My dreams are filled with flying. It starts slowly, with a tug, as if invisible marionette strings are sewn to my shoulders. I am lifted from my bed in jerks, just a few inches at first. Then I am erect, my legs dangle, uselessly, and I float around the room.Sometimes I hover in a corner. The room is warmer near the ceiling. The top of the book shelves are soft with dust. Lola-Kitty yawns and looks up at me. She has seen this before. My flight holds no interest for her.
I giggle and bounce in the air. I am an acrobat on a trampoline. I am a bubble on the wind.
Eventually, every dreamer must wake. When I do, I am still in my room, a heavy lump on the bed, covered by thick quilts and floral sheets. My legs stretch out before me. I pull myself, twisting and scooting, pressing all my weight on my elbows, until I am in a sitting position. Then, there is nothing to do but wait for Ruby to come in and lift me into my chair, and begin another endless, unvaried day. Ruby rolls me to the bathroom, my wheelchair squeaking. She helps dress me. Together we eat breakfast with Aunt Dulcinea.
“Good morning, ladies.” Aunt Dulcie has come to see us as one. “Mallory, you’re looking a bit tired. Did you rest well?”
I want to say, how can I not rest well? I do nothing but rest. But, instead I say, “No, not really. I had a performance of ‘Swan Lake’ last night. It took a lot out of me.”
She looks down at my pink satin toe shoes. They are perfect, unskuffed. They are shoes that have never touched a stage, or a floor. She raises her eyebrows and drops her eyes back onto the paper she was reading.
Aunt Dulcinea is a fine guardian. I have no real complaints. She has cared for me since the accident. I am a very lucky girl to have a trust fund and an insurance settlement she always says. These will support me forever and provide me with home health care, and doctors’ visits, everything I will ever need. I am lucky, too, because I remember almost nothing about the accident.
I have learned a lot from my night flights. (Yes, they are always at night.) One thing, is that even with the thrill of levitating, the same room can become boring. I have learned, too, that with practice, I can move up and down vertically, and forward horizontally. Once, I dropped almost to the floor, upright, in a walking pose. Then, I reached my hand to the doorknob and turned it. I slipped into the hall and then the kitchen, plopping down hard on a chair.
For a few weeks I was happy with a midnight refrigerator raid, or sinking into the soft sofa to look through a magazine. The exhilaration of sitting on anything other that a wheelchair is bliss. It is like taking a drug, a good one. I am high.
Of course, I am not insane. I know that I will never fly. Do other people who are imprisoned in some way have similar dreams? Probably so.
My life is centered around clinic visits, some for physical therapy, some for psychiatric work. Both are futile. My legs do not work. That makes me sad.
People who can never possibly understand seem to think that one disability morphs into some sort of superpower. They believe that the other senses intensify to make up for the one that is lost. This concept is pure bull. I have spent too much time in hospitals. There, I have met blind people who can barely hear, deaf folks who have no sense of smell, and enough simple-minded people to wrap around the globe twice. I have never met an idiot savant.
Another misconception is that the crippled are somehow special, kinder and better than everyone else. There is nothing saintly about the afflicted. In fact, many of them are quite bitter. The anger can seep from their skin like wisps of sulfur. In this way I am no different.
I may not have power over my legs, but I began to realize that I could manipulate my dreams. These flying dreams were mine, therefore I began to direct them like a movie. Here was an escape from my prison, even if it was only a delusion.
One evening as Ruby was putting me to bed, I said, “Ruby, it is so stuffy in here. Could you leave the window open?”
She rolled her eyes so that a crescent of white was visible under her dark lashes. “Now, Miss Mal, you know your aunt don’t want you to catch a chill.” She padded across the carpet in her ubiquitous rubber-soled shoes.
“Maybe just a tad,” she said as she raised it only a few inches from the sill. The lace curtains fluttered. Ruby looked back at me, suspiciously, as if I had asked to be pushed from the window. She left the room, her white stockings made a swishing sound when her thick thighs brushed against each other.
That night my dream was different. I was lifted from my bed, moving in awkward twitching shudders to the window. I shoved the window all the way up and leaned over the Camilla bushes and back yard. For just a moment I was frightened of falling. But, I knew what I wanted to do. I felt two strong yanks at my shoulders, and I was out of the window.
The April air was still cool. I shivered once, but did not dare go back for a jacket or sweater. Dreams are like clouds, ephemeral and magic. They may evaporate if I returned to my room.
