I flexed my fingers and sniffed the air. The view was awe-inspiring, crisp and clean. Aircraft contrails scarred the sky; my fellow denizens of flight wheeled and circled as they waited for me. I had taken off my shoes and socks, the better to perch and my toes gripped the ledge as the wind whipped and cracked around me. I looked down at mortals going about their daily business; cars jostling for space, angry scooters buzzing around like annoying midges and the buses bullying them all. I thought of my mum back home tidying my room, getting ready for my return. She’d be putting my comics back under the bed – Captain America, The Flash and my favourite, Superman.
Alice my sister would be trying to help – because after all, she was nearly six now and practically an adult. Accompanying her fussing and fettling would be a barrage of questions that told her true age - `Mum, why do doggies dance? Who puts the holes in my Cheerio’s? What are nads? Why can’t I fly like Ronnie?’
Alice’s questions were the equivalent of the background hum of the universe – always there. The difference being the volume was up all the time with her.
Dad would be shaking his head ruefully and muttering “bless her” under his breath. The minute Alice was out of earshot he would corner mum, casting her into shadow with his bulk and hiss –
`Do you see what the little bastard’s got Alice thinking now? Next thing we know she’ll be jumping out of her bedroom window! Go and have a word with her! JESUS!’
I bet Spike would be in the garden hanging over next-door’s wall, waiting for his treats. He was always hanging over next-door’s wall. It was no wonder he turned his nose up at Meaty Chunks when June gave him steak and onions or choc-ice and sauce. Wow! I’d hang over the wall myself if I thought for one minute she would forsake the big black hound and take pity on me.
I wished someone would listen to me – changes are happening. I look at Dr.Smithson during our “meetings” and try to see her smile as anything other than smug and knowing, but I fail. I think to myself that if only she asks the right questions we can both win, but she never does. I guess I’ll have to cope, much as I’ve coped before – but it would be nice not to be alone.
I scan the streets below and imagine I can see Monty, my best friend (my only friend) gazing up at me, his eyes shining in hero-worship. Wishing he could be me, wishing he could escape the crushing normality of his life…
Fifteen and a half years on planet Earth and what have I achieved?
`I’ll tell you shall I?’ Dad boomed. My memory snapped back to an oft-played out scenario.
`Nothing. Nada, zip, doodly-squat. Me, I’m a company director! LOOK at me when I’m talking lad! Your mum’s chair of the local Rotary club, your sister – who is nearly SIX – is in the top three percent of her year. And YOU? You. Can. Fly. Whoopee.’
He sneered and snorted down his nose and moved right up close. I smell aftershave and stale tobacco and I try to meet his eyes.
`This flying crap is starting to really cheese me off, laddio.’ His voice would drop to a conspirator’s whisper then, time for “us men” to talk straight.
`Really, really, piss…me…off.’
I would catch a glimpse of the beast then, rising from behind his façade of fatherhood and wisely keep my mouth shut. Back to my room to practice and flex, practice and flex.
The whoop of the wind brought me back to my fortress of solitude way up high and I turned the collar of my jacket up to eliminate wind shear. It’s not enough to be able to fly, you’ve got to “learn the ropes” and “make your way in this world yourself my lad”. I used to think it was enough just being me, but oh, no.
`You should be like Monty. Good lad, Monty. Got a paper round you know. Out every day rain or shine. Big tips at Christmas so he can get his family decent presents. Or take Malcolm next door. What a lad! Plays rugby for the County and him only sixteen! What a lad!’
He looked at me with contempt.
Behind me, I can hear people knocking and banging at the door. The wood I had wedged under the handle held. It had taken them nearly an hour to figure it out and find me. The wind’s silky strong fingers tugged at me. I felt like one of those dust devils you see, skidding across the corner of the schoolyard in autumn, or the plastic bag flying in the wind, the one you can’t quite catch. A large gull of some sort, or was it a pigeon, hung in the air about ten feet off my two o’ clock. It looked at me knowingly over it’s shoulder and screamed. I swore it said `come on…hurry up!’ but I couldn’t be sure; the wind whipped sounds away as soon as they were made. I rolled my head around on my neck and hunched my shoulders. I could feel my flight muscles tensing and bulging. Full of barely harnessed power!
Not long now…deep breaths…bend the knees…
I arched my back like a high diver and went up on my toes. My arms and fingers stretched, pointing to the sky. My face felt fresh and alive in the keen air. I glanced down and saw my mum, my dad, Alice and Monty in the crowd below. They seemed to gasp and draw me forward. My bird’s eye view homed in on dad’s face, his eyes dark and flat with an expectant sheen. His lips were moving and I could almost hear his mantra –
`Go on you little fucker, jump, you little fucker, do us all a favour…’
Mum had the look of someone who has failed big-time and had just realised it. She never really managed to do anything else. She was just waiting for it all to end and the credits to roll. I wanted to believe that Alice and Monty were right there with me, as with a “YEEEEEEEHAW!” I launched myself from the hospital roof.
I felt something give way inside my head and smelled almonds and burnt toast. There was a great crackling noise and images of the Phoenix and the Ugly Duckling popped into my head as my jacket ripped asunder to reveal my greatest secret.
Without a backward glance, I joined the waiting gull fingertip to wingtip and soared toward the sun.