Michael knelt at the coffee table, spinning the penny he’d found on the floor across the table top.
“Play along with him,” Ms. Duncan had told Wendy that day when she came by her classroom to pick up Michael. Wendy was supposed to share that information with the whole family, but she was really the only one who had time to follow Ms. Duncan’s instructions. “It will help him connect with you if you interact with him.”
Wendy cradled a coin in the palm of her hand, then dropped to her knees beside Michael and set her penny to spinning, too. As she watched it whirl, she noticed Michael’s eyes on it. Last time when she’d tried this and the penny stopped moving, he’d whined and shouted and abruptly run from the room.
This time, though, for more than a half hour, the two of them sat like this, each keeping pennies standing and spinning. Wendy finally got tired and wanted to stop, not certain how her brother would react. “One last time.” She stood the coin on end again and set it to whirling.
Wendy looked up to see Michael’s gaze meet hers even as his coin dropped down onto the tabletop. He had never reacted like this before, staring directly into her eyes.
“Watch mine SPIN, Michael.” She said the word with great emphasis, as she thought she was supposed to do.
“Fly!” he whispered.
Almost as quickly as he’d engaged her, Michael whipped away from the table and ran into the next room, screaming as he went.
Wendy startled. Fly? Why did he say that word? Up to then, he’d only repeated words someone else had said. Maybe she’d accidentally said the word and had just forgotten.
Later, when Wendy got Michael ready for bed, he struggled with her as he always did, rejecting the toothbrush and his pajamas. To distract him, Wendy retold the story of that afternoon. “Remember what we did with the pennies? That was fun.” He stared at the wall behind where she sat.
JJ amused himself in the other bed by reading a book out loud in a nonsense language.
Wendy ignored him to concentrate on Michael. “I guess you wanted to fly, huh? I’d like to fly, too. Up in the SKY!” She took him in her arms and lifted him up. He struggled against her and groaned in dissent, so she quickly put him down.
“I can fly,” JJ announced from his bed, twisting the sheet around his outstretched foot. “I’ve flown over this building before.”
“How come I haven’t seen you?” Wendy worked the pajama bottoms over Michael’s twisting legs.
“Because you were asleep, stupid.”
“JJ! Don’t call me that!”
“What?” He sat up. “Stoo-pid.”
“You know that Mom doesn’t…”
Michael abruptly turned his head, as if he heard something at the window. Even JJ stopped talking.
“What is it?” Wendy grasped Michael’s arm tightly.
Michael didn’t make a sound. He sat up on his knees and strained against her grip, then eased back on the bed. He looked toward Wendy again in the same way as that afternoon. He wants me to let him go, a voice inside her head told her. Then his gaze fixed on something just above the window shade.
As quickly as he’d reacted, Michael’s face tightened into a grimace and he slipped back into his normal contentious self, burying his face in his pillow.
Wendy got up from the bed, moved the curtain aside and looked out. Nothing there but a rotating red light in the distance and stars caught in the narrow space between the top of the window and just above the city’s halo.
Behind her, JJ batted foam balls toward Michael who screeched when each one hit him.
Fly? she thought to herself. I really wish I could.