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When We Floated
I was making tea; luscious dragon-fruit tea, shipped all the way from the newly named Chinese Federation. Daddy could afford tea for my high-class tastes that he and Mama had helped develop. A sharp whistle sounded and I turned to the stove, careful to slip an oven mitt over my fingers.
Mina sat at the window seat, doodling in a notebook, the cloudy, late afternoon sky making her dark hair shine glossy. She had been my best friend since we were young and had learned of our shared desire to be mermaids in some far off world. We both found the ocean calming, the salt biting, the waves inviting. Every moment we could spare we spent there. Today, unfortunately, was not one of those days.
“You know, Brin, it is only going to be a short time until we become some part of a federation, a collection of people subjugated by those who only crave more.” Mina tucked her pen behind her ear and looked up at me with her big brown eyes. She was plain; had always been and believed she would always be. Her beauty lay in her words, the ones she spoke so softly and the ones that she kept hidden in her volumes of notebooks, usually too afraid to share.
I poured the water from the kettle into my favorite porcelain teapot, mulling over what she had said and my response to it.
“What if that Amelie Clerc gets elected? You have to remember that we are still a democratic nation. But why are we even talking about politics today? I thought we agreed that politics were better left to stuffy old men in too-tight suits who only care to hear their own voices.” I smirked and pulled down two teacups from the cabinet and moved a box of macarons from the counter.
Mina shrugged. “In light of recent events, I felt it was appropriate.” She turned back to the window and watched the willow tree sway in the breeze just off the bay. Briefly, I considered asking to go for a swim, though I knew the water was still too cool. Not to mention that the patrols would be blocking the beach anyways.
The tea smelled divine and I suddenly became incredibly thirsty. Mina watched me carry the teacups to the table like one who had never had a drink before. The air felt dry in the house, reminded me of the time my parents had taken me to the desert to watch the stars. I placed one palm flat on the cool surface of the oak table to steady myself.
And that’s when I felt it: a sensation like tiny fingers picking at my dress, gently tugging me upwards, begging me to dance on the ceiling.
Against my will, I did.
Some force was pulling me up. My fingers clawed around the edge of the table. I looked at Mina and saw that the same was having an effect on her as well. Her hair splayed around her scared face as her dress floated up around her.
“Mina, what is happening?!”
“How should I know? The same thing is happening to me! Here, take my hand.”
She was so calm, so steady, and I was shaking harder than a baby bird in a hurricane as my bare feet came level with the edge of the table and then moved past me, higher than my shoulders.
It was the longest ten minutes of my life, only able to watch as I completely lost control of my limbs and my best friend, seemingly suspended in midair. Even more pressing than the question of what was happening, crept the question of how would we get back down? The insistent tug, the pressure to float higher, grew with each minute that passed.
“Brin, I have to let go of the table. I can’t hang on any more.” Something had shifted in Mina’s gaze. Instead of fear I saw a light that indicated a willingness to embrace adventure. For shy, quiet, soft Mina, this had never happened before.
Mina let go, of me and the table, spread her arms wide and floated gently to the ceiling, her pale pink lace dress fanned around her limbs. She looked like a fairy princess that had escaped the edges of her book. In that moment I became jealous of her, of this girl I had known since I figured out I could remember. I was the confident one, the girl who set trends in school, won the lead in the school play.
My fingers let go of their own accord and the table fell away from me as I drifted up, touched the ceiling and avoided the glass chandelier. Black tulle and lace billowed around me and I pretended I was a dark thundercloud, sweeping over the horizon, bent on unleashing lightning at some unexpected moment.
My gaze met Mina’s. We were floating! How incredible!
“Do you think it works outside?” I asked, possibilities flitting around my brain. What if we could make it all the way to the bay, sail right over the patrols, guarding us from who knew what?
“Wait a moment. Listen…” Mina tilted her ear towards the den where my father practically lived. He dabbled in every sort of art possible and had done well enough to go above and beyond supporting our family. The television was still on from this morning, before Daddy and Mama had left for the studio. What was it saying?
As if by some unspoken agreement, we both kicked off from the wall and floated to the door leading to the den. It took some maneuvering for me to drift down low enough to turn the handle on the door. Hitting our heads on the frame became a major concern as we skimmed the heights of the house.
A military man was speaking behind a podium, a wide leather belt wrapped around his waist, tethering him to the ground. Mina grabbed my hand and we watched, listened to him explain this insane event.