At first, I scooted across the lawn, straight up, as if walking. Soon I began lifting slowly, slightly above the crepe myrtle trees, then over the carport.
I could rise no higher than the rooftops. I was careful to avoid the telephone lines and street lights. Sometimes I peeked into second story windows. I’m no voyeur. Truthfully, there was seldom anything interesting to see. Around here most folks go to bed early. Those who stay up late just sit, zombie-like, in front of the television.
I was not confidant enough to go far. I dropped behind a tall fence into a neighbor’s yard and plucked a ripe tomato from their garden. A dog stuck his head from between printed curtains in a well-lit room and growled. The low vibration of his snarl made me laugh. I threw the tomato at him. It hit the glass with a splat. Sometimes, I lost control for a few seconds. I was always able to recover, even if I dropped abruptly.
Flying, even if imaginary, is exhausting. Now, it was time to dream my way home and into my warm bed.
“Miss Mally, Miss Mally.” Ruby was shaking me. “Time to rise and shine.” She jiggled my shoulders. They were sore and achy, most likely from sleeping in some twisted position all night. “Girl,” she said. “I ain’t never seen you so hard to wake up. We goin’ to Dr. Shafiq this mornin’. Gotta git up.” Dr. Shafiq is my psychiatrist. He has treated me since the accident four years ago. I believe he is a fraud. He asks the same questions over and over. Do I feel guilty? No. Do I miss my parents? Yes. Have I accepted my “new normal”? Hell, no. He likes to tell Aunt Dulcinea that I am making progress. But, I think that is just to give the impression that he is competent, and moving me toward some great mental triumph. That psychiatry thing is a little gold mine. Today is no different. “Well, Mallory, how are you feeling?” “Fine.” I want to say that I would be feeling much better if I could have stayed in bed, or that I’m not feeling any different than I did on my last visit. Psychiatry is a cha-cha, we keep taking steps, two forward, two back, but stay in the same place. Cha, cha, cha.
“You are not having any thoughts of suicide, are you?”
How dumb does he think I am? The wording of the question tells me how to answer, sort of like on “Jeopardy”, where each question has a clue to the correct response. “No, Doctor, no thoughts of suicide.” Of course, suicide is always an option. If I ever really do it there will be no warning to this quack. “I just can’t accept the fact that my career with the Bolshoi is over.” Dr. Shafiq does not find me amusing. Today I am wearing shiny patent tap shoes. He has noticed, but learned some time ago that even he must pick his battles. “Mallory, we have discussed this before. Humor is a mask. We must face reality. Anyway, there is always hope. New breakthroughs are made everyday. You may dance again.” I wasn’t much of a dancer before. Honestly, I have no real desire to dance. I only long to walk again. It’s the small things I miss – running, the cool grass between my toes. I would be happy to feel the sting of the bee I stepped on as a child, or the burning of sand on the Gulf Coast beaches. Even my remembered pain is beginning to fade. “Yes, Doctor. No humor, mustn’t laugh.” According to the doctors, there is no physical reason for my paralysis. They seem to attribute it to survivor guilt, or something equally psychosomatic. I assure them, I would certainly walk if I could. “Let’s talk about dreams. Do you ever dream of your parents?” He makes notes, but I know he has a tape recorder in his desk. I have heard the clicks and squeaks, but pretended not to. “No. I don’t dream much about my parents. I only dream about sex.”
This is a subject he loves. Dr. Shafiq takes off his glasses and rubs his temples. The glasses are too tight and leave red lines on the side of his face. With all the money he makes from me alone, you would think he could afford better fitting glasses.
“Tell me about these dreams.” He tries to sound casual. I know this is right up his alley.
“Oh, Doctor, I relive the experiences from my past. Over and over again.”
I was only sixteen when “it” happened. Needless to say, my sexual experience was quite limited. Oh, I wasn’t a virgin. A few disappointing gropes and fucks in the back seat of a car isn’t much to hold on to. Frat boys don’t know much about that sort of thing. Sex must get better with maturity. It just has to.
“Yes,” he says, “tell me about them.”
So, I do. I get most of my material from internet porn sites, and some from romance novels. I’ve had to edit quite a bit since the sex in those novels usually begins with unlacing bustiers, or the ripping of pirate shirts. The porn site are more contemporary, but too kinky. I craft a composite that he apparently believes. I seem to have a talent for creating stories from things already in the public domain. In that way, I am like a cover band, a really good one.
