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The Solace of Apparent Danger
If I were to tell you the story of how my mother climbed halfway up an antler-topped white pine when she went into labor, how as soon as the pains began to get regular and she was certain of my arrival, she climbed as far as she could go, wedging herself in almost immovably between two thick and pitchy branches, then I would be telling you everything. But I think I want to start after that, thirty years after that, at a county fair where I learned about my near-arboreal beginnings and heard the only story my mother ever really told me—in the only place she would ever have told it. It was a great piece of aerial luck for me, in a place full of apparent danger and great comfort.
We were swinging in a gondola of a Ferris wheel, high above the fair grounds as the cutter races ran their course below, tiny horses pulling tiny carriages, legs like tiny pistons. Below us, halfway to the ground, a flock of pigeons flew through, perhaps flying reconnaissance for a place on the midway that would yield spilled popcorn and discarded chunks of hot dog roll. Higher than the birds, I thought, and looked over at my mother. I knew that the view would please her, but I didn't expect her to say anything. I was just glad to have her there.
"I should have known," my mother said, "that marriage was dangerous." We were following the flight of the pigeons. She'd never said anything about her marriage, not once. Not of her marriage nor of the father of whom I had no direct recall. I had only a patchwork of impressions, gathered from my mother's sisters—the aunts whom I had spent a lifetime overhearing. I sat still, hardly breathing, waiting for the next sentence, hoping there would be one.
The gondola rocked. It was as big as a small rowboat and we sat across from each other, as if for tea. Beneath, the handsome man with a missing front tooth was shifting levers that made huge sounds. He was about to open the safety gate for each pod as it swayed at its ground-level mooring. But nothing moved any closer to the platform.
We looked over the edge, trying to find a good viewing angle; two gondolas away, a child screeched in a kind of boredom. This Ferris wheel was not going to move for a while. I was pregnant and glad I'd gone to the ladies' room beforehand, the one maintained by the Ladies' VFW with a wall-paper-decorated coffee can on a wooden table with a "donations please" sign taped to it. These ladies' room matrons-for-a-day sat outside the wooden swinging doors, telling stories. I'd lingered just for the pleasure of overhearing these voices that deliberately discount the presence of any audience besides themselves, making a public space their private sphere. Like my aunts, these ladies could make stories out of anything and make any place, however full of children, husbands or strangers, their intimate world of disclosure and discussion. I'd been eavesdropping in just this way for as long as I could remember: it's how I learned how you knew if you were pregnant and how my father died. I put an extra dollar bill in the coffee can, just for the pleasure of hearing their intimate, opinionated talk.
My mother and I, held in the sky. Maybe being able to hear her story meant finding a way to hang here in the sky suspended. From the ground, the sounds of people who thought this was danger; a conference was being held below. Someone on the almost-empty pre-noon midway broke into a run: the emergency acknowledged.
I settled into the molded plastic oriole's nest the Rosario Fair Company had hung for us. I felt the movement of our suspension and feared only that this thing would be fixed before I could hear. I looked my mother full in her beautiful old face—a thing, however much I loved her, I was almost always afraid to do. I could see her joy in being aloft.
"The last time I hung in the air with you," she began, "I was stuck and you were on your way and I was only just barely high enough to feel safe."
My mother's name is Sylvie. And though I always called her mama and was never inclined to do otherwise, she was also this person named Sylvie whom my aunts, older than her, had struggled to keep safe. And about whom I had heard stories in my Aunt Lizzie's kitchen, where I spent my growing up while my mother worked. This is Sylvie's story, a story about the solace of apparent danger, told fifty feet above the midway of a county fair in the swaying gondola of a jammed Ferris wheel.
Sylvie blamed her love of heights for a lifelong sense that all announced dangers were false. Aunt Lizzie and Aunt Kitty had their own interpretation: she was a good girl, they said, but had no sense. And that included her love of walking the railroad track, crossing the trestle outside of town that ran a span of one hundred feet: beneath, a mountain-fed river flowed south. Between the ties, framed aerial views of the river, thirty feet below. There were mini-rapids in the spring, ice flows in the winter. She took the ties two in a stride, mostly: sometimes she walked the rail itself, trying to avoid the hobble-gait of tie-stepping. She was eight when she began. None of her friends would join her.
