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Learning to Zoom
“Just jump off and you’ll fly.” She was telling Janet.
Janet looked down, at the ground, from the top of the tree she was standing on. The girl teaching her to fly was hovering beside her, hands patting the air lazily as if she were treading water. A school of fish flew by, gurgling quietly. Janet leaped, fell, and eventually bobbed uncertainly in the air.
“No, like this.” The girl said, and was about to show her a trick for staying aloft, when an unwelcome blaring interrupted her.
The girl waved and said goodbye, but she and the fish, the tree, ground, air, were all fading, blurring, and the ringing was getting clearer.
Janet opened her eyes and slammed her hand down on the off button; a practiced, almost unconscious movement.
“You could have at least let me finish the lesson,” She thought at the hateful alarm clock and slowly climbed out of bed. The floor was cold on her bare feet and she wanted nothing more than to lie back down in her warm, soft, inviting, bed and properly learn to fly.
With her eyes practically closed, Janet grabbed her robe and shuffled to the bathroom. The house was dark and sleeping. “Go back to bed.” It murmured. “Turn off the lights and we can all get back to dreaming.”
“Easy for you to say.” Janet scoffed “You’re a house, your life’s goal has been accomplished, all you have left to do is dream.”
The house was silent. She showered, the hot water chasing the morning’s chill from her skin and gently waking her up. Under the soft coaxing of the heat, she saw an ending to her dream where she soared over mountains and beautiful, dark, old, trees. Never mind that she lived in a city where the trees were caged by little fences as if to stop them from running away to better, greener, homes. If she wanted mountains and great oaks in her dream, who was to stop her? The shower was loathe to let her go, tugging at her limbs insistently, begging her to stay where it was safe and warm.
Janet stepped out, extracting herself from its tempting pleas. Dried off, got dressed, gathered her backpack and her keys. Right before she left, she could hear the house stirring and complaining as her parents began to get ready. School started before work and Janet was always the first to leave the house and the first to return.
It was chilly outside, but promising, the kind of morning that had the potential to grow up into a very pleasant afternoon. Just now it was still a baby, whining and immature and blowing wind that raised goose bumps through her thin sweater and nipped at her bare legs, shins left uncovered by the skirt of her uniform.
It wasn’t a particularly long walk to her school but Janet lingered, visiting old friends. There was the witch’s house; a small dilapidated townhouse that sat between two especially cheerful ones, as if they were trying to glow so hard that their frumpy neighbor would go unnoticed. The roof had a small bite-mark-shaped hole in it; one of the windows was shattered.
“I was just sitting here, any other day, my tenant pruning her broom, when a small giant ripped off my roof with his teeth. My tenant had angered him, taken his first-born and boiled him up in a spell. The giant fished her out as if I were nothing more than a cookie jar, his thumb poking out a window, then he ate her and left me alone forever.” It told her when she asked for its story again.
She passed the statue and it divulged that it’d fallen in love with the man that came to scrape the bird droppings off of its smooth stone skin.
“He’s so gentle.” It sighed, somewhat mournfully, for however gently a man scraped bird droppings and however smooth a statue’s skin was, their love simply could not be.
“You’d do better with a bird. They always visit you.” Janet told it.
“They defile me!” The statue wailed. “Do you visit your toilet for romantic reasons?”
Janet walked away, deciding to apologize to her toilet the first chance she got; it could not be a fun existence, she realized.
“You’re going to be late.” Her watch warned as she was about to pride the weather on maturing a bit.
As her watch was usually right about such things, Janet hurried up, passing other landmarks without so much as a hello. She got inside the school with barely a minute to spare, ran to her first class, and dropped, panting, in her seat just as the bell screamed that school had begun.
One of her friends teased her for nearly bring late again and Janet winked. She got her things out and waited for teacher instruction. Apparently, the teacher was not in the mood for actively teaching (she rarely was) and simply stood in the front of the room, talking. She seemed determined to make sure no learning would occur in class that day and Janet complied, for who was she to deny the woman that which she worked so hard to accomplish?
Since she hadn’t yet learned to fly (not including showertime wishful thinking), Janet hitched a ride from one of the giant birds flitting around outside the window. They went over a sparkling blue ocean, dolphins flipping up to greet her, sharks grinning toothily below the surface, whales serenading her as she soared past. Then, a small beige and green island…
The teacher called on Janet. She pretended to struggle for the answer to the question she hadn’t heard before finally admitting defeat and shaking her head sorrowfully. The teacher proceeded to carefully explain the answer, which wasn’t of much use to Janet since she still didn’t know the question. When she had finished, Janet made a Eureka! face, nodding with complete understanding, doing everything but knock herself on the forehead to convey how obvious the answer had been.
