Risky Rosie Nutcase
The power of flight was not gifted unto Rosie overnight; it took her twenty years of serious hard work. And though now she could soar over continents in an afternoon and trace lazy figure eights through bright, velvet clouds and spook aircraft passengers for the fun of it, she was once as stuck to the earth as you are.
Her training had begun as a child. Every morning before school and every night before bed, Rosie would jump as high and for as long as she could. She would dream exclusively of flight, and list training methods on a posted note stuck to her bedside lamp. “Daily Tasks to Learn to Fly!” it said at the top and read: 1. Twenty two-footed hops every day and lots of protein for breakfast.
2. No walking when you can skip. 3. Spend recesses doing long jump in the sand pit. Don’t worry if you get all sandy for school.
4. Go up staircases three steps at a time.
5. Fall slowly off tall things every day.
Rosie had diligence to match her ambition. She skipped everywhere, was constantly covered in sand, and could be found most afternoons trying to delay her descent from tables and cupboards. Though she had tried twirling and running on air, Rosie fell the slowest when she flapped. The flying girl would tuck her thumbs under her armpits, calmly step off a two-metre high bookcase and crank her elbows and knees up and down like a maniac. Her father nearly had a stroke one day when he caught her engaged in this wild flailing, and was absolutely beside himself when she took a full eight seconds to hit the ground. He yelled a lot, he stamped his feet and inspected the bookcase for wires, but he was so confused and angry that very few words were actually formed. His punishment of “no jumping for a while” was equally incoherent.
This was the beginning of Rosie’s problems.
As the result of her training, by the age of fifteen Rosie could jump out of a third-story window and land comfortably on the ground forty seconds later. Had she had the desire for fame or Nike sponsorship deals, Rosie could have broken all high, long and triple jump world records without a run-up. She could tackle most staircases ten or eleven steps at a time. She could float for one whole minute.
But Rosie came to learn something that only the holders of niche and weird Guinness World Records can truly understand: miracles on paper are sometimes unnerving when seen in the flesh. People did not take kindly to Rosie’s burgeoning flight. They threw things at her. The other kids called her names like Risky Rosie Nutcase or The Sand-Sand Freak. Adults condemned her from jumping. Her mother wailed every time she so much as climbed a staircase. Her father laid all the tall bookcases in the house on their side. Her floating impressed nobody and everyone she did it in front of told her, in no uncertain terms, to get her feet back on the ground where they belonged.
Rosie felt like the whole world was grabbing at her ankles. She was ostracised by ostriches, damned and lectured and ridiculed by flightless birds. She began to train in secret to avoid all the hoo-hah.
The posted note stuck to her bedside lamp had had so many scribbled amendments on it that Rosie decided, as a sixteenth birthday present to herself, to make a brand new one. The “Daily Tasks to Learn to Fly! Volume II!!” would thereafter include the following:
1.Twenty two-footed leaps onto roof per day, and plenty of protein for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
2.Float for minimum five minutes before bed.
3.No skipping when hovering is an option.
4.Read books about gravity and look for loopholes.
5.Climb staircases without touching steps.
The steadily rising progress of Rosie’s early adolescence plateaued at age eighteen. Though she could now easily complete each task on her list, the issue of mid-air propulsion and manoeuvrability remained unanswered by any textbook. Rosie could fall off of any structure indefinitely, she could jump clean over her house, she could float for upwards of ten minutes, but it all lacked a certain power. The flying girl was using muscles that only she knew existed and she was using them in short, fraught bursts – there was no strength or conditioning. This seemed something of an impasse, and Rosie found herself one rainy afternoon hoveringly slowly up and down the staircase with a hung head. Her mother came home to this petty rise and fall and reacted with typically confused anger.
“Wha! Hey! How are – Stop that! Don’t you ever do that again young lady, or I’ll tether your feet to the bloody oven!” she screamed. It gave Rosie an idea. She went looking for some rope.
At first all the usual training was done weighed down by a pocket dictionary. She then graduated to a regulation thesaurus, and then an encyclopaedia collection, and then three office chairs, and then the kitchen table. Over two years she increased her resistance, leaping tied to a moped, falling off tall rooves clutching an anvil to her chest, hovering up the stairs with the washing machine in tow. As her strength and confidence built, true flight became more and more achievable. She was ready.
