canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


Grade Nine Flight

by Rebecca Rosenblum

Before Matt and Ebbe moved into our house, at lunch hour I helped my friend Justin train racing crickets, or else ate under the bleachers by myself. I watched sitcom reruns after school and never went anywhere on weekends, and I certainly couldnít fly. A lot of the time I couldnít even walk without something going wrong, like a poster falling off the wall onto me or a ring on my notebook getting caught on the button of my jeans. For example, my fourth day of grade nine, some girl knocked against me on the stairs, pretend-by-accident, which made me drop all my books and they slid to the bottom and got stepped on, also pretend-by-accident. Justin was the only one who didnít care about that stuff, but I was getting tired of talking about crickets.

On Saturday, I told my mom I didnít like high school much, but all she said was that most people donít. She was kind of distracted because my Uncle Evan and Aunt Danja had just "suffered a financial reversal" and then also "a marital breakdown." My mom was on the phone a lot around then. Still, on the eleventh day of school, after someone stole my jeans from the locker room so I had to walk home in my gym shorts, I was surprised that my cousins Matt and Ebbe were in our front hallway. They had their school uniforms on for some reason, Ebbe with ripped black tights under her kilt and Matt with a grey wool toque over his long hair. My mom was acting all thrilled and giving them popsicles and even my dad said, "Welcome," before he went to out to the shed, so I guessed it was a planned visit.

Finally my mom turned to where I was standing in the doorway and said, "David, take your cousins on upstairs and show Ebbe the pullout in your fatherís study. Matt can bunk with you. Theyíll be staying with us for a while, isnítthatwonderful? And put some pants on."

Her face didnít look all that wonderful. I barely knew my cousins, them being older and cooler than me, and Montreal being so far away from Stoney Creek, but I didnít really mind, either. I started walking upstairs. I didnít hear any footsteps behind me so I turned and then they were both right there. I found out later that floating makes you feel safer, softer, when youíre scared. Then, I just thought they were quiet.

"Well, here," I said. Ebbe looked at my fatherís study, the file folders sticking out of drawers, the red Hide-a-bed with the foam poking out of the arms. She tried to smile but it didnít really work. Ebbe had dark straight bangs, thick and flat like a chocolate bar across her forehead, and a big shiny smiley mouth, but even she couldnít smile at the torn curtains with big blue anchors. "It seems nice," she said quietly.

"Itís not right," I told her, "making the girl take the Hide-a-bed, but since thereís two boys and two bunksÖ"

"It seems nice," she said again, more firmly, and she smiled a bit better that time.

Me and Matt went down the hall, with Matt dragging his backpack across the floor. I figured my Mom would tell him soon enough not to do that, so I didnít bother. "You can choose what bunk," I told him.

"Itís your room. Whatever one you donít use." He shook his head and the ends of his hair fluttered under the edge of his toque.

"I go back and forth. It doesnít matter. Youíre the guest."

"Oh." Matt squinted at the bed, and even though he was in grade twelve and smoked and everything, he looked kind of interested. "Can I have the top one?"

"Sure, no problem." I flopped down on the bottom one, to show him it really wasnít a problem.

Matt floated up top without the ladder. "Thanks, Davey. You know, itís really nice of you, letting us stay here."

I was sure he knew I didnít have any say in it, so I didnít know why he would thank me. It took me a minute to think of an answer. "Itíll be nice to have someone to talk to."

"Yeah?" Matt poked his head down to look at me, and his toque popped off and his hair stood up on his upside down head. "Well, if thereís one thing Ebbe and me can do, itís talk."

*

Matt was in grade 12 and Ebbe was in grade 11. Their first day of school, my twelfth, they wanted to wear the uniforms from their old school, but I told them it might not be a good idea. I was surprised they listened to me, but they both went and put on jeans and t-shirts.

They were worried that people wouldnít like new kids in senior grades, that it was too late to make any friends. Their first day, though, when I was waiting for the bus after school with Justin, I saw Ebbe talking with Mitch Casper, who was in lacrosse. And then the next day there was an assembly and Matt sat in the back with all the other guys with toques, so I knew theyíd be fine. Way better off than me, actually, in just two days. Even though Justin had just made a pretty good new racetrack in his yard.

