The breeze flows through me as if I’m no longer here. I feel like a moth-eaten flag, drooping on a pole. At the café, I ask the waitress for outdoor seating anyway. People try not to stare, but I know the children can’t help it. My body hums like a human pan flute as I order an iced tea and hover an inch above my chair, unable to plant myself down. I wrap my flower-printed dress about my legs, thinking about how this didn’t used to happen. How I used to feel more solid.
A paper butterfly flits off a boutique store window display. It swoops and flutters across the cobbled street and comes to rest on my knee, on one of the flowers of my dress. The paper wing contains a piece of a vintage ad with a woman’s face folded in the center. One of her eyes gazes at me. I can’t see her lips, but I know she is smiling below her folded caption:
Dr. Wrigley’s Every-Ailment Syr—
Cure coughs, heada—
A tasty mint fla—
I have no desire to touch the butterfly, to let it crawl on my finger, to level its eyes with mine and exchange a moment in which I will feel something, a connection, and in the next moment let it fly away and leave me alone with something I will fail to describe.
I touch the paper butterfly anyway, and it wilts and falls to the ground without fanfare. What once was magic is now a scrap of trash. The waitress comes by with a broom and ushers it into a dustpan with some flecks of food and hair and street dust.
As predicted, I’m still left with something that I fail to describe. Something that leaves a memory residue on my finger that shudders up my arm into my mind like an itch that can’t be scratched. Like a ghost who cannot feel the chair at her back.
I run my fingers in the grooves of my table, admiring the sturdy wood, burnished by the oils of a thousand hands resting upon it over the years. A ring of water collects around my glass, staining the wood darker as the sun warms my iced tea. A woman at a table near mine stretches out her arms and bathes in the sun, somehow embracing something that is even less solid than I am.
Envious, I stretch out my arms as she does. I don’t feel the light or the warmth as I once did; that memory of limbs and foliage is as vague and weightless as the butterfly. Instead, I feel the sensation of something heavy on my knee. Isn’t there always something heavy on a person’s knee? The weight of a crossed leg, the hand of a lover, a child bouncing to the tune of Yankee Doodle, the ache of arthritis … the weight of emptiness left behind when the hand of the lover is gone or when the child grows too old to bounce.
The weight I feel is none of those things. It is the little flower on the pattern of my dress giving way to a burgeoning fruit. At first it is a small bump swelling, stretching, filling itself with fabric flesh. It reddens like the parts of a girl that grow into a woman.
When it is ripe, I pluck it from my dress and dig in my fingers. It’s moist inside, and the sweet scent entices me to squeeze it over my open mouth so that the juice drips onto my tongue. As I swallow, a seed bursts forth from the flesh and shoots into my mouth. As I swallow, the fabric seed sticks like a lump in my throat. I cough and gag and my eyes water. It goes down hard. Even the adults stare now.
In shame, I throw the fruit to the ground and smooth out my dress. There’s a hole where the flower used to be. The waitress comes around again with the broom and sweeps up the fruit scrap of my dress.
I finish my tea, feeling the flavors wrap around my tongue. I wave the waitress for another. She brings it. And then another and another. The more I drink, the more solid I feel, like a kind of strength surging, slowing my pulse, hardening my lungs. The breeze curves around me like ribbons.
I sink into the chair for the first time. Roots shoot out from my feet and burrow into cracks in the sidewalk until their hairy tips reach the earth, anchoring me to my spot. It’s not a bad spot, after all. A spot where people will hold out their hands to catch petals flying in the wind, making it look like snow in the springtime.
A shell of smooth bark closes around me, and I’m swaddled in my true skin. My body no longer sounds like a pan flute, and by the time the waitress brings my check, I have only flowers to pay her with. She plucks one from me.
Barbara Christina Witmer is a New Jersey native with a degree in English: Creative Writing from the University of Rochester. Her work has been previously published in Xenith, Whole Beast Rag, Eunoia Review, and Farther Stars Than These. She can also be found on Twitter via @bwchristina.
What person or thing gives her a sensation of floating? “‘Interlude’ by Maxfield Parrish. I am in love with portraiture and neoclassical paintings, but when I saw “Interlude” in person, the Parrish blue sky was intoxicating. It was almost like dreaming, as if the painting could have swept me from my feet and absorbed me into the scene. I’ll never forget that moment.”
Art — Priscilla Boatwright is an illustrator and writer working in San Antonio. She is fascinated with myth, magic, and the connections between cultural identity and art. Priscilla received her BFA in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. See more of her artwork at http://cargocollective.com/boatart.
Back to Issue 5: Things that Float