LISP 4th Quarter 2020 Official Selection, Short Story, 'Flight' by Bruce Meyer
You never want to imagine the worst so you imagine the best or at least something better than the worst. My daughter asked me to imagine she could fly. It was a little game we played to pass the time and to take our minds off the smell of bleach in the hallways. I told her people don’t fly.
“That’s your business,” she insisted. “Maybe you like the truth, but just for the sake of imagining things imagine I can fly.”
So I did.
Then I asked her where she would fly to if she had the chance.
“Why Mexico?” I asked.
“I’ve never been there.”
“Do you mean the resort Mexico where the hotels have swim-up bars in the middle of the pools with grass tiki huts where you can catch some shade after you’ve been out in the sun too long?”
I wasn’t sure what she wanted. Was she hinting at an all-inclusive? Mexico is not merely one thing, and if we were going to imagine it properly I needed more information.
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I want to see butterflies. Mostly monarchs with their orange and black wings. Do you remember when we were up on Manitoulin, at Providence Bay? We’d just walked out on the shallow sandflats of the bay, and as we came in together from as far as the lifeguard would let us go, the water up only to your knees, a butterfly lit on your arm.”
“I remember that. You must have been about four. How long ago was that?”
”Only six years ago.”
“Six years is a long time,” I replied.
“There’s no time in the mind. You told me that. Do you remember what you said? You said it had a long way to go. You told me how they fly south every year just like the birds and then after the winter they fly back again, millions of them, to feed on the milkweed pods in the ditches of Manitoulin, and when the heads break open and the fluff floats through the air like Santa Clauses they head back south again before the cold weather. They must work very hard to make it home. I want to see what that home looks like.”
“Alright,” I said, “Let me give it a try.” She closed her eyes. “There are mountains between the desert in the center of Mexico and mountains closer to the Caribbean coast. Those mountains rise up like dragon’s teeth, or at least they looked like that the first time I saw them on the road south of Monterrey. It was very dark. I could see their outline.”
“So, you aren’t imagining. You are remembering.” She was refereeing our game.
“Ah, but there’s a difference. Yes, I was there, but I am imagining you there with me, not here, not in this place, so it’s different. You can imagine a real place as long as you’re seeing it in a new ways. Okay? So, we’re there together. As the highway snakes higher and higher into the hills, the Sierras as they are called are green because the green side, the Caribbean side, catches the rain. We pull off the highway. There’s a stream running through the valley. It is called an arroyo. We climb down the bank of the creek, carefully holding on to branches but watching where we put our hands. Do you know why we have to take such care? Imagine that every branch is lined with butterflies. There are millions of them, not just monarchs, but millions of yellow, blue, white, and even red butterflies. They are everywhere. I want to tell you to be careful where you tread, not to hold on to anything too tightly or to open your mouth to speak because the butterflies might fly in to get a better idea of what you are saying. We kneel down beside the arroyo. We can hear the water chattering over rocks in the streams, and it is cool beside the flow. We are covered in butterflies until they lift us up in the air. They are holding onto us tightly, and they won’t let go because they don’t want to drop us.”
“Where do we go from there?” she asked as she shifted in the hospital bed and turned one cheek toward the pillow.
“Anywhere you want,” I said. She fluffed the pillow around my head.
“Even as we lie here waiting for you to get well,” she whispered, “we can imagine flying away. We can become angels, and I can imagine that angels never feel pain, that they never suffer because they have no bodies, take up no space, and are pure thought just like you told me.”
I smiled. I had never imagined what it would be like to be without my body, but the idea of becoming a thought made me smile. I wanted her to think of me whenever this whole thing was over, perhaps lie down on a grassy hill in midsummer, stare at a clear blue sky above, and watch a pair of butterflies dance with nothing to hold them up except the perfection of their flight.