On the night of my thirteenth day of school, over chicken with pistachio nuts that no one liked but Matt and Ebbe were too polite to leave (I wasnít that polite) Ebbe told me she and Matt had looked for me at lunch but I wasnít anywhere. "I have junior lunch, third period. You guys have senior lunch, fourth period.

Ebbe gave me a big smile, much better than the first day. "Oh, I have third spare, so I can sit with you anyway. They wonít mind one senior student in the cafeteria, will they?"

"Well, no, butÖ" I wanted to tell her it was a bad idea for her to sit with a kid like me, if she wanted to be cool and have guys from lacrosse talk to her, but I was tired of eating under the bleachers when Justin was at band practice. So I just smiled back.

*

Matt was rightóIíd never known anyone who talked as much as him and Ebbe. Theyíd look like they were having a big serious conversation, but then Matt would say, "Címere, Davey," and itíd turn out they were just talking about video games or what their friends at home were doing, or how many characters there were on The Simpsons. One day we counted their cousins and mine on the sides that werenít related to see who had more, and it turned out I did. Another day, Matt wanted to know where you could get pot in Stoney Creek and I felt stupid for not knowing, but then Matt and Ebbe got distracted making a list of every place in Montreal they knew they could get it, and didnít even care.

I hadnít thought theyíd want to hang around with me, but it seemed like that was all they wanted to do. That and wait for their parents to phone. They didnít call that much, but both Matt and Ebbe would go running every time the phone rang, just in case. I was too scared to ask about the financial reversal or the marital breakdown, but Iíd heard my mom yelling about it to my dad or on the phone a few times, and she always said things like, "No assets but the furniture!" and "That fucker!" so I knew it wasnít very good.

But Matt and Ebbe wanted to be around to hear about it. Mitch kept calling Ebbe on the phone, and sheíd talk to him at school, but they never went out anywhere. Matt was in the theatre group, but he only went to the lunch hour rehearsals. After school, Matt and Ebbe hung around our house, talking to each other and me and waiting for their parents to call and that was pretty much it. For me, it was great. They taught me three-handed euchre and Balderdash and Matt taught me chess. They taught me a game that was all talking, where you imagine with a person lying dead with no one else around and you describe the scene and the other people ask questions until they figure out why the person died. It was pretty gory sometimes and my Mom told us not to play it at dinner. They both liked to shoot hoops in the driveway and Ebbe practiced her rhythmic gymnastics in the backyard until it got too cold. Her event was the ribbon, and that was all really weird. Matt was always asking if anyone wanted to watch TV with him, as if it were a game like Frisbee that wouldnít work if you were by yourself.

Matt and some of the theatre guys had worked up a routine for the Christmas assembly. The skit ended with him falling into the orchestra pit. At lunch the day of the first rehearsal, I saw him and a bunch of other big twelve guys march through the cafeteria carrying the crash mat, to put in the pit to break his fall. He waved at Ebbe and me and disappeared into the hall. That night on the bus, Ebbe asked him, "Why donít you just float down?"

"Insurance problems. The school board wouldnít like it." Matt shrugged. They both looked at me and cracked up. I guess they thought I could do it, too.

They were always waiting for their parents to call, but whenever they finally did, Matt and Ebbe would be miserable afterwards until one of us thought of a good game to play. Once I picked up the extension to call Justin and I accidentally heard Uncle Evan yelling, "óI donít even know where the furniture is. She says she burnt it all, even the leather recliner, but thatís fucking unlikely. And the houseó" and then I hung up, but afterwards I looked carefully at Matt and Ebbe when they came downstairs, and they looked kind of spun. And later I noticed Matt poking at my Dadís chair, like maybe he was wondering if it would burn. I wanted to tell him it was only vinyl, but I didnít.