At first, she'd tried to explain to them that there wasn't really any danger, it only seemed that way until you thought about it: no one over the age of two could slip through the creosoted ties; the only trains ran through very early and very late. And the view was beautiful. Upriver, the water snaked left gracefully through alders; east, the backside of the village gave a view of the town that she came to see later as a lover's view: the familiarity and vulnerability of the parts of buildings not designed to be seen. Tiers of laundry waved from tiered clotheslines, pulleyed out from each story of apartment buildings.
Her best friend was a good sport and came along once after much urging. They headed east beyond town, looking for blueberries. "Ceil, come on," Sylvie had said when they got to the trestle, tugging her friend's hand and feeling Ceil hang on toddler-fast, pulling back in arm-locked resistance.
"It's dangerous! It's dangerous! We'll get in trouble!"
Trouble. Perhaps that's what it was, it occurred to Sylvie: the danger wasn't physical, it was official. A parent, a teacher. The risk wasn't of a heedless train you were too frightened to even try to leap away from. The risk was of being caught going past some yellow caution sign there for your protection.
In the end, the view upriver had frozen Ceil beyond moving. And after that, Sylvie would enjoy her walks alone.
From the trestle, Sylvie often would see a woman hanging wash on one particular back porch. The woman's child was small, settled into a laundry basket on an old table on the back porch. The house where the woman lived was shabby but beautiful, built right up to the water's edge. There was a sag of clothesline strung on its back porch; the railing on the porch was chest high, designed to keep the toddler waddling unseen through the screen door from plunging to the water a few feet below.
What had the woman pegging clothes thought of the small figure on the bridge? Sylvie must have looked brave and solitary and untended. A tiny figure on a tall railway trestle. Eventually, they came to wave at each other, Sylvie and the woman with the baby in the basket. Sometimes, when she was grown, Sylvie looked, in memory, from the eyes of the woman who bent to her laundry and saw herself as if from the porch, seeming in danger. And when she looked back in memory from the trestle, she saw the woman flying laundry like semaphore, a distress signal. Or perhaps a setting free, letting shirts and baby clothes fly, fettered at one end. Where had the danger been, she always wondered, on the porch or on the bridge?
And what Sylvie always felt when she viewed herself small and on the bridge, was the aerial gift of loft. And all its freedoms. In her skin. There. Feet in her sneakers, heart full in her chest. Home.
My aunts' stories of this time were different. They talked about Sylvie and her climbing whenever they found one of their own kids in a precarious spot, "Just like Aunt Syl! If you don't watch out, you'll break your neck." Her favorite perch as a child was on top of an old wardrobe in her parents' room. No one ever mentioned that no harm had ever come to Sylvie in her pursuit of the sensation of height. Instead, her sisters talked darkly as if it were her climbing rather than her husband's drinking that had been the root of the hard times, that she wouldn't be working two jobs to support her kids if only she hadn't walked the tracks and crossed the trestle and had aspirations.
I owe to my aunts' ability to ignore children all I had ever pieced together about my father, who died before I was a year old—or even really about my mother, who never told stories and who bore so little resemblance to the daring child they always portrayed. I had been a little pitcher with big ears; I had eavesdropped my way through childhood sitting on the pedestal feet of Aunt Lizzie's huge kitchen table, hearing dishes rattle and low talk. It was in this way I found out where babies came from—a job made easier for me because there were so many of them. And where I put together, or tried to, where I came from and where in the stories I belonged. It's where I learned how Frank died—that is, how my father died. Because I only heard stories about him, Frank was the only natural name to call him. Frank and Sylvie, the willful little sister that Aunt Lizzie and Aunt Kitty had struggled to keep safe. Me, they had moved casually aside with their feet when I was very small and in the way, like a cat in the way might be moved. Not angrily or roughly but inattentively. Their words sank down toward me with whatever gravity moves sounds in the air toward the earth. I don't think in all that time there was ever a story told directly for me to hear, not a family story anyway. And it seemed of all the children, I was the only one who minded.
Sylvie's aspirations were modest, really; but the sisters who raised her, more or less, after their mother died when the two older ones were teenagers, thought them dangerous. During the war, when Sylvie was in high school herself, she always said she would move to Vermont and work for Uncle Jim. He had a tree service, contracted out to towns. Before the war, he'd done some landscaping things, too.
"Why is it so dangerous, going to Uncle Jim's?"
The sisters' answers were always vague, and maybe more ominous for being vague. "We don't know anyone there," Lizzie would say, "and it's so far away." They treated Lake Champlain as if it were an ocean.
"One hundred miles is only far away if you walk it," she'd answered.
