I fly in my sleep every night. When I was little I could fly without being asleep; now I cant, even though I practise and practise. And after what I saw last night I want more than ever to fly wideawake. Mam always says: I want never gets. Is that true?
Last night began like every other night. I went to bed and changed under the bedclothes so Buddy Holly couldnt see me, and I laid my pink polka-dot hair ribbon down the middle of the mattress to show which side was whose, and Bethan said, like she always does: I dont want to sleep on your old side, anyway. Then, as soon as she was snoring she flung her arm across my face, and when I pinched her she swung her leg across my stomach.
So, it was hard to fall asleep. But when I did I left Bethan to spread herself across the whole bed and I soared into a sky that wrapped me in air as light and warm as an eiderdown. I listened to the town below breathe its shallow night-time breaths, in and out, in and out, and all around me the Earth sang.
For a while I hovered above the towns higgledy-piggledy houses. They cling to their streets as if they might roll all the way down to the sea and fall in if they let go. But last night, as usual, none of them let go and I didnt have to save anybody. I swerved away and rose high to avoid the Red Dragon flapping against its pole above the castle gatehouse, and swooped low over the council houses and across the sands to the sea where the air is always thick with salt that crusts on my lips as if Id that minute undone a blue twist from a bag of crisps and licked it.
The sea, too, breathed in and out, its breast swelling with each breath until I was half afraid that the Leviathan from the Bible would burst from its depths and shower me with spume. Whales, porpoises, mermaids and mermen, dead sailors, fishes, crabs, tiny shrimps; the sea is forever full of eyes that watch me. I never fly far beyond the shore. If my town were a map the bay would have Here be Monsters written on it in golden ink.
Like every other night, I sped from the sea to drift along the road that winds its way beyond the Baptism Pool and the Reservoir high into the hills behind the town. As I passed above the Pool I saw a man floating in it with his arms outstretched and the moon drowning in his eyes. That was not like every other night and the fright plummeted me back to my bed, right on top of Bethan. I couldnt push her to her own side to make room to lie down so I got up early to practise wide-awake flying.
Its cold down here in the living room so I fasten up all the buttons on my cardigan. I need to be high up and Tadas armchair has the highest seat, but the cushion is old and saggy and its difficult to balance on it. When I glimpse my reflection in the looking glass above the fireplace I see a scarecrow frowning at me, a skinny arm sticking out each side and red hair erupting from her head. Tada says its the family hair, but Mam always says: Pity you have that old family nose to go with it. Its best not to look in the mirror too long in case the Devil appears in it so I scrunch my eyes closed until I feel the freckles pop on my cheeks. The tick-tock of the brown clock on the mantelpiece is loud and the tap that Tada has mended three times drip-drips in the scullery. Fly, I tell myself. Fly, fly, fly. Slowly, the sounds fade and I feel warm and weightless. Im just about to rise from Tadas chair, light as an angel, when Mams slippers go slap on the stairs and I fall off the seat.
John Morris opens an eye and squints at me from the other armchair.
I nearly did it, I whisper to him. Really.
He purrs, then wraps his tail around his face and goes back to sleep.
I pull The Tiger in the Smoke that Aunty Lol lent me from beneath the saggy cushion, blow some Marie biscuit crumbs from the pages, and curl up tight as a fist in Tadas armchair to read it.
Excerpted from The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan Copyright © 2009 by Mari Strachan. Excerpted by permission of Grove/Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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