Unshackled From Gravity

By Jon Hillenbrand In Stories

Yesterday morning as I was walking to my car before work, I saw two Song Sparrows sitting in the middle of the street very close to each other looking at me.  I thought they might be mates but as I got closer they started fighting.  First they pecked at each other on the ground hopping in a tight circle like two tangled Slinkys.  They circled violently and took to the air rising like two tangled balloons twisting in a whirlwind.  One darted off to a near tree with the other close behind splashing into the high branches and tumbling down together.  They fought the way humans fight…quietly and randomly disorganized with a verve close to a fever.

It hit me that their taking to the air during the fight was so much like fights I’ve seen in the movies between superheroes.  For both groups, taking to the air during a battle is no big deal, but to us, the flightless, it looks impressive.  Handling the aerodynamics and muscle movements necessary for flight while having someone mess with both seems like a pretty impressive feat to me.  But upon further contemplation, I thought, “How impressed would I be seeing two people fighting in a pool?”  I realized at once that it’s all relative.  I am impressed with flying the way a sea cucumber might be impressed by swimming.  Well, maybe not a sea cucumber, but a crab.  Crabs are bottom feeders and mostly float to the ground when lifted up in the water column.  I wonder if they look at the graceful Manta Rays and bus-like whales and impossibly fast Sailfish swimming above them and think, “If only I could swim!  Then my problems would be over.”

I’ve thought about the great things I could do if I could fly.  Diving in quickly to save someone from a burning building, stopping a suicidal many from plunging to his death, changing the number of served on hamburger signs.  Do they do that anymore?  I’d have to make money somehow.  What jobs are there for humans that can fly without aid of machine?  I could be a very fast mail delivery person.  I could perform at magic shows or get paid by scientists for them to do experiments on me.  But after all of that, I’m sure the magic would wear off for me.  Maybe other people would come forward claiming that they’ve been flying for years.  I wonder if people would react in that stereotypical way of saying it’s “unnatural” or “against God’s wishes” and I wonder if they would try to kill me and my other Avians.  Women would come forward claiming that they had slept with me and they’d tell my secrets for tabloid magazine deals.  I’d go to the Jewel for toilet paper and people would recognize me under my sunglasses and baseball hat since my photo would be in all of the checkout lines under the heading, “Avian Fathers Secret Bird Child”.  I wonder if I’d have to go the Superman route and build a Fortress of Solitude away from the cameras and thrown bottles.  But even if I had to, it would still be worth it.  I’m jealous of birds, even the ones others consider “flying rats” that live in the city and flock around every thrown piece of gum or Starbucks muffin bottom.  Maybe I’d even join them one day, King of the Flying Rats.  I’d be labeled a villain especially after a few refused autographs.  A reputation is so easy to acquire and so easy to lose control over.  And what if my flying ability went away and slowly but surely I was reclaimed by Gravity’s thumby fingers.

I wish I could defy them now.  I’d drag my fingers across a still pond in a sweeping move up into the sky as high as I could take it before fear and cold and lack of oxygen would bring me back down.  I’d have lunch on the top of the Sears Tower, the white antenna part.  I’d freak out window washers and wave to the sardines on the El.  I’d sit Indian-style in the largest church and pinball around the dome.  And the whole time, I’d keep an ear out for danger, a muffled cough, the sound of flames, and my chance to make a difference.

What do you think?