"Knowing you, you'd walk that track to get there. We promised our mother." But they never quite said what they had promised. Maybe they only thought they had, or wished they had. These possibilities never affected their certainties of their stories, though. Sylvie minded their certitude about stories which she was too young to claim.
Sylvie wasn't sure that promises had been made, but she had been young. Her memories of then had been the view from her window that had let her look far away—nearly as far as Lake Champlain—and of her sisters, adolescent even in their bereavement, doing one another's hair and trying to do hers. She hadn't let them. It was only with the coming of their own babies that they had seemed to get maternally observant with her. She grew up in the quiet of her father's house, largely untended and largely without need to be tended.
Perhaps her uncle's seemed dangerous because it was all men that worked there. But Sylvie wouldn't be out in the field: she was to be in the office, a dispatcher and clerk.
Were they afraid she would climb a tree and fall out? Walk the track and disappear? Never settle safely down and marry? Never decide to stay out of harm's way and have children? Sylvie wanted those things, she thought, but for now she wanted to go to Vermont. She knew it wasn't anymore dangerous than walking over the trestle.
By the time she was sixteen, Lizzie and Kitty were married and Sylvie was an aunt five times over. Her sisters seemed content: they laughed a lot and their children rubbed their small yards bare of grass with play. This is what Sylvie thought of as safe then. Weren't her sisters happy in their homes? But she didn't think much about it because she was going to cross the lake to Vermont and work for her uncle. She would have asked Ceil to go with her, but she didn't expect friends to be more willing to follow her to Vermont than over the trestle. There were other things on their minds. Ceil wanted to have the safety of her own home—like Lizzie and Kitty had.
And Sylvie would have gone across the lake to work for Uncle Jim, if it hadn't been for the end of the war. Right up until her senior year, she and her uncle talked about it as if were a sure thing, in spite of her sisters' desire to keep her protectively close in view. "Mama wanted us to keep an eye on her," they'd say—but Sylvie thought that perhaps the watchfulness was not meant to persist a lifetime. She didn't want to go any of those remote places in the National Geographic, just to Vermont. But now the men were coming home and munitions plants were closing downstate. Uncle Jim hired a man who had been stationed in Europe for his dispatcher. He just couldn't give the job to a teenaged girl, he said, wait until things settle down.
Perhaps it was hope that was dangerous, thought Sylvie, believing that maybe this was what her sisters had meant about the dangers of her plans all along. Even the view out her window seemed changed and she took to sitting on her roof instead, looking out across toward the quarry, toward the center of town. She could see the roof of Lizzie's house and her laundry on its clothesline tree. And so Sylvie kept walking the tracks and brewing new dreams and found herself idle one afternoon on the roof of her parents' house.
He'd married a climber, my father had said the summer after they first married. Married a climber and wished he'd known about it from the beginning.
Whatever Frank's claims were about not knowing about my mother's desire to court danger, the fact was that he had, of course, known from the beginning. The aunts were certain of that much, "What did he think when he found her up there?" Aunt Lizzie would say. "The first time he ever saw her was on the roof of Daddy's house, not the first story roof, but on that sharp gable over the second story enclosed porch."
What Sylvie remembered was that the shingles were hot and the view was fine. And Sylvie swore she was persuaded to admire Frank simply because of how he had appeared in view. He was looking up, shielding his eyes from the sun, asking her what she was doing way up there—and wouldn't she come down. Maybe that's why they liked him, my aunts, because he could convince her to come down.
"I should have known," Mama said to me in the gondola, "how dangerous coming down to safety might be." And that his bidding her down was what he would do all their brief married life. Down from the sweep of view, down from the survey of where she was. In truth, though, spending time with Frank came to seem like a thing of freedom. Her sisters never let on, if they ever thought, that Frank or someone like him would be dangerous. It was the only peaceful time between herself and her sisters that she ever recalled. There had been no one there to wave a coded message of caution.
Sylvie and Frank began to swim together at the quarry that summer or, really, to dive. The edges of the quarry were steep rock and the water was bottomless. Sylvie's dive was so perfect that it barely left a ripple. Each plunge left them making the rocky scramble, wet and laughing, for another. And it was here that he proposed and here she let go of the notion of going away.
By now the Ferris wheel emergency had become open. A teenager was crying from one of the gondolas and a group of fair personnel was trying to assess the dangers. "It was," Mama said, from the safety of our perch, "simply the trick of having been wooed by heights, wooed beyond all caution. When I got married, I didn't feel the gravity of it."
