava settled into her blankets, looking up at the tiles. Mallory didn’t move. The Windex spray streaked down the mirror, collecting in muddy puddles at the back of the sink. Quiet, again. The only thing Ava liked about having someone else visit was the sound of it. She liked to listen to the music of motion. It’s why she spent so much time outside; not even thick drifts of moss could hush nature’s noise. Only Mallory was so slow and awkward Ava felt like she was still all by herself. Patience, she knew, was more than a virtue.
Ava counted the number of poetry anthologies on the top shelf of her case before clearing her throat.
“Would you mind terribly to just step up on your little stool and wipe those spots off the ceiling? It’s just they’ve been there since you cleaned the toilet and I just stare at them and can’t fall asleep, wondering what sorts of chemicals are in them and if they drip on the floor I’ll slip and if they fall into my breakfast-”
The stains were gone by the time Ava finished speaking, but she carried on to fill the silence.
She did not like watching Mallory move about the room. The way those hands could pull, how her skin bulged as if life had been stuffed into her like a scarecrow’s straw, pulsing out in pounding, swooping movements. Her forearms were thick and smooth as pythons. She could be very useful for trimming my lilacs. Ava wondered if Mallory would be tall enough with the ladder.
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” Mallory said, reversing out of the room with her cart just as Ava
started to recall… her backyard. Where was the window, where was the kitchen? Perhaps… Well, if there wasn’t a kitchen anymore, there certainly wasn’t a window. She thought about this for a moment. So if the backyard wasn’t here, then maybe she needn’t bother Mallory about cutting back the bushes after all?
Ava was sufficiently distracted by the shoes Mallory had stolen from Susan, resting next to the disinfectant. They were pumps, not heels, and they had been bought at Nordstrom’s last year. Ava had been with Sylvia when she found them for her grandson’s First Communion.
She reassured herself the Schwartz’ didn’t know that, and anyhow the diabetes made her feet swell so it wasn’t likely she could have fit into them. Her family probably didn’t even know Sylvia liked the carrot cake they served on Thursdays in the lunchroom, or how the two of them would steal it from Cecil Fisher’s plate as he rambled to himself about the war. Well, she thought, I guess that leaves more for me?
Quite, her optimistic side responded with a sigh.
She was just falling asleep when she realized Mallory hadn’t used the mop that day. Ava looked in on the toilet. A residue of chemicals sprinkled green on the seat told her she hadn’t cleaned that either. She’d left without finishing.
Ava drifted into hibiscus dreams smiling. She hoped Mallory would leave without coming the next day.
Tuesday, 2:15 p.m.
…spring skipped in, swinging through the door at the corner General Store. The children followed it in, choosing five cent toffees, fabric for dresses, full meals for a quarter at the Automat. Their feet made shuffling noises on the hardwood floor.
Ava bought candy of the earth; little packets of life. The display loomed above her, hundreds of paper envelopes and hundreds of infant plants. She chose, willing the dream of the package illustration into existence at her first touch. “Hydrangeas, July’s Hearty Blizzard Blooms.” Never melting, always growing, growing, growing…
She woke up to the cart jostling through her door. It was stuck on the handicapped wall-railing, installed for “unsteady” ones like Ava.
“You forgot to mop and clean the toilet,” she grumbled, and even made an effort to sit up in bed to chastise Mallory, but a new face peered up over the spray bottles and sponges.
“Good morning, Ava!” the open mouth screamed. Rolling her eyes, Ava laid back down.
“Hello,” she muttered.
“It’s Reina, Ava,” this voice was full of burning, bulbous sunshine that threatened to leave blisters on her ears. “Just checking up on your room. Do you need anything, Ava?”
Reina made a job of checking around her room for used Q-Tips and Kleenex. Irritation racketed up Ava’s bones. Mallory didn’t intrude this way. She stuck to the bathroom, where she belonged. Now they’d all know by her blotting cloths she hadn’t been able to decide which lipstick to wear yesterday to lunch. After sixteen years of Solitaire, Cecil Fisher was starting to look quite dashing.