“There is nothing to fear! What has happened is only a simple breach of gravity. This should only be temporary. The atmosphere is being regulated even as I speak and should return to normal within the hour. It is being advised that those of you who are inside need to stay inside. If you, or someone you know, are outside, it is imperative that they find something to hold themselves down.”
“Brin, what about your parents?” Mina squeezed my fingers.
“Silly girl. You honestly believe that my parents would have walked to the studio if there was even the slightest possibility that it would rain? No, they took the car. They will be fine. It seems that the only things floating are people.” My eyes raked over everything in the den. All seemed to be in place: books on the shelf, papers on the desk, paintings on the wall.
“I guess my plan is out then.”
“Oh and what plan is that?” Mina has floated over to a severe painting of a severe man, my grandfather. She studied him intently, the lines and strokes that made up his face.
“Just to fly over the patrols to the ocean. I ache for it. Don’t you?” I rolled over and found that if I lay on my back, I sank a little.
She turned to look at me. “Of course I do. I ache for more than the empty mansions our parents live in. Every fiber of my being screams for what the world was before people developed the mantra ‘more money, more power, more useless possessions.’ Do you know what I found at the library the other day? A book of world landmarks! Did you know that the French people had constructed this huge metal tower, right in the center of Paris? Well, they did. And it was beautiful. I want to see Paris. Don’t you?” Her cheeks were flushed; with passion or anger, I wasn’t quite sure.
“You know I do.” I fingered the delicate turquoise earrings that just brushed my neck. They were ocean-colored. My favorite color.
The television sped through a montage of images from around the world, some showing water. It shocked me. The patrols had been going on for so long that I had been barred from the ocean for ages. Bleak waves made me gasp. That wasn’t the water that I had loved.
The world had changed, though much was still the same. Nations bit at each other’s soft spots like they always had. Each country continued to rise through whatever ranks it took to be on top, while the people in its towns were left to dream of things of the past that no longer existed. Even the expansive, ever mobile ocean was not exempt. I had no idea how to comfort my best friend, how to still the same ache that resided in my soul.
“Let’s go to the ballroom, Brin. The sunset will be beautiful there.”
I nodded my assent and floated through the doorway and down the hall, enjoying the aerial view of the marble floor and side tables decorated with spring flowers. Tulips and lilies and carnations. Their scents mingled and created a heavenly kind of perfume, one that could only have been made better by the scent of rain on a warm day.
Unrestrained sunlight filtered through the massive dome of the ballroom. This room was by far my favorite room in the entire house. Thick marble pillars held up the vaulted ceiling and the glass dome. When I was younger, I would come in late at night and lie on the cool floor and watch the stars move across the glass, flame into and out of existence. I would imagine that greater things could happen out there, among those lights, than in here with the stale adults that would waltz around the tiled floors.
Mina smiled at me and held out her hands. We were back at six years old, playing dress-up in our mothers’ cast off dresses, lipstick smudged on our faces, strands of fake pearls around our necks. We danced as if we actually could and would inevitably fall in a heap of silk and satin, laughing like fools.
Now, we were grown, had learned the proper steps. As the taller of us, I stepped into the lead, let Mina be graceful in the golden light. We floated there, above the floor, keeping an ear tuned to imaginary music. “At least I won’t have to worry about you stepping on my feet.” I said and laughed.
“It has been more than an hour,” Mina whispered a few moments later, our steps slightly unsteady considering our footing.
“Hmm?” I had been lost in a daydream that she had created, a glowing afternoon in this place called Paris, a man choosing to let me lead in this one perfect dance.
“The sun has set. This gravity thing has lasted more than an hour. What if they don’t ever fix it?” Mina sounded genuinely worried.
A shiver of disappointment wriggled through me, sticking in all the corners, hoping not to be displaced. What if this weightlessness never had to end? What if we could float up to touch the clouds?
“Would it be such a bad thing if they didn’t? The government would create some kind of tether system so that people could leave their homes. Life would go on. It would just be…changed.” I rubbed my cheek, a thoughtful habit I had developed.
“Whoever said we were creatures of change?” Mina looked at me for a long moment and then turned her face upwards. “People will always be greedy and selfish. People never change.” She sighed.
“Maybe nothing would change. But at least this time, when we floated, gave us the opportunity to believe it could.”