It was at the quarry that their fundamental troubles began. Or emerged.
"Swim across with me, Sylvie," Frank said "and back."
They were at the edge of the quarry's deep lake.
"Can't," she had said, preparing to dive, "I can't really swim." And with that had plunged herself twenty feet into the water, trusting to buoyancy once again.
Frank was angry. "This is foolhardy," he said, horrified at the recklessness that seemed to underpin their play without his knowledge. He sounded like her sisters.
"It's so terribly deep, I know," she said, "but we're so very close to shore." She reached out her hands and kicked a couple times and rested easily with her hand on the gray stone and the pleasure of twenty feet of water below her.
Frank said he'd teach her to swim. She was willing but not serious and, somehow, after that he spent more twilights than before with his friends, drinking. "I didn't quite notice the shift," Mama said to me, "I was too busy preparing for my new life on the ground, finally out of my sister's house and away from the close scrutiny of the pair of them. Those weren't the only things that happened," she said, "between your father and me. But it began there."
The house they settled in was old and not well-kept: in five years time it would be an embarrassment. The road was a quiet one, the place remote. Around it grew a ragged stand of tall cottonwoods. And just above the small house was a tall pine, sixty feet. The first time Frank caught her up it, he was livid, livid and drunk. It had not been the first time she had escaped there and that day it had been the only answer to the risks of staying in her kitchen. Late in the afternoon, with dinner just begun, the stove had quit. And she had tucked the boys into their naps and climbed the pine, only to come down to their cries, roused by their father's loud curses at his wife and at the irreparable stove. Frank was two weeks replacing it and when he and his brother hauled it out, they left it outside, up against the porch. And there it stayed. It wasn't long after this that Frank bought the old ambulance at the car and truck auction. "And from then on," Mama said, "the place looked like a full-blown emergency to anyone who saw it. And anyone who saw it knew there was no rescue possible." Even my aunts agreed with this part of the story.
"She just stopped coming into town, almost at all," the aunts used to say in their kitchens. "We shouldn't have left her out there alone so much." But in actuality, Sylvie didn't want them around. And she'd begun to believe that there was no answer possible. Until she got pregnant again.
Sylvie took to sitting in the sun on the back stoop when the boys napped and at first she'd minded the sound of a bird that was nest-building in he cottonwoods. "That bird sounded like Frank when he was drunk," she said. "Addled." And all spring it whistled from the top of the cottonwood. I would set laundry on the rope between the pine and the house while the boys slept. Then I'd bake in the sun on the back steps, listening."
But it had been hard to hold its drunken song against it when it flew through the trees like a moving flame and wove its nest fifty feet in the air on a branch, slender, with the tensile strength and movement of a fishing rod. Frank had just driven the ambulance into the yard one day, no more sober than he had to be to negotiate the back road home and had seen her watching it.
"Stupid bird," he said. "What'll happen to those babies if they fall from way up there?" The tiny basket of fibers bobbed in a wind that was stronger in the upper branches than it was below.
Today he didn't seem like her Frank anymore, but just a drunken version of a boy who had called her down from the roof and away from the freedom of her view. And, surveying her re-emerging belly, she thought he understood gravity and how to use it to keep her earth-bound on an almost intuitive level. Her belly held her down again: she found herself a creature of the earth again—and felt that perhaps this time it was for good.
"Frank," she'd answered, "It isn't the height that would kill them, it's the fall. Any fall. If that nest were three feet from the ground they wouldn't survive being toppled out." The birds were safer in the air than on the ground anyway, she realized; they were out of range of cats up there. The idea of the feral tom they sometimes saw trying to move along that fluid stick made her laugh. The danger of the great height of the nest felt like an illusion, but it occurred to her with a jolt that safety was an even more dangerous illusion—the safety of laundry hung and babies fed and a husband home at night. She loved the birds fiercely, in that moment, for trusting to their intricate weaving, to their deep pouch of milkweed and fine grasses.
The oriole threw another drunken whistle and Frank said again, "It's still a stupid bird."
Sylvie moved off to set her laundry flapping in the breeze just beginning to stir below the pine. In her mind rose the solace of an image: a clothesline strung fifty feet aloft between the oriole's cottonwood and her pine—baby clothes flying and sheets slapping like the prayers of her home set to signal the sky.