“Do you want more juice, Ava?”
“No, I want some sleep, Ava,” She snapped, wondering why her name was being used to punctuate the end of sentences. What were those little dots called?
Ah. The period. How could she forget. It marked the end of an era.
~ ~ ~
What had Gretchen said? Gretchen didn’t garden. She didn’t like dirt under her fingernails. Gretchen was married to Mark. Mark was Nell’s boy. Nell married Ebner, who died in 1949. He liked salami with his eggs when he came to stay at the estate. The smell of pickled meat smarted in Ava’s nostrils and, like a flash, the remaining facts bounced back.
“It’s a ‘Retirement Community for Active Seniors,’” Gretchen held the brochure out to her years ago.
“I wanted a nursing home,” Ava took the brochure. She pressed its shiny skin against her nose. “They usually have a greenhouse or at least a courtyard, and lots of windows. I want a window – preferably close to the courtyard. Say, what’s the wallpaper look like? I don’t want any pink. And none of that sherbet orange or lime green either. I always told them it was the 60’s and the 70’s when I started to die – John Lennon about gave me a heart attack- and it was that horrid plaid couch in the basement, all green and orange, that caused the emphysema.”
“Sterling thought you would like it there,” Gretchen pried the pamphlet out of Ava’s fingers. Ava looked but didn’t see her.
She saw Sterling twirling her around in the sun, the light hitting his ankles as he flicked around so much like a slow wind, Ava just a leaf in his arms.
“How the hell do you know what Sterling thought?” She snapped.
It wasn’t good for a woman of her age to have her heart beat like this. It might just get tired and stop altogether. Gretchen was a nurse, didn’t she know these things?
“He told Mark when he was alive, Ava,” Gretchen had a very gentle voice. “This is where his mother went. This is where he’d have liked you to go.”
Wednesday, 11:33 a.m.
Bronze bells ringing on a silver winter evening. Her Sterling stood with tinsel tucked in his pocket. A shining knight for her clever wedding: red and white, merry as holly and snow. Her veil swathed to the ankle. Princess sleeves held her heart in place. Rose-studded aisle, a slicing scarlet stripe bleeding through her virginal church. Pretty as paper-lace and perfect as a cotton cut-out with its buzzing white sky and bright black windows. Small, small, small day, in the length of things.
How she hated waking. Ava blinked into the darkness of her room.
“Do you see a light, Ava?”
“Right there,” She nodded towards the cart, used to alternating housekeepers by now. “Switch is by the door.”
Ava missed Mallory. She told the Director of Nursing she didn’t like Reina, and they sent her yet another girl. Her name was Petra. She came for the morning cleaning while Ava pretended to be sleeping. Now she was back.
Petra smelled like rotting fruit. Ava knew the odor from autumn at home where a dark orchard settled in the back of the property. October to November, apple corpses fumed the shadows with dank, tangy scented flames. They could have been good in pies, Ava supposed, but the trees were too far away to maintain.
She got her eyes open enough to see Petra put her hand against the wall.
“You better go to the light, Ava, if that’s what the…the Good Lord wants you to do.”
Ava just gaped at her.
New, the reasonable side of her snickered.
After a certain number of seconds, Petra unpeeled her feet and unstuck her palm from the sticky linoleum. She approached the bedside. Ava did so not like being touched by anything but her chenille overthrow. She twitched her hips a bit to avoid Petra’s greasy fingertips. She had to move in quick moves like this, the body just wasn’t as graceful anymore. Ava used to be able to sweep about her yard like just another branch, slipping past the tall catalpa trunks softer than a bunny. Each footstep she made now had to be on purpose, a chore.
In hindsight, Ava supposed her torso’s roll away from Petra’s hand might have looked like an uncontrollable jerk – it really was, you know, quite natural of a withdrawal. As a result Petra’s eyeballs flashed, even that hard-boiled portion was showing. She stopped halfway to the bed.
“Rigormortis,” Petra’s voice quavered.
