by Grace Connolly
I was wearing my turquoise suede moccasins. I was afraid they would get wet because I knew it would start raining at any given moment. There was an ominous raincloud making its way down the block.
I decided I needed to leave the city. I packed a small valise with silk scarves and kid gloves and a completely impractical lace shift that I figured could double up as a cocktail dress in case the need should arise for it because after all, you never know.
I carried my red umbrella with the pink beaked duck handle over my head willing it not to break or blow away. It didn’t. Thank you Lands’ End.
I reached the train station and bought a ticket for the New Haven line without a destination in mind. The train left the station as the sky turned a pitch black and we chugged slowly up the Hudson. Expect delays if the tracks are flooded. I prayed to God we’d beat this one way or the other and wished the Hudson Line had rooms with beds like an overnight train. I walked in between cars and my hair clung to my head wet, all in order to see if there was a seat alone. There wasn’t. I sat next to a woman who was highly engrossed in a book about business tax. She didn’t seem too thrilled about having to have a seatmate either as her body language pointed out: shifting all the way to the right nearly smashed up against the glass.
I decided that I’d take the train and stay overnight maybe in Cold Springs on the Hudson. I could weather out the storm there, maybe at a bed and breakfast. I decided it would be fun if the Hudson was a large lazy river so that in the summer time you could float on rafts and the current would take you down past New York City. Country to city and then out, out way out in the ocean floating in the salty sweet. I decided a rainstorm might not be the best time to try out this idea but before I knew it I was in Cold Springs, getting soaked on my walk to the bed and breakfast because I was too cheap to take a taxi—even in a rain storm. Luckily they had one room left.
Before I had reason to question rhyme I put the lace slip on and went into the dining room for a drink. A Dark and Stormy, I requested. The gentlemen all raised their eyebrows and the suburban housewife looked intrigued as she downed what I am sure was her third glass of red wine. I lifted my glass, Bon Voyage, I toasted myself realizing as I glanced down that the slip as a cocktail dress was a magnificent idea. The blue really glistened. The perfect attire for a trip out to sea.
I walked down to the muddy bank in my bare feet and threw the glass behind me in complete abandon. I’d never been one for diving in and so I didn’t. I gently dipped one toe and the current grabbed my ankle sucking me under. A branch, a branch, find a branch, something to float on which was anyway part of the original plan that sounded way more romantic in my mind. I surfaced. I’m not dead popped into my head and then I saw it, the branch that would be my lifeline. I felt my stomach scraped by excess offshoots as I struggled to balance myself around it. I looked to the left and the lights of Cold Springs were missing. It was in pitch black that I was carried down the river, shooting left and right somersaulting around the branch.
This happened for a very long time. I can’t tell you how long because all I know is it was dark and rainy and I was fighting for dear life to hold onto that branch and to breathe and not swallow too much water. Later things calmed down and I realized they would probably stay that way. My eyes swollen with sea water I decided I’d keep floating. Now it would be better. I’d float way out to that salty sea and I’d finally get some rest. I don’t mean that I wanted to die, it really is just that this all came from wanting to relax after such thrill seeking on what turns out was the farthest thing from a lazy river you can imagine. But I found out the hard way which is what most people do anyway and I lived so I figured, chapter 2. I decided I didn’t want to live on land anymore. So I stayed floating on that salty sea for a pretty long time. Unfortunately sometimes the body really does win out over mind. There was this major issue of dehydration. The marvelous fantasy of sustaining on sea life and brine had fallen through and there was no way I was turning into a mermaid. I mused that they were probably rooting for me to die so I could be the delicacy of the week in that mermaid stew we all hear about. I hated to admit defeat and so I just altered my plan. I considered that maybe Mermaids were a myth.
I decided to start flying. Way up and out of the salty sea back to the land where I had come from.
But the wings that grew had different ideas. They decided to fly up and up into the atmosphere where the raindrops glazed my lips clicking my brain on. Why go home? I reasoned. I’d fly. I’d fly to Paris and Venice, Rome, Madrid, Cairo. I’d see the tangled rainforest of South America and the icy terrain of Antarctica. I’d see everything in the world I’d ever wanted to see. So after the bumpy start I really took off, flying as it turns out was the life for me and my body made modifications.
The more I flew the more I really began to resemble something that belonged in the sky. Whereas the sea had rejected me the atmosphere gripped me up, blew wind down my throat and insisted I stay a while. My skin out of necessity acquired a layer of thin down-like feathers. My depth perception really improved. I found that what I once thought necessary to sustain myself was rather frivolous and so I feasted on whatever was available. Even sometimes, garbage. One man’s waste I joked to myself, every time that happened (which sometimes was pretty often). I flew so far and for so long that it became difficult for me to remember what my life was even like before, when I was only a woman down on land.
Time passed. After a while, I began to grow bored as the exotic nature of my travels suddenly became a routine bird exercise. Here in the summer, here in the winter. Flight patterns and such.
I decided I’d stop flying. Start remembering what real life was like again. See what I’d been missing.
When I got back to the city I had a hard time finding a place to stay. It had been ten years. Time flies when you fly (literally), and my friends were hard to find. My apartment building was gone replaced by a new multimillion dollar condominium. I stayed in a shelter the first several nights surrounded by people who spoke a language I realized I now barely understood. I learned it was better to shut up than to share my story. Where are you from? People kept asking.
I found my family. They insisted on doctors. So many doctors, all kinds with probes and lights. They chalked the down up to a hormonal imbalance. They too really didn’t want to hear about where I’d been. They gave me medicine to make me forget. I was lectured—did I know the trouble I’d caused? You eat like a bird now, my mother accused me. They told me I needed to get my act together, I heard them mumbling about me using phrases like ‘bad choices,’ ‘free spirit,’ and even ‘schizophrenic.’ My dad chalked it all up to art college. That was the mistake he kept repeating, that was the mistake.
I dug out the old diploma and got a job as a secretary. I eventually found an apartment. A place with 3 other roommates. My legs became stronger. My stomach readjusted. I whistled and then I stopped when I realized whistling is not a normal thing to do constantly. All of this took so long and felt so arduous that I’d wonder to myself how it had all come down to this.
Slowly and surely the various aspects of my life improved. Within a year I made new friends, I joined a gym, I found a Chinese place I really liked right in my neighborhood. When it rained, I went inside and prayed to God the power would stay on. Sometimes I remembered about the flying and felt a sort of yearning inside. I repeated a mantra. I told myself that that period of my life was, well, a little nuts. Better to forget, not to live in the past. After all, I’d come so far to get back to where I started that by the time I finally arrived, everything had changed.
Grace Connolly is currently based in Harlem, NY. Her poem “The Fool” will be published in an upcoming issue of Black Heart Magazine. Previous publications include pieces in Blazevox, The Commonline Journal, and CC&D. She enjoys traveling and playing ball with her Patterdale Terrier, Spanky. She currently studies through the UCLA Writers Extension and is working on her first screenplay.
Image credit: Toni Frissell, 1947, on Wikipedia