I started to tell him a complicated story about how I had hidden away on a slave ship. There, Mikhail Baryshnikov had his way with me - during a typhoon. The seas were boiling, and so were my loins and heaving breasts!
“Baryshnikov? Slave ship? Typhoon?”
Oh, damn! I went too far.
“Oh, not a real slave ship, just a motor boat in the river. And, well, the boy looked a lot like Baryshnikov. It was all just role-playing.”
“Quite an imagination you have, young lady.”
Whew! I think he believed me.
Being the only flier in town can be lonely. One night, I decide to take Lola-Kitty with me. I tied the long sleeves of a shirt tightly around my waist, rolling the open collar so she wouldn’t slip out, and buttoned the bottom of the upside-down shirt around my neck. This made a papoose-like pouch across my chest. I slipped the cat into the shirt.
Perhaps this was not the best thought-out plan. She was uncomfortable, squirmy. But, I ignored her and slipped out of the window. We took a few turns around the back yard. I have learned to twirl in one place like a tiny dancer in a music box. Lola did not care for this. I lifted us onto the roof to rearrange her, to try to make her more comfortable. She let out a pained “meooww”. In a flash, she had slithered from the awkward sack-thingy and ran across the shingles and into the Magnolia tree next to the house. Oh well, there may be a reason that cats do not have wings. Maybe that is why they are so cruel to birds – jealousy.
The next morning my aunt said, “Mallory, Ruby tells me that you have been leaving your window open at night. I don’t think this is a very good idea.”
“Well, for one reason, Lola must have jumped out last night. She was on the doorstep, whining, when I got the paper.”
“Oh.” Lola-kitty is strictly an indoor-cat. She was my mother’s. In a way she is my feline-sister, one of the ever declining connections to my parents.
“Also,” my aunt is just full of conversation today, “Ruby, is concerned about some scratches on your chest. She thinks you might be hurting yourself, accidently, in your sleep.”
I know what she is really thinking. They both worry that I may be hurting myself on purpose. The subject has come up before.
I looked down at my skinny thighs and knees, the skin loose, the muscles long since deteriorated. Ice skates that Ruby had laced onto my feet had raised my legs a few inches. If I had any feeling that might have been uncomfortable.
“I still think you should lock that window at night.” Aunt Dulcinea went back to reading her paper. This meant that the conversation was over. That window must remain locked.
I faced the open pages of the “Dispatch”. Why not? My aunt was hiding behind it. The front page had an article about squabbling between City Councilmen, and some businesses closing, and the sightings of a very large bird flying around at night. Oh, the joys of a small town. Everything makes the paper, even the hallucinations of people with wild imaginations.
She lowered the paper slightly and said, “Don’t forget, you have physical therapy this morning.”
I hate physical therapy. It accomplishes nothing. My therapist, Aimee, is everything that I should be – young, cute, living a real life. She has long hair and a boyfriend. I’m sure she has all the sex she wants. I hate her.
Aimee pulls off my ice skates without comment. Ruby helps her tie some tennis shoes on my feet. (Like they think this makes more sense! I will be playing as much tennis as ice skating or dancing.) She stretches my legs, bending the knees and ankles to warm me up before more rigorous tortures.
“Ouch! Aimee, you’re hurting me!”
She looks surprised. “I haven’t done anything yet. You shouldn’t be feeling this.”
“But, I am.”
“Really, Mallory? Tell me the truth.”
“YES! That hurts!”
She leaves the room for what seems like forever. When she returns Dr. Harrison, my orthopedic guy is with her.
He begins moving my legs, poking my thighs and shins with his bony fingers, and a Q tip, and a needle. He pulls out something that looks like a tuning fork and touches it to several places on my legs.
“Damn, Doctor, I’m in pain.”
The rest of the day was filled with a bunch of miserable tests, a MRI, more prodding and twisting my limbs, neurological bull shit. At least they forgot all about physical therapy. The results must have been notable, because Aunt Dulcinea was called in for a conference.
Dr. Harrison was quite pleased with himself. “We may have some very good news for you and your niece,” he said. “Now, it is too soon to be talking of a complete recovery, but there appears to be some regeneration of feeling. This certainly bodes well.” He leaned back in his chair with a smug smile, as if this was a miracle created only by him.
My aunt wiped away a tear. She grabbed my arm. You would have thought she had just won The Publisher’s Clearing House.