“What the hell are you on about?” Ava interrupted. “Say, I want some ice cream, can’t you get any ice cream in this place?”
Petra made a “Whoa-oh-whoa-oh-whee!” noise and tripped out of the room. Ava couldn’t see anything past that crack in the door she left behind. The orange sign on the door proclaiming, “EVACUATED,” where Astrid Nelson used to live was the farthest she could see. Unless someone walked by Astrid’s room, she saw nothing else.
“Excuse me, I’d really like some ice cream,” She yelled, and immediately started coughing. She closed her eyes, holding her chest. “Strawberry,” she tried to specify, but it just sounded like a chuckle.
“Who’s there?” She wheezed.
“It’s Colleen, Ava, I was wondering if you’ve been feeling well. Petra heard you yelling from down the hall and came to check-”
“I just want some ice cream,” She panted, and to prove her point, repeated, “I just want some ice cream, Ava.”
She liked how using her own name meant right here, right now, you better give it to me – right now.
Thrusday, 10:27 a.m.
“Were you a mother?”
Mallory complained about Petra and Reina the whole time she was there the next day, except at the end. Ava contributed to the discussion. She knew only small minds talked about people, and big minds talked about ideas, but she only wanted one friend. Two, counting Gretchen. After Mallory saw how many pills Ava had to take each morning, she seemed to take an interest in just how old eighty seven really was.
“I am a mother,” Ava corrected in a strangely smooth voice. She was having ice cream with every meal now. It was lovely and smooth on her throat, love from her tongue. “But my children are dead.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry,” Mallory really did look apologetic. She was probably sorrier she had asked at all than she was for Ava’s family. “Did you work, then?”
Ava scrutinized Mallory’s flat nose, small teeth and spread of freckles.
“I did,” She licked her lips. Mallory didn’t know she did that when she lied. She had no idea that fibs made Ava’s mouth wiggle. “I was a stewardess.”
“A flight attendant?” Mallory squealed. Ava had always preferred, ‘stewardess.’ It seemed more a role Katherine Hepburn was likely to play. “Get out! I’ve always wanted to be a flight attendant.”
“But I can’t, you know, with school and everything. Plus I don’t really like flying.” Mallory poked at a piece of yarn protruding out of the duvet. “Actually, I’ve never flown before. But on movies and things, they always look so beautiful, and so smart. And well traveled.” Her voice trailed off. Ava scraped the bottom of her paper dish with a shick-shick. It was a pity she’d lied. They could have had something to talk about for hours and made that lovely fluctuating sound of conversation.
“What’s flying like?” Mallory leaned forward. “Did you meet so many interesting people?”
Ava played with the dish for a minute and contemplated.
“It’s not like the movies,” She chose to say. “It’s better.”
Mallory yelped out a cheer and shook Ava’s bed a little. Ava grabbed at the mattress. Teenage enthusiasm terrified her.
“Will you tell me all about it?”
“Well, perhaps…some time, dear,” Ava stuttered. Mallory didn’t think anything of it; to her, surviving past seventy was a speech impediment in itself. “You wouldn’t mind terribly if I took a bit of a lie down, would you? It’s just I’m so old.” She placed a dismal palm completely against her temple.
Fraud, the honorable side of her hissed.
“Oh, not at all,” Mallory took Ava’s dish. “I should have known – it’s right before lunch – that’s when you like to rest, isn’t it.” She patted Ava’s blanket.
Ava hardly ever felt guilty for lying. She was starting to think maybe Mallory saw through her, that Mallory knew she’d spent her whole life sticking as close to the ground as possible, that Ava would have lived in an under hill burrow if Sterling hadn’t been so tall.
“But if you’re scared of flying, Mallory,” She said kindly. “You should probably pick another job.”
“I will,” Mallory grinned at her as she left the room. Ava stared at the Wal-Mart sack hanging off the back of Mallory’s cart, sagging under the weight of half a dozen washcloths she’d used to clean Ava’s sink. The bag was bulging; obese as the opportunity Mallory woke up next to every day.
