is an online magazine of the literary arts.
10 April 2007 | Vol. 7, No. 1
Missing the Point
Or, At the Edgewood Home for Girls I Learned Many Things, Some Applicable to the World at Large
"Don't look down."
The one in charge was the one who said it, though that changed depending on who brought the best toys. We started with rocks. Then bottles, plates, fly-fishing lures, paper airplanes and doll heads. One day we'd fling ourselves.
First it was smoothest plunk into the black waters of the reservoir. Then longest drop, furthest throw, best loop or bounce. Eventually we moved on to night flights, so of course there was lighter fluid.
Flaming baby heads and yo-yos arced into the darkness below, leaving smeary trails of light and toxic smoke. It was like every fireworks display and nighttime parade you ever saw, but better, more festive, each of us like firemen who run the show. Sometimes we even wore red plastic hats.
You'd think these were children's games but they were not.
Flight, it's a strange thing. We aren't built to do it. There are only approximations. Twenty tons of steel, a duct-taped piggy bank—as they drop from the sky the mechanics are the same. Birds have been known to die mid-flight. They must look graceful as they plummet.
Sometimes the toys kept burning even after they hit. We could see them underwater, blue babydoll eyes looking up at us, their gods, no time to question—one last flash in the deep.
Stand on the edge regardless of warnings, toetips reaching into air. We'd risk anything then to watch them go.
Downstairs the furnace swelled. The heat never reached up where we slept, our single beds in a row under the peaked roof. In the spring we pressed against the perimeter to watch birds nest in the gaps under the eaves. In winter we spent our lives avoiding the same drafty edges, inching toward the center of the room even in sleep. The rain made it colder. It streamed down the roof and puddled in places; we placed buckets to catch the drips.
When would it snow? Never when we wanted it, that quiet blanket. Snow blankets worked in reverse: cold first, but then shivering made us warm. Thin fingers plucked at the icy air. In shivering, we found warmth. In mourning, we found succor. Who said that? One of us, perhaps, once we'd grown old enough to spell it.
Sucker! That's the word we used, yelling and crowding up the stairs before bed. Last one in was the sucker, closest to the edges and the whispering eaves. Running as if hell were at our heels to avoid that fate.
In the morning we'd find the sucker: driven downstairs to the couch, feet poking from under thin blankets. The scratchy velvet upholstery stiff with age and dried spil