“Baby steps, baby steps,” said the doctor. “We must take this slowly. Mallory can work on this as an out patient. Let’s see what happens.”
The next few weeks were filled with injections, exercises, more torture, new drugs. I began calling Dr. Harrison the Marquis de Sade.
During this time, my flying dreams became more faint. I started remembering the accident. Night terrors filled my sleep. Over and over I heard the crunch of gravel under the tires, the squealing brakes. I swerved, my hands clutching the wheel with all my strength. I felt every roll of the car. I saw the blood and the shattered glass.
One day, I asked for a reprieve from this torture. “Can’t I just take a break?” I begged. “It’s all too hard.” “We are afraid all your progress you will dissipate. You may backtrack, and have to start over.” The doctors, Aunt Dulcinea, even Ruby, every one was pushing me to continue. In the end, I won one week of amnesty – no drugs, no therapy, no hospital. Two days later I was flying under a crescent moon. Stars winked at me, happy (I believe) to share the sky with me again. The night unfolded like a velvet gown. “The Dispatch” ran more stories about the huge bird that was seen flying around town. Some people believed it to be an Owl, with an extraordinary wing span. There was talk of aliens, or possibly the results of weapons testing in the atmosphere that created a malformation in some common creature. People complained that their pets were spooked. I didn’t think any of these stories had validity. My flying was so very real to me. Other people’s delusions must seem just as true to them.
There was also the possibility that folks in this town might be on drugs. There were reports of the “mysterious flying thing” almost every night. The “sightings” could not have been crazy people sharing my fantasy, because these reports often came on days when I did not dream of flight. Maybe there’s something in the water around here. The City Council should check that out.
I was loving the release from my drug-induced nightmares, and doctor-induced pain. After my “week off” so to speak, I returned, as promised, to the hospital appointments, and all that involved. Again, my dreams turned ugly. I heard my mother’s screams. And, I remembered the abrupt silence when they stopped. My legs ached. Flashes of sharp pain, like electrical charges, shot up my spine. I shrieked. I sobbed. Aimee apologized. Dr. Harrison gave me the “it’s for your own good, you are making progress” lecture a hundred times. This did not feel like progress to me. It became apparent to me that I needed another break from physical torture. I devised a plan to feign illness, nothing elaborate, just the flu, or something. I hid the heating pad inside of my pillowcase. Right before Ruby came in, I turned it on high and laid my head against the warm linen. “Ruby, I think I have fever,” I said as weakly as possible. She took my temperature. “Oh, yeah, Miss Mally. You got quite a fever. No hospital visit for you today.”
My aunt came in the check on me. She put her cheek against my forehead and frowned. “I’ll cancel your appointments for the next couple of days. But, you will have to continue taking the drugs.”
The “next couple of days” bled into the weekend, which turned into a five-day respite for the hospital. I discovered that I could stash the pills in my cheek, and spit them into the ivy next to my bed. No hospital! No drugs! Healthy people just do not know how lucky they are.
That weekend I went a little farther from home. I flew downtown and looked into shop windows. I sat in a tree and ate an apple plucked from a branch. I spun in circles around the monument to Confederate War dead in front of the courthouse. That made me dizzy so I lifted up the roof of the Methodist church for a rest.
It was a lovely night. The man in the moon winked at me. He peeked from behind translucent clouds, and gave me a sly look, as if he knew a wonderful secret.
I lay back against the church’s copper roof and closed my eyes for a moment. Something very large moved above my head with a swish, as if an Eagle had flown a few inches above me. I turned and saw a boy watching me from the turret that crowns the post office across the street.
In a second he was next to me. I was too frightened to move. He wore heavy braces on his legs. They clattered against the metal shingles.
“I’ve seen you before,” he said. “I watched you fly.”
I couldn’t say anything.
“You’re getting better at it.”
I thought that maybe all the Prozac and who-knows-what meds had a residual effect. I must be hallucinating. But, it all felt so real. A breeze stirred my hair. The world smelled like sweet olive and rain.
“I can show you some stuff,” he said. “Things that will help you fly. That is, if you want me to.”
I nodded. It was all I could do.
The boy took my hand. “The most important thing is never let anyone see you. . .except, of course, me.”
“What happens if they see me?”
We moved straight up, over the trees, faster than I had ever gone before. The streetlights were far below us. The stars seemed close enough to touch.
I wondered if they will miss me at the hospital.