Escape from wolves and flying prototypes
At some point in my adult life I became wobbly. When I was younger and it snowed in the woods at my Ohio college, I woke up early to press the first footprints into the white, and I wasn’t afraid of slipping on the slick walkways and slopes. Then something changed. I stopped trusting my legs, or I hated the adrenaline surge that comes with a slide to the ground. Our two-years-ago ice storm sheathed trees in glass, gave the edge of everything a cut of light, but all I cared about was what lurked beneath my feet.
I grew up in California. Unpredictably, concrete rumbled, walls cracked, drinking glasses clattered and rang. We had drop drills, rituals meant to keep us safe in earthquakes. Duck under your desk to cocoon yourself from a falling ceiling, a tipping bookshelf. We were always aware that we were in danger: I knew how to hold that feeling in my stomach.
But we didn’t have to wonder whether the sidewalk would betray us.
A couple of weeks ago, on my birthday, my niece suggested we make wishing sticks. We snapped slim branches off the pear tree in my backyard, wiped off the snow, let them dry on the floor of her art studio, and then used strips of colored paper to write down wishes for the coming year. We rolled them up around our branches and tied them with embroidery thread. We were going to let the elements dissolve them in the limbs of our trees, but they’re so beautiful we both kept them. I wished for a lot of things, and one of them was to stop fearing slipping.
Then we got snowed on in heaps, and the snow melted, and at night that melt turned to ice. Something happened. I’m stepping on it like a careful, normal person. My wishing stick is sitting in my living room, beaming on a table under a floor lamp, and I am traversing the town with ice water in my veins.
I hope you, too, have enjoyed moving through our glittery winter streets without trouble and without fear of trouble. We are meant to move, not stiffly but in celebration.
Reader Sabine Schmidt wrote this piece in response to the following prompt: Write about moving from one place to another.
By Sabine Schmidt
You stop, you die.
A cardinal falls out of a tree.
Wolves were after the girl. She ran and reached the tree at the end of the yard that held a swing she’d constructed out of a flexible sheet of red plastic and two dirty white lengths of rope. She climbed up and sat on the swing. It held her like a palm. The three wolves kept jumping up underneath the swing. They got almost high enough to bite the ends of the ropes that dangled from the swing seat. The girl would have to pull up her own weight in order to gather in the ends and wrap the ropes around the branch above her, lifting her a few inches out of the wolves’ reach. I knew she could do it.
That morning, I had left a gathering of engineers and scientists and gone to the bathroom to wash my hands. I used only water and ignored the special disinfectant soap from the yellow container attached to the faucet. It felt like an act of rebellion, but a useless one, since no one would know. The engineers had been talking about doing another experiment with their new flying device (it didn’t have a proper name yet). The first time, they took it up into the night sky over the flat, sparkly grid of the city. The pilot moved a lever which flipped the disc-shaped device. Everyone’s feet were now pointing towards the sky. Our faces looked up to the white and orange city lights, a pattern of constellations that might be named “Airport” or “Baseball Field” or “Strip Mall” if anyone had thought that giving them names while hanging upside down in a prototype flying machine was important. I hated the sensation. I liked that I was able to look up at the surface of the earth, but I hated being upside down in the thin, black air somewhere between the atmosphere and the stratosphere. I didn’t think I would do it again but I couldn’t think of a way to get out of the second experiment. It had been a group decision.
The wolves give up. One by one, they drop to the ground and trot back to the house. They enter the yellow rectangle of light cast from the living room window. They pass quickly and disappear behind the garage. I don’t see the girl. Maybe she climbed out of the swing and higher up the tree.
Write a 400-word piece about frozen pipes, literal or metaphoric.
* No part of Sabine Schmidt’s story may be reproduced without permission from the author.