Life on the ground had always been hard for Rosie. Nobody really understood her. It wasn’t just the name-calling or the scrunched-paper missiles, their ignorance ran far deeper than that. Wanting to jump and glide off tall buildings was a very difficult thing for unexceptional people to get their collective heads around, and hovering and soaring and plummeting seemed just as strange and scary. The flying girl was stuck to a world that did not get her, did not like her, but, for some reason, did not want her to leave.
Rosie stood in her front lawn. A gentle breeze brushed hair into her eyes. She noticed a few neighbours watching on and self-consciously removed the cape she’d picked up from a costume shop for the occasion. Without any fanfare or ceremony, particularly without the cape, she turned her attentions to the sky and flew.
And flight was everything Rosie had hoped it would be. It was the pinnacle of liberty, exquisite and illogical, granting her surreal vision of a small world at peace. It seemed to her that problems shrank in inverse proportion to the growth of altitude. People were kind from this angle; cities were glowing feats of the highest order.
It felt like she was at the fun end of a kite for the first time in her life. It felt like some strange, wonderful combination of the motions we are all accustomed to at sea level, like running, swimming and carnival rides all melted into one. It was not quite weightless, but it was undeniably free. Airy. Taxing and hard and overwhelmingly endless, but airy like nothing else.
Tears stained Rosie’s cheeks as she flew ever forward towards the curvature of the Earth.
Sea level can be a rotten thing after weaving two long, helixed laps of the planet. Gravity, after losing its hold on you for half a day, is a spiteful bitch. The ground pulls at you with a vengeance, the once ant-sized people become huge and mean, the whole world feels stuck. Public buses become a unique form of torture. Walking on anything feels like walking on hot coals. Sitting feels like God is pushing down on your bones.
Rosie felt the weight of the Universe when she set back down on her front lawn. It was crushing, really. She was swept up and drowned by her mother’s tidal waves of angry relief. The glares of neighbours and dog walkers and passers-by burned holes straight through her flesh. Her stomach sloshed and knotted with an exceptional and untreatable land-sickness.
Rosie was hit so hard by life back on the ground that she regretted ever having flown at all. The pain took weeks to subside.
Only when the weight of gravity felt easier on her shoulders, only when the people seemed normal size again, only when busses were back to the usual amount of intolerable, did Rosie have time and energy to reflect. She lay on the grass and used her cape as a pillow. She felt a deep sense of empathy for the birds in the sky, and called out to them in solidarity.
“Ka-kaw! Ka-kaw! you good birds!” she cheered as they whooped and swirled in black and white flocks.
And the land-sickness melted suddenly into grave unimportance. And Rosie realised that flying was a romp.
In her two laps of planet Earth she had seen all manner of wonder and life. She’d soared above great canyons of red delight, swept plains of buttery Sahara and ran her hand along the River Rhine. Rosie watched the Everglades from the clouds; she tore rings around great mountains and cried while the sun spewed purple cream over the Dead Sea.
And all alone in the great sky Rosie learned for keeps what pilots dream of knowing. Flight without assistance, without wings or yokes, without company, is a freedom we cannot comprehend. Rosie did not have to share the sky with anyone. It belonged to her to cut and circle as she pleased. She did not embrace solitude - she became it. There was only her in all this world and every metric of right and wrong, good and bad, virtue and beauty, was stuck to the ground. There was only her.
But so why had she not stayed up there forever?
Rosie lay on the grass and watched the birds cry foul. Two inky magpies swooped each other in a highflying game of tag, squawking as they rolled and twisted and curved between the branches. And they were not doing what Rosie had done. For one, their flight came and went without a sense of occasion, or decision. For another, they were not alone.
Risky Rosie Nutcase could not come and go like a bird. Leaving the ground was not done on a whim or for a game of tag, it was done because sea level and its stuck-to-the-ground people with their stuck-to-the-ground way of thinking was unbearable. And it was exhausting, and it came to feel truly, infinitely endless. She had flown until the magic died, until it was dizzying and eternal and lonely like you wouldn’t believe. She had had to land.
“Ka-kaw! Ka-kaw!” she cried out again to the birds.
Rosie goes up and down. She flees the ugliness of sea level to bask in foreign dawns, watch international sport for free and befriend migratory birds. And when it all becomes too endless she falls back to the dirt. She is crushed by gravity and lives amongst the angry ants once more. She still cannot bear either life for too long but she is getting better about the switch.
And still up and down she goes, soaring over continents in an afternoon, tracing lazy figure eights through bright, velvet clouds and spooking aircraft passengers for the fun of it, flying ever forward toward the curvature of the Earth, before restoring her feet to the ground where, apparently, they belong.