The wind blew so hard it hushed the trees to song. The leaves all crowded together, whispering and flashing their silvery-green bottoms like schools of fish swarming in the air.
I was reading a book about a 19th century man who was teaching children how to fly. I had to hold the pages down so the wind wouldn’t turn them as the man told the children they were born knowing how to fly. He told them that they knew how when they were born but that people grow older and they forget. The things that grownups need to know takes up too much space.
Someone up the street started mowing his lawn. I’m not sure which neighbor it was, but nobody was in view. The wind blew the sound to me, making him seem closer than he was. My wife didn’t want to sit outside with me because the wind blows allergens. She didn’t want the headache she would get from sitting in the wind.
I listened to the man mowing his lawn. I could smell the grass, rich and familiar, blowing down the street. The tinny rattle of an aluminum can bouncing along mixed in with the mowing sounds. I turned to see if I could see it. It sounded very close. But there was nothing there. Like the man with his mower somewhere, the can was flying to me on the wind. Invisible.
The man in the book told the children that to fly they had to believe. It was all they had to do. If they closed their eyes, they could see the air and feel it growing thick. When they opened them, they would be flying.
Of course it didn’t work. Or not exactly. But the little girl still believed. The boy, well, he still needed to be convinced.
The man mowing the lawn changed to his weed eater. The pitch of the motor was higher, and the string made that buzzing sound. You know the one. It’s the sound air makes when the string is flying through. String has its own wind song. Different than the leaves.
The can was still rolling. It sounded like it had to be coming pretty fast. It sounded just the same as it had before. No closer. No farther away. How can something move so fast and not be going anywhere? How can it be invisible? The same color as the air.
It was blue. I saw it finally.
I read a few more pages of the book. The man in the book took the boy out to where men were building railroad tracks. The ground was flat and cleared of trees, so the wind could not blow through them and whisper in their leaves like fish. But the boy ran. He ran and he told the man he’d remembered how to fly. The man thought he might just be running, but then he saw the light glint off the bottom of the boy’s shoes, and then the boy flew out over the trees. Like the wind.
So the can was blue, and I saw it finally. It rolled right down the middle of the street, bouncing along over the rough asphalt, the sound of its empty aluminum still just as tinny as before. It followed a crooked path, oblivious to the edicts painted in the lines the county people made. It bounced over a reflector and staggered drunkenly. I lost sight of it behind a parked car again.
I looked up, closing the book, and watched the wind. I could smell the dust the man with the singing string churned up, but I could not see it. It was invisible like the wind. The dust was flying with the song of the singing string. Like the boy in the book and my wife’s allergens.
The can was still going. I thought that it must surely have gone far enough that I could see it now. I watched beyond the vehicle, waiting, figuring that soon the can would be visible in the gutter, rolling along. I also thought it might catch on a tire or bounce up the gentle curb and be arrested by someone’s lawn. I wouldn’t see it anymore.
But it rolled on anyway. It was still as loud as it had been before. Its song could sing loud enough to fly against the wind.
Then I saw it. It had rolled out into the middle of the street. The tricky devil. It was on the other side. Tooling along, bouncing happily toward the mailboxes across the intersection. It had a purpose now, I thought, and its course was fairly straight.
It had a long way to go, and I found myself wondering what if someone was inside. What if some little creature was in the can? A bug maybe. Some little bug and its little bug son. Maybe they’d floated a leaf in the remnant cola inside, a boat for the two of them to stand on as they rolled along. They looked out the mouth-hole window at a world spinning round. They were brave adventurers. They traveled on land and at sea. They were flying with the air.
They bounced along together, and I watched them as their adventure took them into the intersection. Another man came out from his house and walked across the street toward them. I saw him see the travelers rolling there. He watched them for a moment and kept on. He went to his mailbox an opened it. I saw the things he pulled out flutter and try to fly away. His bills and his letters wanted an adventure too.
The little can rumbled closer to him as he closed and locked the mailbox. He turned back toward his house. The little bug travelers were almost there. He stepped into the street, two steps toward his house, then three. The little can rattled almost to the curb. I wondered if he would see them again, if he would look back. If he might admire the courage of their rolling, sailing flight.
He did turn back. He turned and looked at them. They rolled into the gutter. Their little vessel rolled down the gutter’s shallow slope and up, almost, over the higher sloping curb. They rolled back. The wind tried to turn the can. It jiggled there. The man with his mail went back to them. He looked down, and I thought he might pick them up. Maybe set them once more on their way.
He stomped on the can and crushed it flat. Then he picked it up and carried it away. He’ll probably recycle it. He’ll get six or seven cents.
Which was too bad. The little boy in the book had learned to fly. A weed eater sang to me. But the wind has allergens. And so we sit sometimes alone and wonder which it will be. The foot, the headaches or the wind.
I came inside and wrote this because I wanted my little bug friends to be free. Like the schools of fish swimming in the trees. I hope the adventurers are still flying somewhere in their little can. Somewhere I can’t see. Maybe they will fly with you.
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The book I was reading, by the way, was Nahoonkara, by Peter Grandbois. It’s beautiful and made me think of this. I’ll be posting a review of it soon.