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Kathryn Kulpa

We were born walking on wires.

Safety wasn’t a word we loved. A sneeze could send us tumbling, and we lived with that. Waltzing cheek to cheek, while 40 feet below an orchestra serenaded us. Land dwellers watched us with squinting eyes and twisted necks, tamping down the part of them that willed us to fall. Or sometimes not tamping it down, like the man who blasted a fire horn just to see what would happen. We balanced on, carrying poles or parasols or just ourselves, crowning our heads with glasses of water, embracing our place in the velvet sky.

Nobody looks good from high above. You can see down their nostrils if you want to. I never wanted to. Never wanted to be down with the dirtwalkers, the dull clerks of dull towns, grocers, bankers, pencil pushers.

I knew when I fell in love, it would only, always, be a sky man for me. And when I said yes, I said: But in the sky. We would take our vows in the air, and the air would bless our love. I would wear the dress, my mother’s beaded gown, though he feared the train would trip me. I never worried, never looked down when my train dragged along the wire, drooping down to one side. I felt the drag and leaned away. Let the cameras click; let the crowds scream. We knew how to compensate for the vagaries of gravity.

He’d never yet dared to tell her of his secret craving: to be one of them, the groundlings, the dirtwalkers. Men of cobblestone streets, of solid pine floors, who walked without contemplating where their feet were planted. Men for whom a gust of high wind meant losing their hat, not their life.

He meant to tell her. Asleep at night, in a hammock that rocked like a mother’s cradle, he imagined a life they might have. He saw them traveling by ship, where waves would break their fall; living in a tiny stone house where pink roses climbed; lying flat on springy grass and looking at stars. Surely, she would crave this too, in time. She would know that this sky-dancing world was only temporary, would come to want a home that sat firmly on the earth, a nest no chicks could fall from.

He would tell her, someday. But each time he saw her he would forget, lost in her beauty, in her passion for the sky.

And now she stepped toward him, so sure-footed, so proud. He reached to take her hand, lost in love, imagining a green meadow beneath his feet as the wire trembled, as her arms pinwheeled, as he watched her growing smaller, a tiny, howling figure, as the earth he craved rocked up to meet him.

Kathryn Kulpa's stories have appeared in Atlas and Alice, New Flash Fiction Review, Pithead Chapel, and Wigleaf. Her work was chosen for <I>Best Microfiction 2020.</I>

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