The two boys were suspended in the air. The older one was up so high he was only visible from the shoulders down, mid-leap, knees bent, arms thrown back. The younger, just a baby in a diaper, was farther away and lower. His arms reached upward as if to pat the faint dapple of clouds and the one thin streak of a contrail. His flying hair covered his face, but there was something ecstatic about his posture, something that said he was happy to be aloft. Neither boy was aware of the visible bits of the world below: a utility pole with its drooping lines, a bit of house roof, the tops of trees.
Skye stepped back, half perched on a paint-spattered stool, and considered them. The end of summer was tomorrow, and Skye wanted to be finished with these children, but something was not quite right with the younger one. It needed to seem that gravity had not forgotten him, but there was something balloon-like about him. It had to do with his thighs and bare feet, the angle of them. Perhaps it was okay as it was, and she could just no longer tell. Sometimes she needed the distance of a few days to see it afresh.
Maybe she didn’t need to feel so final about it. The day before she returned to work had always seemed a demarcation between much leisure and little. For the past four years she’d been teaching in Everglades City, which had meant forty miles each way on the two sun-rotted lanes of the Tamiami Trail that fell off on both sides into swamp water. The winter rainy season was the worst. Alligators sunned themselves on the black macadam, snakes crossed high water to high water.
She wanted to be closer than an hour to home in case something happened with her mother, so every year she applied for a transfer to the school five blocks from her house. This year the job was finally hers. Today had been a pre-planning and she’d gotten home by four instead of seven. She would have more time with her mother, and more time in the studio to decompress after spending the day with her lost students. And what did it matter if she were facing a new painting or an old?
Perhaps the problem wasn’t too much loft, but not enough. What if the Earth disappeared entirely? No housetops, or wire, more clouds instead.
There was a knock on the studio door. She stood, but it was already opening and her mother, Candace, was guiding her wheelchair in. On her lap was a tray with cookies and a thermos. “Sorry to disturb,” she said. “Thought you might want a snack and also to know what time it is. Eleven.”
“Thanks.” Skye took the tray, set it on the stool, bit into a snickerdoodle.
Candace wheeled to face the painting. “Love it. It’s wonderful. Look at those kids. Don’t you want to be them? It makes me want to get someone to design something to fling paraplegics into the air just for the hell of it.”
“I’ll get right on it, Mom.” At some time during the day Candace had taken the long grey braid of her hair and pinned it into a strange and complicated figure eight. It looked like she’d suspended a Hot Wheels track from her ears.She was always original, that was certain.
Candace turned to face her. “The world would be as amazed by your work as I am if you ever showed it to anyone. Look at them.” She waved her arm toward the canvases leaning three or four deep against the wall. “They want to be seen. They want to be bought.”
“They’re not worth the paint I waste on them. I may as well glue money to the canvas.”
“You are not my daughter,” Candace laughed. “I must have stolen you from your real parents who were apparently statisticians.”
“Give it up, Mom. And anyway, something’s not right. I’m not sure how to fix it.”
“Well, then you must change your focus.” She waved her arm as if producing a spell from a magic wand. “Play hooky at least. Stay home and work on it until it thrills you.”
This argument was so old it had become a game between them, but one Skye didn’t feel like playing just then. She brushed crumbs from her paint-spattered tank top. It had so little shape remaining; it should go straight into the garbage.
“You’re only twenty-seven years old. Screw all this. Run away from home. Go to the beach. Take off on some cross-country adventure. Paint on the side of the road. Drive to Nova Scotia. Get a new job. Date someone. Anyone. A different new job. Shake things up a little.”
“Mom. Not one word you said sounds sane. As usual.”
“I know,” Candace held up her hand. “It’s fine. You’re fine. Everything is fine.”
“Come on, Mom. Let’s get you into bed.”