It stayed warm right into November that year, so we could hang around outside a lot. Sometimes Matt had to study and sometimes Ebbe did gymnastics but otherwise it was the three of us, hanging out in the driveway of my house. Mitch came by once or twice, but he never wanted to play games or really have much to do with me and Matt, plus he couldnít skate and didnít want to learn. Matt had a skateboard and he was always trying to teach me stuff, but Iíd just fall and fall. Ebbe could skate pretty well, too, but she didnít have her own board, so she and Matt would sit on the bumper of my Dadís car, watching and giving me pointers.

One day, after Mitch had stormed off because Ebbe wouldnít go walking in the ravine with him, and after I had fallen off the board for the millionth time, Matt said, "You know, Davey, if you feel yourself start to tip, you should try to float up."

"Yeah, if you just fly up a few inches youíll save yourself some scrapes," Ebbe said.

I could feel my face go burning. "I canít even climb a rope in gym class."

"No one can do that." Matt laughed and flipped the board away from me, up into his hands. "Fly proper. No holds, no hands."

I looked at the blacktop. "I canít fly."

Ebbe got up off the bumper and put her face under mine so I had to look at her. "Sure you can. I mean, maybe itís just that you havenít had any practice. You look strong enough. You got the same genes we do, half of íem, anyway."

"Right, man." Matt put the board down and straightened up. "You just, you know, step up." He took a big step forward and stopped his foot way off the ground. Then he stepped up with his other foot and put it higher, as if he were going up a flight of stairs. He kept climbing until his feet were as high as my eyebrows. He looked down at me and offered me a hand. "Címon up."

I shook my head. "I canít do that."

"You donít have to do it Mattís way. Thereís lots of ways." Ebbe did a little twirl, like she did sometimes in her gymnastics routines, and she swirled up beside her brother.

I shook my head. "I canít do that."

Matt looked serious, his chin tipped down. "Maybe try jumping. Can you jump up to us?"

I rolled my eyes, no, but they just kept looking at me all serious, so I did a little hop and landed right back on the blacktop again.

"Nononono," Ebbe said. "You jump up but you donít go back down. You stop at the top."

"Right. Try again. You can do this, Dave-o. I know you can."

I jumped again, higher that time, and Ebbe said, "Stop," just as I hit the ground.

She shook her head. "No, sorry, that was me. My timing was off. One more time." They were both swirling and tipping around me in the driveway. It was very distracting.

I sighed. "One more. Then Night Court is on." I jumped straight up with all my might, my heels kicking my butt, and Ebbe shrieked, "Stop!" and then I crashed down so hard my teeth slammed together.

Matt cocked his head to one side. "Not bad. Youíre getting it."

"Getting it! Iím not getting anything but a headache, and Night CourtÖ" I looked down and saw my shadow on the blacktop, about an inch below my feet. Then the phone rang inside and Matt and Ebbe bolted and I fell the rest of the way.

*

After that, the project was getting me to fly, way more than naming all fifty states, or finding a kid to buy pot from who didnít cut it with oregano, or writing better lines for the skit with Matt falling into the orchestra pit. I could never get the hang of the jumping thing, or Mattís steps and certainly not Ebbeís twirl. We tried a running start all the way down the driveway and I floated a little on the curb in front of my house, but the cars kept distracting me and Matt was worried one would hit me. Matt and Ebbe even said we could go away from the phone for a little while, so we tried going to the park and jumping off the swings until Ebbe fell on top of a kindergartener and we got in trouble.

One weekend my Mom decided we didnít do enough that was educational, so we went to Dundurn Castle. It was a Saturday, and Uncle Evan and Aunt Danja didnít usually call on Saturdays, so Matt and Ebbe said they would go, even though it didnít sound like much fun to me.

It wasnít fun. I had to make a picture of a boat by poking holes in a piece metal with a nail and Ebbe got sent down to the kitchen to bake bread. I donít know where Matt was during the metal art part, but when he got back he smelled like smoke.