The rest of her classes passed without incident, most occupying her mind so that she couldn’t continue flying. During a lull in the learning, Janet zoned out, her eyes glassing and face softening.
The door crashed against the wall and a boy with bedraggled black hair and stormy eyes appeared, sword in hand. Several girls shrieked and the class broke out in panic, scattering away from the door like disturbed mice. They pressed against the walls of the classroom and barricaded themselves under desks, whimpering. All but Janet.
“Why are you here Craig?” She asked him, voice quiet with warning, as she slowly rose from her chair.
“You didn’t think it was over, did you Jan?” He winked.
She could feel the awed and terrified gaze of her classmates on her neck as she pulled out a long, slim, silver sword from her back-holster and brandished it in front of her. She rushed at Craig, sword swinging like white lightning. Their duel raged across the classroom, they jumped between desks, twirled, and ducked, partners in a terribly uncoordinated ballet; as many graceful leaps as desperate lurches and stumbles over backpacks and fallen books.
The bell rang. Craig stopped mid-strike, smiled, tipped his head in salute and walked out of the classroom. Janet gathered her things and followed him. The halls were crowded, clogged with uniform-clad students; walking, leaning against the wall to talk to friends, rummaging in lockers. There wasn’t a trace of Craig; he’d been swallowed by the mob.
Janet stood still a moment, people shoving past and jostling her. She watched them, absorbing cliques and loners, beauty queens and wallflowers. A tall girl with brown hair and wide, heavily lined eyes, was batting her spiky lashes at a boy. She’d rolled the modest skirt up past her knees and unbuttoned the polo as much as it would allow.
A small baby-faced boy was laughing at something his friend has said, bowl-cut hair falling in his face and cheeks beaming red. Janet couldn’t hear him from where she stood but she guessed his voice was high and smooth, a pretty prepubescent pitch.
The students began to leak out of the hallway, separating and distributing themselves into classrooms. Janet picked up her pace to avoid being caught by the hall monitor again. Each month, a mysterious committee picked a new student for the honor of patrolling the dangerous halls of St. Magnus Catholic School. They were given a badge, commemorative pencil, leaflet of detention slips, and false sense of purpose. They took their jobs far too seriously and Janet had been writ up more than once by one or another of the noble enforcers of law.
Janet managed to get to the lunchroom without getting caught by the fuzz, set her backpack down at her table, and went to buy some food. She piled some questionable substance reminiscent of meat and limp vegetables onto her tray. The entire mess gave the impression that it had been thawed and frozen multiple times in its dreary lifespan.
She paid for it and sat down at her table, right next to her favorite column. It was large and wide and sturdy and had a deep rumbling voice that she loved. As Janet leaned against it, it whispered observations about the other students in her ear.
“That one refuses to get a spoon for his applesauce and drinks it every day. That one does her homework while eating and gets mustard on her jeans. That one is desperately trying to get a boy’s attention, see how she’s showcasing her teeth and chest, how she leans toward him when she talks.”
And so lunch went, with Janet eating her once-upon-a-time meat and spongy carrots, the column murmuring in her ear. It was a very pleasant lunch and she went to her next class with a full stomach (she tried not to think with what) and in high spirits.
It was not a class to be taken after lunch. The teacher turned off all the lights and showed a slideshow on his projector, his voice soft and unassuming. The room was warm and Janet was tucked into a back corner; the teacher a small, blurry, far-away figure. She tried, tried hard to shrug off the fog of approaching sleep, to wriggle from its grasp, but it wouldn’t let go. A thick blanket was laid over her, covering her head and making it heavy. She put it down on the desk and closed her eyes.
“Nice to see you again.” The girl grinned.
Janet was atop a tree, the girl was floating beside her, wiggling her fingers like she was treading water. A school of fish flew by. Janet jumped, fell, and bobbed like a confused balloon.
“No, like this.” The girl said. “You have to keep your ears up.”
Janet looked and saw that the girl’s ears were standing proudly up on her head. She tucked her hair back and thrust her head up, attempting to mimic her. She steadied and floated instead of bobbing.
“Good. Very aerodynamic things, ears. Now point your toes and zoom.”
Janet zoomed. She was going fast, shooting through the air like an enthusiastic rocket, newly born and shiny, bursting with anticipation to befriend the sky. Her stomach was light, her hair tickled her shoulder blades, and her ears were accepting their new responsibility with proud joy. She could circle the world if she wanted…
The lights were on. The teacher has stopped the slideshow and was passing out worksheets. Janet and a few others stirred and jerked, lifting up their heads and wiping their faces.
Janet started on her worksheet, grinning. She’d learned to fly. You keep your ears up and point your toes to zoom.