And afterwards, she came inside to sit at the kitchen table, while Frank slept heavily, sprawled on the sofa. She remembered her sisters that summer she was engaged. They were at the big table I virtually grew up under and Aunt Lizzie was dangling a silver needle on a long thread over Kitty's wrist. It swung slowly counter-clockwise. "A girl," Lizzie howled, "You're having a girl." Kitty already had three girls, all of them out playing in a yard scuffed free of grass in wide patches.
"You're making it swing that way," was the laughing groan of Aunt Kitty, all belly on thin stems of legs. But no matter who swung it, it always circled left, hypnotizing Sylvie. That needle seemed then, for that brief moment, as dangerous as any railroad track could ever be and as capable of setting your heart free.
Now, pregnant for the third time, Sylvie let the needle glint over her own wrist in the quiet of her own kitchen. No matter how often she tried it, it circled slowly left. And a desire formed for the baby girl that was to be me. And a question. Would she teach me to walk railroad tracks and over trestles or would she teach me to peg laundry? Would this little girl grow to run the grass off their front yard like her older brothers? A girl. What stories could she tell her to weave the world safe? She could think of none. It was more terrifying than trying to figure out how she would have coped with quintuplets. Sylvie hadn't paid attention for a long time. She felt her spirits lift and her fears rise, nameless, till there was an invisible stirring in the winds aloft.
My aunts' version of what came next is that my mother snapped, just snapped, or she never would have climbed that pine tree pregnant. They should have helped her, they would say, and found her a new stove, no matter how tight things were. And they conceded they were wrong about Frank but had been reluctant to admit it because they had hoped it would all work out.
I came to understand that Mama had scared them: not one of their babies would they have wanted to have in a tree. And though they knew she hadn't actually done that, they spoke of it as if she did had. And for years, I believed in its literal truth. So did my cousins and even my brothers—which gave me enough stature to survive as the youngest to be brought up in their scrambling midst.
Ever after, her sisters were deferential to her in a way, not pushing too hard, for a woman who would do that might do anything at all. But in truth, all my mother did was work two jobs after her husband died. And on rare days off in late summer, take us blueberry picking along the tracks that led east. The sisters only mentioned the hazards of the trestle among themselves in the kitchen, never to Sylvie. Better to let her have this one thing that hadn't killed anyone yet than provoke another attack of aerial bravery. That reserve applied to me as well, as if I might have inherited my mother's flair for danger—and so I grew up in some ways protected by my mother's reputation.
But this, now, is the story woven of my mother's words, high above the midway. The pains began in early morning. The boys were playing in the yard, an area she had fenced off. The old stove was part of their games with its knobs and dials. At lunch, Lizzie and Kitty came to collect them to take them to the beach with their older cousins. Sylvie refused to go again. But through all this, Sylvie said nothing of the baby about to arrive weeks early. Nothing about the mild achy contractions that made her pause. She felt peaceful for the first time in months. She had a plan. This baby would be safe, safe from playing in a yard with a trashed stove, safe from driving in for groceries in an old ambulance, safe from always being on the ground.
When they left she started to climb the pine. "What I was thinking I can't really tell you," she said as we swayed above the fair grounds, "I suppose I knew that we would have to climb down you and I—but somehow I believed that if you started your life where you could see and feel what it felt like to be high in the air and feel like yourself, that everything would be all right for you after that. When I think about it now it was more like a prayer that I had to be high enough to set free."
The branches were low and thick and pitchy and she eased herself up the first few—but at six feet off the ground, she had to stretch to reach the next branch. It seemed impossible but imperative: the terror of having her daughter born somehow held to the earth propelled her. "The crazy thing is," she said, "it didn't seem crazy then." She just took her time. The exertion and movement seemed to intensify labor and at fifteen feet from the ground, amniotic fluid began a warm rush down her leg and she found herself wedged almost immovably by her girth and by her contractions. High enough, she thought, not as high as the oriole, but high enough. She didn't know if the reality of giving birth in a tree would have ever risen to consciousness: she just remembered feeling safer than she had in weeks.
And then Frank roared in, rusting ambulance careening into its spot, him staggering and swearing when he saw her. "What kind of mother takes her baby up a tree to be born! You're not some stupid bird!" he shrieked, getting more sober with every syllable, wishing his wife safe and earthbound and his life comprehensible again.
"What are you doing up there! Get down!"
"I can't. I'm stuck." she said matter-of-factly.
"Get down!" he demanded.
"I won't," she said, "I'm in labor." She offered this as if it explained everything because for her it did.
"I'm going to call an ambulance," he roared.
