I am going to post my stories in this format from now on, with the post title above telling you it's a story, a little comment here telling you why the story is rubbish and not to be taken seriously (for example, this one needs a flowery-sentimentalitectomy), and then the story itself below, like so:
I am ten years old, lying on my back on warm summer grass, looking up into a blue sky. White clouds float overhead like fluffy mountains. The buildings of the school and the nearby houses are far away in my peripheral vision. The sky takes up all that I can see. As my head lolls back, my concept of up and down dissolves.
And suddenly I am convinced that I have got it wrong. That I am in fact looking down, clinging somehow to the grassy roof of a deep blue void, ready to plummet like a stone at any moment. How could I have been so foolish as to have lived my entire life on the ceiling without realising it? Only now do I see. I imagine that I can feel myself beginning to fall. Any moment I will plunge down into the sky, turning slowly end over end, everything I ever knew receding above me.
With a jump, I sit up. I am in the school field. The boys are playing football and the girls are chatting. Everything is the right way up. But my heart is racing.
I am sure that everyone has experienced this at some point. If you have not, I urge you to go outside and try it now. Looking up, you start to lose your concept of ‘up’, become worried that you may fall into the sky, and look away with a start.
We now know that it is only this instinctive flinch that stops a person from falling up into the sky in these situations. Which begs the question, what if some absent-minded daydreamer were to fail to be shocked?
This is the story of the woman who wasn’t startled, at first, and who fell up into the sky until she was startled. Now she is stuck halfway. You have probably heard of her. There was a reality TV show about her, amongst other things. Then people got bored with the idea and forgot about her, changing their focus, at least to start with, to the man who forgot to get out of the bathtub and was sucked down the plughole.
Her name was Iris Gill and she was an astronomer. Her case was something of a watershed, and astronomers are now carefully trained in looking up at the sky without falling into it. It was actually a rather unremarkable day when she fell up. She cannot even recall exactly what she was doing - only that it was a cool summer night, and she looked up into the sky thoughtfully. The next thing she knew, she was as high as the rooftops and, with a yell, she came abruptly to a halt.
Life was difficult for her from then on. She was not a bird, she could not fly. Faced with the prospect of either being hauled into her home with a net and shut in there for the rest of her life, or merely being left to blow about on the wind, she naturally (being a free spirited soul) chose the latter option. She never had any trouble finding something to do. Employers would send up balloons of food in exchange for advertising, for example. She might wear a sandwich board, or carpet bomb high streets with leaflets, or trail out a banner behind her. Sometimes she might be blown into a favourable position for jobs as a painter or window cleaner. She never had trouble staying alive, no, but she could never say anything for sure about the future either. She often seemed to live on the verge of emaciation and neglect.
I first met Iris when she got her hair caught in my television aerial. Haircuts are hard to come by when you’re airborne. To start with she kept a pair of scissors in her trouser pocket and would roughly cut her hair herself, leaving it a ragged mess which would be further spoilt by the wind. But her scissors had fallen out of her pocket, and, since they had landed pointy end first in the canvas roof of an expensive convertible, she had decided it was maybe better for her not to keep scissors in the first place. Her hair was by now long enough to have reached the ground if she had been vertical. Instead, it trailed out behind her, dragging over grimy roof tiles and through grasping tree branches. And finally it became hopelessly tangled in my TV aerial, as I mentioned.
I didn’t notice until the following morning, when my TV reception seemed decidedly dodgy. I went outside and found Iris sleeping in the sky, awkwardly tethered to my roof. Balancing on my step ladder with a long pair of shears, I was able to perform some emergency hairdressing and liberate her. While I worked, we struck up a conversation. The pauses filled with words, and the pauses between words filled with more words. I can’t remember what we talked about - everything, it seemed at the time; nothing at all, it seemed afterwards. But in those moments we both enjoyed talking to one another, that much I know.
Unfortunately, the wind had picked up considerably, and when I cut her away with the final snip, she was carried off on an easterly breeze which didn’t let her go until she was somewhere over Belgium.
To fall for someone who floats in the sky and who enjoys your company briefly before being carried away on the breeze is as easy as being naïve. Having achieved the latter at birth and never overcome my handicap, the former naturally followed as well.
I always wished I’d encounter her again. But at the same time I was horrified at the prospect. I had embarrassed myself enough the first time, I thought, recalling all the things I imagined I’d done wrong. I had several chances to meet her again, when she blew over regions nearby, but I didn’t take them.
In the end, she found me. Caught a lift on a police helicopter and knocked on my roof. She clambered down my drainpipe and in my front door. She said she wanted to thank me for helping her, but now that I think about it, I was the one who made dinner and invited her to stay. It doesn’t matter. Living alone in the sky, she wanted companionship as I did.
She stayed with me for as long as she could bear, crawling around on the ceiling, enjoying ready access to food and a bathroom, enjoying being with me. But she was used to a different life now: blowing on the wind, no possessions that she couldn’t carry on her person or risk dropping. As much as she liked to furnish me with her beautiful smile, I could see her wilting inside, like a flower without light. It seems the expression one usually writes in these situations is ‘With a heavy heart…’ but that isn’t true. It was with a sharp pang, like a knife sliding in, that I realised. We couldn’t live like that for much longer. Better to end it on good terms than let us start to resent it.
So I took her aside, pulling her down to my eye level by the shoulders, and, with carefully chosen words, ended our life together in that house.
I shed my Earthly possessions like a chrysalis. Now I live on the same winds that she does, in a hot air balloon. I am still getting used to it, and I must admit that I have always been afraid of heights. But she smiles at my efforts and holds my hand through the storms, and though we both blow on the wind now, we have each other.