My best friend, Olivia, was a sardine wedged into her father’s basement, living in the space between two pressed palms, cocooned under the ground. Maybe that’s why she always talked about things that go up, up, up. She wanted to be a pilot, or maybe just fuck one until he let her sit in the cockpit, pull the stick back until her house became a speck of sand. She wanted to visit the circus to see Marvelous Madame Mondon, the tightrope walker. Olivia fantasized about being suspended 100 feet in the air, a tooth-floss cable from death, pirouetting in defiance of gravity. She imagined absorbing applause that crescendoed simply because she survived, kept breathing, avoided a plague of butterfly fractures. Olivia practiced on the street, tiptoeing on earth-swallowing asphalt. Her mouth was the shape of a sinkhole, her dress the color of the blood moon.
I told her that she should run away with the circus, make a new life fractured in a house of mirrors, curled up in a Volkswagen backseat on top of sixteen Ronald McDonald shoes. She giggled at my suggestion and high-wired down the street.
Olivia didn’t come home one night, and by the next morning the circus invaded her street. They found a scribbled note. They told me Olivia drew an outline of the George Washington Bridge. They called it a cry for help. They dredged the river below the bridge, man and machine scouring the depths, pulling up silt, seagrass, tires, and plastic bottles.
I know they won’t find Olivia. She’s thousands of miles away by now. Eagles don’t soar from driveways and cul-de-sacs. They start their ascent from mountaintops, from the George Washington Bridge, because it’s always easier to let the air lift you higher, take you further. Because altitudes above don’t matter, only what remains lingering beneath.
Olivia’s father now leers at me with pearl-dot eyes and a concrete grin, the way he used to look at Olivia when he thought I couldn’t see. He smiles like we have a shared secret because we both know Olivia’s left us behind, a paper airplane tucked and folded into the clouds, darting far, far away. We gather in the church for a bodyless memorial, and I mutter over and over under my breath, hoping her father can hear me, but not caring if he can’t, why did you ever think she belonged to you?
As we sing a hymn, my voice rises higher and higher, rattling the stain glass Jesus into applause.
Neal Suit is a recovering lawyer. He has short stories published or forthcoming in Cleaver, Literally Stories, Five on the Fifth, Bandit Fiction, Blue Lake Review, and (mac)ro(mic), among others. He can be reached on Twitter @SuitNeal.