"We already have one!" she hollered back.
"A real one—and a fire truck with a ladder." It was a threat.
"If you call anyone, I'll have this baby right in this tree."
"But it's dangerous," he pleaded.
"This whole house is dangerous. The boys play around a broken stove! This tree is safer than anything down there."
"Sylvie, okay. I promise. No ambulance. Just help me get you down before we can't manage on our own."
The story that I was born in a tree is not the precise truth, only the legend. And so very close to the events, that it is truer, even, than the most accurate account, which finds Sylvie giving birth at home, just after the doctor arrived.
Sitting in the Ferris wheel, my mother gave me one of her rare direct looks. "What did I think I could do for you up there? Weave a nest to dangle you in safety? I was numb to everything but the idea of it."
Something changed between my parents then. Frank didn't stop drinking and Sylvie didn't become reconciled to the life she had made. But the stove disappeared from the front yard. And they found a kind of peace between them that may have only lasted because Frank died so soon after, drunk and unsteady, pitching down a short but steep flight of stairs. None of my memories encompass this, except in their reconstruction of these events as my aunts were to tell me in elaboration for all the years of my growing up. And my picture of my parents then was suspended in the words these aunts wove. "He fell like a man already collapsed. That fall shouldn't have killed him. I think he was dead before he hit the ground."
There above the fair grounds I asked, "Why didn't you tell me any of these stories when I was growing up?"
"Stories are what your aunts do, Phoebe," she said. "Nothing I had to say felt like wisdom. I'd been wrong, I hadn't seen where danger was. The danger of love and babies and the things you do every day. I never had their habit of story. And I felt the need to keep you safe. I didn't know what to tell you—was it the waving laundry that signaled danger? Or was it the winding track? What was I to give you, stories of the wash basket or the trestle?"
Mama paused. Below us, lines of small, bright banners blew above the concession stands. "Why do you need to know this?" she asked.
"Why did you need to tell me?"
She looked at my belly. "Because I'm lucky enough to be here to tell you. Because I get to do what my mother couldn't. Because my sisters can't go getting the story wrong forever, because you have someone to tell this story to, to get it wrong in your own way. And to get it right."
"Will it work with a safety pin," I asked. "A pen? A paper clip? I have a shoe lace?" My mother slipped her hand inside her purse: a small traveler's sewing kit folded in foiled paper, the only thread on the flat cardboard spool was lavender. The needle swung over my wrist, as we swayed at our mooring. No matter how many times we did it, it always arced left, wider and wider. "It's probably just the breeze up here," my mother said, laughing, at first only softly. Then harder, matching my own gasping laughs. The mother of the crying baby barked to her husband, "I think they're drunk!" We laughed harder, lost the needle on the floor of the gondola. Fishing that shiny bit of silver back up rocked the gondola and made us look the part, a pair of drunken orioles. That swaying gondola must have looked perilous from the ground—but, then, all the people down there were primed to see disaster. Our safety, three feet or fifty feet above the ground, was in a net of stories being woven whole.
"This is the story," laughed Mama, "this is the one they're going to tell forever. If we're not careful, my sisters are going to be saying that we broke this Ferris wheel on purpose. Just wait until you have to explain to your daughter about her being born at the County Fair!"
"But I'm not even in labor—I'm not in any danger of it!"
"That's not how your aunts are going to tell it! Your cousins are going to be on the phone for months. They're surely going to say its genetic, that you got it from me, that we've moved from trees to Ferris wheels and that they don't want to see what happens on our side of the family next."
"But I did get it from you," I said, weaving already a filament of words to suspend an unborn daughter. "You come, little girl," I'd begin, "from a long line of women who enjoy the sensation of height and the solace of apparent danger."
There was my husband below. He was pointing and gesturing and I began to laugh. "He's just told them I'm pregnant," I said.
"Oh God," Mama laughed as we leaned shoulder to shoulder, and she pointed. The gates at the east end of the fair grounds were being uncoupled to allow a vehicle. "They've called an ambulance," she said as it gleamed in, "they've called an ambulance!"
So if I tell you that I was born in a tree and swung suspended in the air while I learned the truth, I'd be giving the story away. And that's just what I intend to do, over again and over.
Printed in the Fall/Winter 2003 issue of CLR
Stephanie Coyne DeGhett is a poet and fiction writer whose work has appeared in such places as Wordsmith and the New England Review. She teaches at the State University of New York at Potsdam and is poetry editor for Blueline, a literary journal.
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