A crazy longing to drown herself in those bacteria soaked rags staggered up Ava’s throat. She supposed a part of her felt just as she worried Mallory saw her – insubstantial, life-over, invalid.
But the reality of still being alive was there every minute. Ava couldn’t even make her bed. She was still working on the free-throw shot that got her ice cream dish in her trash can. When it took you that long, when you had that many things to think about to keep you awake at night, you felt so wretchedly and abominably alive. No career to speak of, husband dead, children gone. Sure, Bruno House knew she’d been a great mother of plants. That’s only because she’d tried to keep the truth about her disastrous parenting skills down low. She’d lived longer than them, and what’s that show about a woman? There was no way gardening, or dreaming, or dreaming of gardening, could change that Ava was just an old widow. Child-burier. Family-less. Alone.
Still, she thought there was something different in her, something young, even new. She had enough personalities to keep everything between her ears quite busy, all day long. She lived by the window under the shade of the weeping fig, after all. Ava recognized its heart-shaped leaves like young green palms. Of all the old Midwest farmers in this place, everyone knew Avalon Getz had had the best spring blooms. Her relationship with orchids was practically universal knowledge. But what’s more, she didn’t know anyone else in her hall that got wheeled out to the grounds to inspect the progress of the perennials. And she was the only one, she was quite sure, that had ever gotten to be married to Sterling.
With that Ava sat her head back, listening to each breath shake like a rattlesnake curled up between her collarbones, his tail dancing in her windpipe. She imagined the little rings were silver, they could fit on her finger, as they jingled up and down a path only visited by ice cream.
Friday, 2:17 p.m.
The sound of her closet door slamming woke Ava from her nap. The light was still on in the bathroom. She sat up to turn it off and noticed two children standing at the end of her bed. Ava stopped.
She didn’t quite know what to say to them. The little boy would ruin her rug if he kept kicking at it with his shoe. The little girl needed a haircut and her face was smudged with ash.
“Where’s your mother?”
Ava was good at waiting, but laying in bed while two children stared at her was incredibly curious. Who were they? What were their names? Where was their mother? Why wouldn’t they make noise? They could stand there, Ava didn’t care, just as long as they did something for her to watch.
“Do you want to play a game?” Ava suggested, and the little boy ran out into the hallway; his sister’s pigtails followed.
Damn, the energetic side of her spat.
“It’s just, I swear I saw two children,” She explained to Mallory a half an hour later, gazing at the shut door. Mallory’d never seen her outside of bed before. She was glad she had on her rosebud dressing gown. “You’re quite sure there’s no way into the room through Melba’s? It’s just I know she has grandchildren-”
Mallory was pulling back the curtains to let in light. Ava rested her hip against the mattress with her arms crossed instinctively over the thin linen covering her chest. The space between them seemed to blossom across the room.
“I’ll check with Colleen,” Mallory said.
Something about the sudden, blinding light in Ava’s eyes made it even more frightening. She couldn’t see Mallory, she could only hear that false and friendly tone. Ava felt quite as haunted as she had all day. Mallory never used that Sunshine Voice on her. She sounded just like Colleen. Just like Reina. When they spoke like that, she could hardly understand them. It was too much bright white on her russet skull. She shook her head a bit.
“Pardon, these darn things…?” She pointed at her hearing aids.
“I said I’ll speak with Colleen, see if anyone’s had visitors.”
Ava watched Mallory go. Her bones had never felt so dry, her veins so empty. She stared at that shining toilet, not a sign that her body was even digesting properly to befoul its bowl. When she was younger she was entirely too lazy to keep a pot that clean, even after the children had gone. That spotless loo…she just wanted it to stay dirty for a day.
Saturday, 1:15 a.m.
“Fall is for courting,” Ula Mae Masterson was her first forever-friend. “Autumn is for lovers.”
