Terra Firma

by: Jessica Huang

In my dreams I never fly.

I’ve heard people describe it, though, and I can picture what it would be like, that moment between lift off and landing, the moment where physics hesitates and the clouds cradle them. The moment when they realize they can.

My sister describes it casually, her middle finger pressing up crumbs from the counter, her eyebrows raised and forehead shining. “I start by hopping, rolling through the arches, like we do in Julia’s class, small sotés.” Kate has perfect sotés, her feet extend past her toes, just like Julia says they should.

“And as each jump gets higher and higher, I realize I’m using less and less effort. I feel like I’m climbing the air, almost. But lightly. Does that make sense?” she smiles the secret smile of those who know.

I nod, bite my cheek, cross my arms over my awkward not-quite chest. A ragged thumb slips into a damp armpit. My clothes don’t fit right.

“And then at some point I jump. I jump and don’t land and instead, hover somewhere above. And I can feel the wind on the soles of my feet and beneath my dress and I know I’m able. I know exactly what I’m able to do.”

She places the crumbs delicately on her tongue, unaware that they were from my breakfast, the evidence of a more masculine approach to solitary pancakes; fast fisted forkfuls, like a steelworker, my mother says. Kate closes her lips around my crumbs, considers, continues.

“I push myself using a secret force; I float myself higher and higher, careful not to let myself get scared, careful to look down barely and with grace. This force comes from, well, you know where. Deep inside. And using it, I can coast on barest of breezes.”

My sister recently got her period and she reminds me every chance she gets. She’s smug. She knows she’s viable.

“And then, oh my god, then I’m rushing.” Her eyes brighten. “Below me it’s our neighborhood at first, I can see the top of Mrs. Mower’s hat as she waters the garden. The arcing spray so clear from above, a perfect parabola. Then I’m beyond that, into something wild, into rusty rock landscapes with spiked grass patches
poking through, warm wooded hilltops with flocks of sparrows who wing with me, waterfalls and rivers and oceans, crystal from way up high, and soon even that’s a blur. I just see rushing, rushing, rushing joy.”

She finishes, smiles, licks her lips. “How about you?”

I lie in bed each night, imagining what she sees. Imagining the drop of my stomach as my toes leave the earth, hoping that if I imagine hard enough, I’ll get just a moment’s taste, a gust before I wake up from excitement. I don’t, though. In my dreams, I’m decidedly land bound.

“Don’t pick at that,” I scorn, “That’s disgusting.” I cup the remaining crumbs and swipe them to the floor.

I cannot fly because I am too heavy. Because every time I jump, gravity grips my ankles, yanking me to the floor. Like a baby elephant, Julia says to me. You sound like a hoofed thing.