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Sometimes, Growing Old Isn’t So Bad

January 17, 2015

The first time Eleanor flew, she was as surprised as anyone.

She had been standing at the western edge of the Copper Canyon beside her sister, Martha, when suddenly Ruth Ann started making retching noises behind them. “Montezuma’s revenge,” began Eleanor, but before the words were out of her mouth, Martha turned to look at Ruth Ann and bumped Eleanor with her backpack. Off Eleanor fell, into the vast, yellow sunlight.

Panic and a strong instinct for survival set Eleanor to flailing, her skinny arms and pudgy legs windmilling through space like a swimmer with sharks behind her. Part of her knew her exertions were useless, but she fought anyway, churning the air with a vigor she hadn’t shown since she had been twelve years old and determined to win the sack race at her 6th grade field day. After several moments, Eleanor realized that something unusual was happening: the ground seemed to be getting further away. She was no expert, but was pretty sure that the ground was supposed to rush up at you as you plummeted toward it. But it definitely looked farther way, and as she flapped her arms harder, it fell farther away still. Shocked, she fell still, and the falling sensation hit her—she tumbled down through space, the air rushing by her so fast that she could hardly breathe. And when she looked again, the ground definitely was rushing up toward her with astonishing speed.

Panic set in again, prompting her to rotate her arms and kick her legs once more. To her surprise, she felt her body pause, then lift again, and she realized with a jolt that she was actually flying! It felt just like swimming, except that air was easier to navigate than water. There was no resistance, just a light buoyancy that made her flaccid, puny arms feel like powerful swimmer’s arms, and her cellulite-riddled thighs felt capable of some serious horsepower. She looked back from the place she had come. Back at the lip of the canyon, the other girls were mere specks, she could hardly make them out at all, particularly since she had lost her glasses shortly after she took off. Without even thinking about it, Eleanor did a neat turn and confidently began a smooth breaststroke through a fine cloud. All she did was kick her feet the tiniest little bit, and she straightened her course and sailed through the air with a grace he had never known in her 63 years.

She drew closer to the rim of the canyon until she was able to discern four of the girls standing agape, watching her. Martha lay behind them on the ground, obviously in a faint, but no one was tending to her. They were all staring at Eleanor as she swooped over their heads and flipped on her back, commanding the air currents as if she owned them.

After that day, Eleanor flew often, but she clearly was not the same sweet Eleanor that everyone had known. No, she became arrogant and proud, and lorded her newfound abilities over the others so much that eventually they got tired of hearing about her flights. They even began to ignore her when they actually saw her run through the grass and take off like a great gray heron, at once ungainly and graceful. She didn’t care. She could fly, and nobody but she knew what that felt like.

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