She pondered the depths of leaves lurking, sinking in the clouds of decay on the lagoon floor like ghosts. A lazy willow arm fell down into a sleeve of rusty gossamer grazing the canoe. The two glided through, bumping leaves suspended in the November pool, glass-black and vast as outer space below them. Ava smiled at the shallow cosmos and thought, Sterling is their moon. Seven-handed oak children trailed like planets after them, the little pond-galaxy’s own dreamboats.
On the dock, her auburn roller-curls glowed chestnut with the fire of the distant, departing sun. Ava crossed her fingers and prayed, prayed, prayed. Moments, only moments. A diamond winked at her left pinky as it slid into place.
Twilight winked between them in silence. “Audra is our daughter,” Ava told Ula Mae years later. “Stephen is our son.”
Ava woke choking. Her head was running but her neck was stiff, like a hand was forcing her throat against the pillow, the tiny knuckles and ligaments digging into the gullet. The room flew in a loop around her eyes so many times she felt she was chasing it around. She made a grab for it with her pupils and the motion, the suffocation, stopped. She could almost breathe if she focused on one spot and thought about that spot, over and over in her brain. She chose the toilet. She’d fallen asleep looking at it. The toilet. White china. Round as a belly. Cold like milk.
She eased her neck down and vowed the next time someone asked her if she was a mother, she would lie.
~ ~ ~
She witnessed the crawl of dawn for the first time in years as light climbed up her blinds.
“What’s the difference between an old person and a dog?” Ava asked as the cart appeared outside her door.
“A dog has four legs?” Mallory guessed, entering with a single spray bottle. The sight of her was always a bit of a disappointment to Ava, with her frizzy hair, unused legs and idiotic logic. Audra had been so much prettier. “No – that’s not witty – let me think.”
“But it’s not a-”
“Don’t tell me, Ava, I want to think of it. I can be just as sharp as you,” She smirked a little and turned to Ava’s mirror in the bathroom. “A dog and an old person…” She repeated it over and over. Finally she turned to Ava, defeated. “A dog has a tail to wag?”
Ava’s toes twitched. She supposed they were giggling. The most distant part of her body from her brain did find the situation funny.
“Exactly,” Ava chose to say.
“I have a present for you,” Mallory was washing her hands in the sink. “It’s in my cart.”
Ava didn’t have eyebrows anymore. She raised the flap of skin over her brow bone anyway.
“You got a package a few days ago, but we couldn’t figure out who it was from, but then Colleen said you didn’t sleep well last night, so I asked her when your birthday is but she didn’t know, so I thought we’d pretend today was your birthday, since you have a present and everything already. Plus, I brought this for you,” Mallory held out a small paper dish of ice cream, and a yellow catalog envelope. “Chef made it special.”
Ava couldn’t have taken the bowl any quicker. It had sprinkles on it. Balancing the ice cream in one claw-like hand, she hurried to scoot her aching hips up against her pillow. Mallory sat on the winged, calico chair as the governor of Michigan had thirty years ago. Ava wasn’t thinking about that. She just dove into dessert.
“Why did you have to move in here?”
What a question to ask someone on their first birthday, Ava thought. She’d already heaved a gigantic scoop like an iceberg into her mouth. She let several seconds pass, finding it blasphemous to interrupt ice cream that way.
“I fell.” It came out easier than she expected, so she kept going. “I was cutting back roses. It’s not so hard to do – you just count to three and chop, really, and you see I’m still very good at counting to three, I had handicapped scissors - you only have to apply the least amount of pressure, see, so the arthritis doesn’t matter. Well, and I was standing and then suddenly I wasn’t, and the hill was quite close to my face. My leg was throbbing a bit, I suppose.”
“Did it hurt?”
“Oh no,” Ava swiped up another beautiful chunk of the ice cream cliff onto her spoon, jubilant as a commercial. “When you’re as old as I am, dear, you don’t feel any pain.”
Mallory had one thick brown eyebrow to raise, and she did. Ava was tempted to wink at her since Mallory looked almost charming when she did that.
Ava didn’t wink. That was such an old person thing to do.
