“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
By Martta Karol
The Flying Girl: Chapter 1
That creep was ogling her again. The same greasy, blond guy who was staring at her when she checked her bags with the skycap. Now he was maybe thirty feet away, standing with legs spread, arms across his chest, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. A twisted smirk on his face seemed to say he thought he was God’s gift to women. What gave him the right to look at her that way, as if she was prey?
He rattled Krista, boosting her heartbeat up a tic but not cracking her mask of self-assurance. She was good at that—at masks, not the self-assurance, not with men anyway. She breathed deeply and glanced around, feigning nonchalance as she let her eyes pass over the guy as if he wasn’t even there. Stretching to her full statuesque height, she gripped the strap of her shoulder bag and strode across the terminal lobby. When she couldn’t wipe the feeling of his eyes off her body, she slipped out of sight in the gift shop.
Her flight was delayed an hour, and she and her mother had said their goodbyes. Their words hung on in Krista’s mind:
“You’ll be all right waiting by yourself, won’t you Krista?” her mom had said, her eyes begging understanding. “You know how your father will be if I’m gone too long.”
“I’ll be fine, Mom,” Krista answered, boxing up her own disquiet. She could keep a lid on it, hold tight and manage. She always had.
“Just be careful, Krista. And call. Call me when you get to San Francisco.”
They’d shared a hug, one that was quick, a bit awkward, both tearing up as they parted. Nothing was said about it being Krista’s first time flying, nor about her moving more than a half continent away. About the rest, the whys, the two of them had already thrashed all that to tatters, and she’d resolved to shake off any dangly threads. After all, she couldn’t stay, not now, not after all that happened.
She’d be on her way soon. For now, she busied her mind at the magazine rack, thumbing through Look and Harper’s Bazaar. After skimming an article on the growing acceptance of women wearing pants to work—she adored Yves Saint Laurent’s CityPants collection—she made her way to a tiny artisan gallery at the back of the store and began browsing the artwork: watercolors and pastels, black and white photographs, blown glass animal figurines and colorful ceramics, some macramé plant hangers and metal sculptures.
When her eyes fell on two small, bronze and leaded glass statuettes, she halted, staring at the sculptor’s sensual rendering of Venus.
“The one with the broken wing . . .”
“Did you say something?” a saleswoman standing nearby asked. She waited, her head cocked. “Miss?”
“The broken one,” Krista mumbled. “I’ll take it.”
“Oh? Don’t you want the one that isn’t damaged?”
“It’s okay. I—I can mend it.” Krista squeezed out a polite smile as she tucked some loose strands of auburn hair into her purple and black headband scarf.
“Well, I’ll give you a discount. It’s worth less like this.”
Krista looked down, avoiding the clerk’s eyes. Worth less. Worthless.
Having made her purchase, she hurried off to board her flight, feeling oddly disarranged, shaken. Like a lightening bolt, the wounded, winged representation of the goddess of love had cracked into something hidden deep within her, something restless, almost feral.
The plane rolled roughly down the taxiway. It paused and reoriented, as if to get its breath before the jet engines roared and the aircraft surged forward, lifting off like a falcon released from its tether, angling steeply upward and climbing, climbing into the sky. Krista pressed her face to the window and watched the ground drop away, her ears popping and filled with the unaccustomed hum and hisssss of flight. Hearing the captain announce that cruising altitude had been reached and seat belts were no longer needed, she loosened her grip on the armrests and settled back, listening to the flick and clink of cigarette lighters, someone behind her coughing, a baby crying.
Stretching upward, she swept her eyes across the rows of seats ahead and behind her. The other passengers seemed to be making themselves comfortable, some hogging armrests and others lowering seatbacks as if to claim territory. She was relieved there’d be no smoker next to her, since by a stroke of luck, the two seats beside her were empty. When a moment later a stewardess, pert in blue uniform and jaunty red hat, offered complimentary drinks, Krista requested a gin and tonic. She eavesdropped when the natty-looking, middle-aged couple across the aisle inquired about dinner service. “In thirty minutes,” the stewardess said, and the twosome burbled eagerly, lowering their seat trays in readiness. When Krista’s food arrived—beef burgundy, boiled potatoes, and mixed vegetables, a tossed salad and pineapple upside down cake—she ate slowly, deliberately, so as to savor every morsel and the headiness of dining above the clouds at six hundred miles per hour.
