I opened the window and a light haze in the air surrounded me, brushed across my cheeks and tugged on my hands. Steady taps of rain came from above my head when I stepped onto the sill, looking out and not down, extending my arms while droplets collected on the tops of my fingers. My bare feet slid an inch, maybe two, and I grabbed the window frame to steady myself, even though I knew I didn’t have to.
The apartment behind me was dark, and that night the walls inside my room seemed to be expanding and contracting like lungs. Everything else was quiet, but not enough to keep me there surrounded by the uncertain. Nothing would make me stay inside. Nothing. I slipped into the misty twilight.
As I soared over the city, climbing above more than the five stories where I started, I breathed, taking in the third ingredient. Filling up with oxygen came in third behind a good breeze and the air saturated with moisture. I didn’t require much of these three things, except for oxygen, because I was convinced that the real puppeteer of my nightly flights were gentle microgravities of stars. Not the stars so high, but barely visible stars much closer to the earth. Lesser stars that are much harder to see unless you’re right on them.
I know something the astrophysicists don’t.
I pulled my arms in and twirled. What’s it like to do this? Like that first dive off the side of the pool, when you move your upper body forward and ignore that voice that tells you you’re being crazy, and you believe it just before the moment your realize you can really do it. You can really escape the cloud of sickness and doom that wants to press in on you, especially when you try to sleep. Something pulls you with invisible strands until it finally releases you like mom’s hands taken away while you’re riding your first bike.
Swimming the sky above the cottony white that concealed all but a few lights, I could choose not to think about mom in her bedroom with the television on so it wouldn’t be too quiet, even though she’d always hated the TV. In an hour, dad would be home, but it wasn’t like they hadn’t already said everything they could that wasn’t about the thing they didn’t want to talk about.
Below me, hidden beneath the clouds, my old elementary school sat empty. I liked it there, taking my first art class from Ms. Trevino, before they did away with art classes, and hiding in the library between classes. Back then my father didn’t work so late so he could tuck us in with scary stories or funny stories, stories from his childhood in Colombia where he was born. Mom, who grew up only a few blocks away from here, always listened to the stories from the closet-sized third bedroom, what we called her studio, while she painted.
I thought of the graphic novel I’m working on, about Guarina, otherwise known as Alida Hummingbird, sailing through the open skies just like me. She searches for evil and injustice and avenges those who have been wronged.
I gave the air a good kick and as I was propelled forward, bugs slapped against my cheeks until I spun them away. On my back the universe of heavenly bodies looked down on me as if I am worth saving.
I closed my eyes for a second and didn’t realize that I’d slowly sunk down, thankfully between two buildings rather than landing on top of one. I opened my eyes and startled and had to stop myself from that mild panic when I didn’t know exactly where I was and whether it would all give way. Just as I straightened out and the currents like stabilizing arms kept me fixed in one place, I saw it. The roof of my high school, lit by a misty fog that clouded the street lamps. Rusty chain link fences surrounded the building. Someone had tossed a dozen beer bottles that scattered like icy blades across the sidewalk.
What lurked inside the building was more dangerous. Vasitri. The man-like hairy creature of Maricaibo, come here to do harm. It was after hours and he really shouldn’t be there. I know he never leaves. I pushed myself off again, back toward the thick of the city and then toward home.
That’s when I saw it. The shadow of a figure. I grabbed the corner of a high rise and flipped around it away from the shadow’s owner. He looked like a boy in a hoodie, just floating there, until he completely disappeared. Like he melted into the dark.
I made my way back to my window not sure I should fly again. The point was always that I could fly where I wanted, that no one would see me, that no one would bother me. Now I know at least one other person in the world was out there to challenge that. Just before I slipped into the room, one more question nagged at me: Could Vasitris fly?
“You really need to get another superpower.”
I started when I heard the voice, fumbled for the lamp and saw her slumped in the chair. “Funny, Lil.”
My sister Liliana closed the book on her lap, which she wouldn’t have been reading anyway without the light on. “Dad’s coming home late but he’s bringing food.”
I pulled off my sweater and wiped my feet across the carpet. “That will take a while. Are you hungry? I could make you something.”
Liliana shook her head. “I don’t really feel like eating.”
“You need to eat.”
“You, too, Gwynie. If you don’t you’ll lose your one good superpower.”
I didn’t respond to the superpower comment. “I eat.”
“Not even breakfast. Can you help me with my math homework?”
“Sure. You’re usually better at math than me.”
“Not tonight. I don’t feel that smart.” She put the book down on the table beside her bed and sat up. “Where did you go this time?”
“Just out. It got too cold.”
“I know. I hate Februaries.”
“But spring is almost here.” I pulled on my boots and then a sweatshirt over my head. When my head popped out, Liliana stood in front of the closed door. “I thought we were going to work on math.”
“I want to check on mom, first.” She opened the door. “Maybe she’s hungry.”
Liliana’s hair as she walked away looked like the long black tail of a horse, sleek and shiny. I sat at the desk and pulled out my sketchbook, recreated the tail on one blank page. I knew I needed to conserve paper, but I wanted that image to be all by itself. It would someday grow into the fully formed body of a horse, maybe a horse from Alida’s childhood, or her spirit animal.
When I was finished, I felt pleased by what I’d done. At least it was good enough for now. And good enough for now meant one thing. I took out the best pen I owned, maker of dark and silky lines. I, Gwendolyn Elizabeth Mora, signed my name as I always do. There, at the bottom of the page, I claimed the illustration with one word: “GEM.”