Buckling, Gasping, and Dead
The trick to falling is to do it in the up direction, betraying gravity but following the wind. Try it six times, in a hurry, as if you were pouring coffee from the unstable top step of a ladder, the musky smell of clove and skunk rising back toward you in a splash. If you fail, don’t worry. Some would consider you lucky and pure, as you are unable to partner with the devil. Whales and fish, of course, fall up as a matter of regular action. You have to wonder if they even have an up and a down, or a sideways or a round and round, if their fluid world lacks any and all shape and direction, if they can even fall at all. When you take a boat out to sea, the surface lies flat or crinkled like a fence between water and air. It is lungs that keeps us on top and them below. Or is it us outside and them inside? Though we have dreamed up so many ways to enter their domain and stay in it as long as possible, it is only their mutants who test ours, and most of those end up buckling, gasping, and dead, unable to outwit oxygen in the ratio which feels like opium to us. Which is exactly what happens when we drown. There’s drainage of something crucial, and the body floats up, following gravity, betraying the wind. When this happens to you, wheels on a cab will stop short, late at night, the man in back having caught a glance of your cleavage, not yet ugly but bright and plump as moons in the streetlight. He and the driver will stand on the edge of the dock, one hand on the rail, one hand shading their eyes from the lamp, making up wild stories about how a woman, who is rapidly evolving into a body, came up short. Through injury? By accident? For lack of love or money? They will start out on your side, but end up harping about schools, parents, and kids these days, wagging fingers at the way things are. Later, in the corner booth, the driver will opt for a snack instead of a meal. He will have an urge for warm melon, fresh from the garden, stem still on, like his mother used to slice. Gravity will not enter his mind, yet it will keep his feet on the ground and prevent him from falling up to whatever fence divides the air from the sky. He seems to be one of the lucky ones, but one can never be sure.
FRANCES LEFKOWITZ is the author of To Have Not, named one of five “Best Memoirs of 2010” by SheKnows.com. She has been nominated for twice for the Pushcart Prize, once for Best American Essays, and once for the James Beard Award for Food Writing, among other near-awards. She is at home here.