After dinner, she removed the box from the small shopping bag she had stored beneath her seat and unfolded the pieces of tissue swaddling the damaged statuette. She cradled it in her lap, and tucked the split-off piece by its side. Except for the severed wing, the graceful, naked nymph was whole, and long and slim in body, like a butterfly just emerged from its chrysalis, with peach-tinted leaded glass wings that were delicate, vulnerable. Krista thought the maiden appeared shy, modestly trying to cover herself with her hand and flowing hair. But there was something more; this Venus had been given wings and was meant to fly, not just walk with the gods. Moisture rimmed Krista’s eyes as she ran her fingers along the figure’s bronzed curves and angles and rubbed the rough edges of its wounded shoulder, then across the breaking point on the missing wing. She felt a tightening in her chest. “Why are you so broken?” she whispered, and carefully rewrapped and stored the sculpture beneath her seat. She pulled her journal from her handbag and placed it in her lap, open and waiting. After a while she wrote:
Is this an omen? Or is it a challenge?
She closed her eyes. God, I don’t need any more challenges! The events of the past year had left her ravaged. She eased back in her seat, feeling saturated with mixed emotions: hurt, a sense of loss, anxiety–all offset by at least a kindling of hope. And fatigue. She hadn’t slept in days.
The way the trip had begun hadn’t helped, with her mother hurrying her out of the house and father yelling obscenities as they backed out of the driveway to go to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport. She’d wanted to sleep during the long flight, but couldn’t shake the images of him running out of the house after them, drunk and raging.
“You goddamn bitch! You goddamn bitch!” he bellowed, stumbling down the front steps, swaying and staggering in the yard. “You got nothin’ to say to your father?”
She had heard her father shout ugly things at her mother over and over, but she couldn’t remember him ever hollering at her that way. He wasn’t around much, but even when he was he hardly spoke to her. In the silence, she could fill in the blanks the way she wanted to, but not with this noise breaking in.
“Don’t pay any attention to him,” her mother had sneered. “You know how he is.”
Krista drew in a slow, deep breath, then huffed out air tinged with residue from years of toxic messages. She felt her mother’s pain, but her mom’s long-suffering drama had become exhausting.
A bulky man in the aisle seat a few rows ahead squirmed to his feet and reached for the overhead storage bin. It was the guy from the terminal lobby. As he struggled to free his briefcase from the overcoats stuffed on top of it, his eyes fell on Krista, first offhandedly, then rapidly returning. He paused, and with one hand brushed his fingers through his thick, straw-colored hair. A slow smile emerged in the corners of his mouth. His gaze lingered. Krista quickly looked away, but not without noticing the man’s bloodshot, pale eyes, so like her father’s.
She shrank back in her seat, and an uneasy feeling settled in her abdomen, a sensation that wasn’t new, that from time to time arose out of a haze, always elusive, shadowy. It never made any sense. She breathed deeply, her thoughts flailing about, then flat-lining, a familiar ticker tape running through her mind: IgottakeepittogetherIgottakeepittogetherIgottakeepittogether . . .
“Would you like more coffee, perhaps an after-dinner drink?” the stewardess asked, her voice intruding on Krista’s limbo.
Krista shook her head, “No,” and looked away. She adjusted her seat, leaned back, and tried to will her discomfort to dissolve in the drone of the airplane’s engines.
After several hours, she sat upright, pulled a mirrored compact from her handbag to check her mascara, and with a tissue dabbed at the tear-smudged corners of her eyes, careful not to loosen the thin layer of false eyelashes on her upper lids. She pulled volume one of Anais Nin’s diary from her purse, then decided she wasn’t in the mood to read after all and shoved it back in her bag. Looking out the window, she saw that after miles of emptiness, the world outside had come alive, with glittering prisms and patterns of light appearing like starbursts in the blackness below, first one, then another, then many more, igniting her excitement for the first time since the trip began. The “City of Love,” that’s what they called San Francisco. Her whole body vibrated with anticipation as bits of lyrics from Tony Bennett’s signature song wove through her mind, bits about coming home to San Francisco, about its sun shining just for her.
For Krista, who sang jazz and pop, there was a song for every circumstance, every mood, every dream. She tipped her head back against her seat’s headrest, a smile at last brightening her beautiful face.
When the pilot’s voice crackled through the speaker announcing their approach to the San Francisco airport, she looked out once more and saw that the scene below had become more real, full of movement beneath streetlamps and neon, with rows of homes lighted with life within. A moonlit fog bank, white and billowing, lingered just off shore. It seemed to be hesitating, like a shy bride waiting at the threshold. (END OF EXCERPT)
Learn more about The Flying Girl plot, characters, and the setting and times in which the story is set, and see an image of the Botticelli painting, The Birth of Venus, which the statuette that Krista finds in the art gallery is modeled on (though in the painting the young goddess is not winged).
Copyright © 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 Martta Karol, All Rights Reserved