“You better open up your package,” Mallory nodded to the envelope. Ava wanted to tell her it was an envelope, not a package, but she didn’t. She ripped it open and out stumbled two pale blue rectangles. She blinked.
“What are they?”
Mallory snatched at a lavender card and read speedily, eyes widening the whole time, before picking up the tickets and flailing them around, flat wings flapping on her fingertips.
“Oh, Ava!” She cried. “You’re going to fly again!”
The First Sunday of July
Avalon Getz checked her luggage, rode through security on a wheelchair and was the first to board her first flight, Southwest 2827 to Fort Myers, Florida. She was going to visit Gretchen and Mark.
The Detroit Airport was the most expensive building she had ever seen. Wet tile and windows, polished squares everywhere, cold, silver and streaming as ice cubes hurled in water. She rode through an underground tunnel bordered with blazing cobalt glass. Glossy moving walkways glimmered with a crystalline shine. It reminded her of the Alzheimer’s Unit at Bruno House, all that therapeutic metal. Ava was fascinated with the speed and passion in this hall of black and blue. And to think - she had complained about gray and peach! It made her feel like a fish in an aquarium, as she prepared to become a bird in the sky.
How very regeneration-al of you, dear, the intelligent side of her remarked.
She counted four Starbucks’, two Caribou Coffee’s and a Coffee Beanery on her way to Gate A12. She wondered if everyone but her spent their whole lives staring at the bottom of a mug. “Flight to Florence will be leaving from Gate C as-in-Charlie Nine in 10 minutes” rang from the ceiling. She trailed a couple riding on an escalator, quite convinced they’d had relations the night before, though they refused to look at each other until the man appeared to make an apology. From her seat in the lobby, she watched the pilot go into the plane. His skin was ruddy and drunk with sky, rubbed into his complexion. It made her uneasy to see how skinny he was. She wanted pilots to be brawny, intelligent and sensitive, like the sky they flew in.
Even though she had never been a stewardess, Ava knew it would have been both easy as well as a total waste of time. Keeping panic down when you’re 30,000 feet high? Laughable. And “securing your own mask before assisting others,” was sure as hell not going to be the last thing she did before a trumpet of justice sounded in her face. She watched, regardless, so she could report to Mallory. They presented the security manual, curled their hands like extra ears to demonstrate the safety exits. They flipped the fake seat belt and pulled the strap down. They did it for the first class first, of course, and then to all of them on the other side of the navy curtain. Completely, utterly useless.
She missed the take off and didn’t wake until her ears popped. The narrow paths to her brain throbbed, a clinching pressure stirring and probing above her clip-on’s. She couldn’t breathe, think, taste or even feel. As she struggled to keep up with the motion of the tiny steel toy she rode in, she turned to her left, searching for a spot to focus on.
A window. All creamy white on the bottom and crisp blue on the top, divided evenly as soap. Frost spawned on a world that couldn’t be real, couldn’t belong in her life. The plane pierced and punctured through froth, splintering in and out of a beige impregnated sky, irritating colossal, cauliflower fields.
Her shoulders felt her laugh more than her brain did. What joy! Watching the foggy delight through the window, she thought Sterling. The sky stretched on, a brave beyond swirling over the creamy coverlet of this world. Between the eyelashes of reality framing her vision, she thought Heaven.
Ava didn’t have to dream anymore. She didn’t need to keep her hands stuck stubborn in the earth. Her knees bent in the weeds, knuckles gripping at tree roots, she could learn to let go of life.
The choking stopped as air flew down her neck and water fell out her eyes.
Audra and Stephen, five and seven, on the tire swing. Sterling with the pitchfork down the hill. He looked up at her where she knelt in the daisies and waved.
Ava stood. She shook mud off her gloves and smeared at her soaked face. A ball of warmth began to grow like she was lit in her stomach. No more ice cream, no more toilet to clean. Crying, flying, dying, she no longer feared them at all.
Avalon Getz had a problem with living.
Sometimes she even did it when she slept.