Finally we were done and went outside to wait for my parents to pick us up. It was really windy and the wind flipped Ebbeís hair over her face like an inside-out umbrella. Some little kids were running in the field beside the castle with their unzipped coats over their heads like parachutes. We watched them for a while and then Matt started unbuttoning his jean jacket and Ebbe unzipped her bomber coat. They looked at me, so I undid my beige windbreaker and said, "Ok, ok."

They started to run, arms straight up overhead in their coats, Ebbeís black tights kicking under her kilt, Matt in his jeans and toque right behind her and me, tripping only for a moment, then zooming. It was so warm for late November. Little kids turned to see the big kids running too, and then Ebbe arched like mermaid and went up towards the top of the tallest tree. Matt floated below her, grabbing her ankle. She kicked at him, laughing, and zipped away and all this time I was running running until suddenly it was like reaching the top of a hill with my bike in the lowest gear and then starting to roll down. My legs were whirling like I was still running without the ground and I was so surprised to be zooming up that I crashed into Mattís legs.

He reached down, grabbed me under the armpits and yanked me up to face him. I struggled to pull my arms down, all tangled up in my coat, and lost my momentum. I felt myself get heavy in his hands and I hated it. He was strong enough and balanced easily on the air, but I hated the feeling of being lifted and held. "All right, Dave-o?" He grinned at me, his face red under his toque from the wind.

I shook my head, my whole body. "Iíve got to get down. Let me down."

"You did it, Dave-o! You see that? You flew right up here to the trees, on your own. It was awesome."

Ebbe drifted nearer from the birch tree. "Öso great, David," she was saying.

"No, I hate being lifted, Iím not doing it on my own now, put me down." I shook my head and shook it and shook it. Finally Matt got the picture and started to sink slow until my Keds rested on the ground again. All the seven-year-olds applauded, but I was disgusted with myself. Off in the distance I could see my mom and dad sitting in the front seat of the Camry facing the castle, not even thinking to look out into the field. I started walking towards them.

*

Right through the first half of December, nobody said anything about where Matt and Ebbe would spend the holidays. Finally, their Mom called, just before the big pageant with Matt falling into the orchestra pit. After the show it would be only another week until winter break. It was quiet all over the house, except for Matt and Ebbeís low voices on the two extensions upstairs. Finally even that ended and I heard footsteps and then the study door shut. I was doing my homework in the living room to give them privacy, but also waiting for them to come watch a new tv show with me. It was almost 8:30, though, and they still hadnít opened the study door, so I went up and knocked. "Címin," came Ebbeís voice, sounding like she was talking through water.

"Hey, you guys," I said as I opened the door. Then I didnít know what to say.

Matt was sitting at my fatherís desk with his hands covering his face and his toque beside him. Ebbe was sitting on the floor by the desk, her back pressed up against the drawer handles. Her face was all red and puffy, and she was crying and crying into her hair. What was worse was that even though Matt smudged the inside of his wrist across his face a minute after I came in, I could tell he was crying, too. I could just tell. Both of them looked at me and they tried to smile and it was worse than the first day when Ebbe saw the Hide-a-bed. Now the Hide-a-bed was covered with Ebbeís pretty orange bedspread and I knew they were staying with us for the holidays. They looked so heavy and sad it was hard to imagine them ever flying.

"Hey, you guys," I said. "Thereís this new show on thatís based on Beetlejuice, about this couple that dies in their house? And then they haunt the new people that buy the house? And itís funny, because they think itís still their house? You guys wanna watch?"

The phone rang, but for once neither Matt nor Ebbe jumped for it. Finally, Ebbe said, "OK," but there were still lots of tears at the back of her voice. She came over and hugged me so hard my shoulder cracked, and I could feel the buttons on her shirt digging into my chest. "Iíll go turn it on. What channel?" she said.

"Six." It seemed like there ought to be something else for me to say, but I didnít know what and then she went out and down the stairs.

Matt was still yanking his hand back and forth over his eyes. Finally he looked at me and smiled with the left half of his mouth. "Beetlejuice, eh? Winona Ryder was spooky-hot in that one."

