There are eight fireplaces and six bathrooms, four with claw-foot tubs so deep you can lose yourself in them, and one long, winding staircase reaching to the third floor. A ladder leads from the third-floor landing to the widow's walk on top of the house. I am the only person who goes up there anymore. Mama and my aunts used to smoke in the walk when they were my age, and there are still a few mementos left of their time there. A stack of old fashion magazines filled with pictures of skinny women in bell-bottom jeans and shag haircuts, a case of empty Coca-Cola bottles, a couple of ashtrays shaped like fish.
I go to the walk in the early morning when everyone is asleep except Mama, who gets up before dawn to cook or hang out laundry. My aunts stay up late flying, so they tend to sleep in. Often they don't come down for breakfast until noon. Grandmother never rises before ten.
I have two aunts who live with me. Suki and Eva. Suki is the youngest. She has fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes with horn-rimmed glasses. Suki plays the clarinet and piano and most any other instrument she can get her hands on. A consistent flier with superior navigational abilities, Suki can find true north without a compass in the fog.
Eva is two years older than Suki. She is a painter and wears bright silk scarves, which hang haphazardly from her tall frame. Her curly auburn hair is cut close to her head and always looks messy, as if she just woke up. She wears silver earrings that stretch halfway down her neck. Eva can talk about anything to anyone. She is my prime source of information about family history.
My mother, Maeve, is five years older than Eva. Petite and pretty in a delicate way. She never soloed and hasn't flown since the day I was born. Even though Eva says Mama was the best flier in the family once, Grandmother will no longer allow it. In our family, Grandmother makes all the rules. She can't have anyone around who is better at something or more powerful than she is. Motherhood empowers a flier, and Grandmother could never live in the same house with a daughter who was both a mother and a talented flier.
Grandmother is not someone you want to cross. Even though she had many lovers when she was young, you'd never know it now. Her face is taut and severe and she is built exactly like a house. She wears practical shoes with thick waffle soles and prefers the color gray to all others. There is something about Grandmother that reminds me of a piece of granite. Cold, dusty, dry. The kind of surface you wouldn't want to land on hard or come up against if it was moving fast in your direction.
Excerpted from Night Flying by Rita Murphy Copyright© 2000 by Rita Murphy. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, 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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