I felt bad, telling him, "Itís not exactly like the movie. In the show, the one that can see the ghosts, itís the grandpa. But it still looks funny."

"David." Matt shook his head and stood up. "David, David, David." He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed, and pulled me out the door.

As we walked downstairs, my mom was yelling into the phone, "That fucker. Well, Danja, youíll just get another storage locker." The grandpa turned out to be pretty funny, but there were no cute girls at all on the show.

*

In the middle of the night that night, something poked me hard in the leg. I jumped upright real fast, ready for an emergency, a fire alarm or something. But it was just Ebbeís Doc Martin kicking me through the blankets. She and Matt were standing there beside the bed still in their jeans and t-shirts. I was scared they were saying goodbye, running away back to Montreal and all their friends, the good weed, their own parents and their own beds. Well, not their beds, anymore, maybe. Still, I hoped like crazy they were going to let me go with them.

"Whereówhere are you guys going?"

"Nowhere. Well, not far," Ebbe said, and laughed a little. "Youíve got to help us."

Matt started opening my dresser drawers and pulling out clothes. "Weíre going up to the roof. Ebbeís got the best idea." The look on his face was so excited, he didnít look like would cry ever again. I put on my jeans, and showed them how to get into the linen closet, up the ladder to the attic, through the window and up the drainpipe to the roof.

Once we were standing by the eavestrough, the only part of the roof that was flat enough to stand on, I realized that the wind was finally winter wind, with tiny flecks of snow in it, and that I shouldíve worn more than just my pajama top. But Matt and Ebbe didnít complain, so I didnít either.

All Matt said was, "Ok, Ebbe, you tell it. Your idea."

"Oh, yeah, so heíll know who to sue if it doesnít work." She turned to me and put both hands on my shoulders. In the dark, I could barely see her eyes, but I imagined they were still red around the edges. "So, Davey, I was thinking what if you tried to fly from up here. That way youíd have all that time in the air to get your bearings, that whole long cushion of air to straighten out and stop. Then you can go at your own pace from there, no pressure." She looked at me as carefully as she could.

I couldnít see Matt at all, but I could hear him say, "What do you think? Youíre not too bad at it already, so I donít think itíd be dangerous. But you donít have to try it if you donít think itís a good idea."

"No, absolutely not." Ebbe whipped her ponytail back and forth. "Only if you want to. Weíre going to try it, anyway. Right, Matt?"

"Right." I saw his tall form move over to the edge of the roof, saw his head swivel towards me. "So just watch us try and then, if it looks ok, try, ok?"

"Ok." I nodded at him and he hopped off the roof and disappeared down to the tip of his toque. After a second, his whole head bobbed back up over the lip of the eavestrough.

Ebbe looked at him. "Good?"

"Whoo-hoo. Good."

She looked back at me and stuck out her tongue, then flopped backwards and stopped parallel with the eavestrough, lying on her back on nothing at all. She stared straight up at the stars. "Oh, wow, wow, wow. This is the best idea I ever had."

Matt laughed and leaned back, too, kicking off the roof and spinning out over the lawn. I lost sight of him but I could still hear him laughing on the wind. I wanted to go out there. I walked over to the edge of the roof and looked at Ebbe looking at the stars. She caught my eye and stopped smiling for an instant, then looked back up at the black sky and the hydro wires and the outlines of trees against the stars. "You know, Davey, you look up, and the sky is still the sky, you know? Stoney Creek sky, Montreal skyÖ."

"Hey guys, I bet if we went up to the top of the tv aerial we could feel the satellite beams coming in through our bodies!" Matt called.

Ebbe popped her head up a little from where she was lying in the air. "Oh, man, thatíd be really cool. You wanna try that, David?"

From inside the house, the phone started to ring, but nobody moved or said anything. Then I stepped off the roof, and didnít fall.

Rebecca Rosenblum is three-quarters of the way through her masters degree in English and creative writing at the University of Toronto. Her work has been seen in Exile Quarterly, and she has forthcoming pieces in echolocation and The New Quarterly.

 

 

 

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