Heavy Shoes

Darby Larson

      A cadre of medical people ran around in a fury of preparation. Anesthesia swam through Julia's veins. She watched the clock; the funny numbers, the gravity-defying pendulum.
      Julia gave birth to five healthy baby boys. They were lying next to each other on a blanketed steel table, enduring pokes and prods by medical instruments, squirming, crying. Living. The doctors and nurses's attention turned away from the newborns for only one moment, and it was then thatJulia's quintuplets began to float toward the ceiling. A nurse screamed, and the entire medical staff spun toward the blanketed table, and then looked up at the ceiling where five naked baby boys hovered, umbilical cords hanging like balloon strings.

#

     Here are the names Julia gave them: Bo, Tre, Chad, Vince, and Wesley.

#

     Julia grew accustomed to her children's abilities. At night, they slept under blankets securely strapped to the mattress at each corner, preventing them from drifting out of their cribs. She paid for heavy weighted shoes so they could learn to walk. They bounced around in slow motion on the living room carpet like astronauts.
      Julia knew her children would grow up to be fliers. They would harness air currents. They would race airplanes. They would nose dive off skyscrapers to impress their friends in high school. Just as Tony had impressed her.

#

      Julia's plight was distressing. Everything needed to be times five: the food in the fridge, the clothes in the drawers, the cash in her purse. Julia couldn't hold a job with five super-children to look after.
      "What are we going to do?" she asked Bo one evening. To this, Bo just licked his fingers and looked elsewhere.

#

      Tony flew from city to city to state to state to country to continent to rivers to oceans and back again. He lived a life in clouds.
      Julia had rooted herself in her apartment ten years ago, rarely leaving it thereafter. She seldom saw Tony. For days, for weeks, she would never hear from him. On days when he did appear, he would often just fly in one window and out another.
      Once, Julia asked Tony what it felt like to fly. Tony told her: It's like being a butterfly with big colorful quilts for wings.

#

     A knock at the door. Julia froze. She turned toward her sleeping children. The person knocked again. Crying ensued to the power of five. Julia opened the door. No one was there. On her doorstep were two sheets of paper. One was an invitation to a dinner party tomorrow night. Julia thought about how nice this would be, to get away from the kids for an evening. Who would babysit? The other was an eviction notice.

#

      Through the night, the babies fidgeted and wriggled under tight sheets. For one moment, all five slept.
      It was almost noon when Julia woke to commotion in the living room. It was Tony. He had flown in the open window. He had taken the weights off their children's feet. He was teaching them to pounce.
      Tony soared, glided, then stopped in mid-hover, turned upright, landed, and walked toward her.
      "Hey," he said.
      "You should shut the window when they don't have their shoes on."
      "It's okay. I'm here."
      "Why are you here?"
      "Why wouldn't I be here?"
      "Because you're never here."
      Tony said nothing and sat at the kitchen table. Julia started the coffee-maker.
      "Are you going to stay around long?" she asked, looking into the living room where her children drifted aimlessly. She walked over and began snatching them from the air and shoving their shoes on.
      "No, I can't stay," Tony said.
      "I'm asking because I could use a babysitter tonight." She was pushing Chad's shoe on a little too hard, daring him to cry.
      Through the window, Tony watched eighteen birds fly in a V across the sky.
      "Christ Tony, can't you just--"
      "I'll stay."
      Julia sighed loudly. She said, "Watch them," and went to take a shower.

#

     That night at the dinner party, Julia met a congressman, a poet, and a young college student. Their hostess, Estelle, was a nice old woman who had just moved from Rhode Island. They ate salmon. They drank red wine.
      When Estelle asked her if she'd like to come again next week, she said she'd love to.

#

      Back from the dinner party, a head full of wine, Julia jiggled keys and opened her front door. Four of her children hovered near the ceiling. She could not see Wesley. She could also not see Tony. Both windows were wide open.
      She ran through every room looking for Wesley. She checked the ceilings more than the floors. He was in the kitchen suspended above the stove. She reached up and pulled him to her. She took him to his brothers and let him float with them and went to shut all the windows. One by one, she snatched her children and strapped their shoes on. All five now sat on the living room carpet, strangely quiet.
      "So where the hell's your Father?" she asked them.
      In a gesture that may or may not have been deliberate, Tre raised his arm.

#

      Tony flew in circles around the Empire State Building. He was racing seagulls. He waved to frantic tourists who rushed to metallic binoculars.
      A young boy took a picture. The flash made Tony's eyes screwy.
      He crashed through the window of an adjacent building, landing unconscious next to an employee at a computer desk.

#

      Bed rest for three weeks is what the doctor said. A mild concussion. He was laid up in Julia's apartment. He slept in their bedroom. He spent a lot of time in front of the television. He played with his bouncing children.
      Julia sat in the living room watching daytime soaps. Tony and the kids made noise behind the closed door to her bedroom. She finally had a chance to think.
      She had a lot on her mind.

#

      On the night of Estelle's next dinner party, Julia changed into a dress in front of Tony. He acted like he wasn't watching.
      "Hey," he said.
      She brushed her hair.
      "Jules."
      She applied makeup.
      "Thanks Jules."
      "Yeah," she said and left the room.
      "I'll be back soon everyone," she said to the children, all belted into baby-carriers lined against the wall.
      They all said, "Bye Mommy" in their own language.
      "Bye Jules," Tony said from the bedroom.
      "Keep their shoes on," she said.
      Walking to Estelle's apartment, which was just down the hall from hers, her hands wouldn't stop shaking.

#

      After the party, walking back to her apartment, her sway was casual.

#

      The sun rose.
      Tony slowly woke up to an empty room. He turned on the television. Daytime soaps.
      There was a knock at the front door. Another. Tony didn't move and assumed Julia would answer it. There was no movement in the apartment. Where was Julia? He tried to sit up, but became dizzy and fell back down.
      Knocking again. Louder. Then a loud crash like someone just smashed through the front door.
      Tony was still. He listened. He looked out the bedroom window andů

#

      The front door to the apartment burst open. Two uniformed people entered and looked around.
      "There's supposed to be like five kids here. And a mother."
      "No one's here."
      "They deserted."
      "Yeah, here's the eviction notice in the trash."
      They walked around until the one near the window said, "Holy shit!"
      "What?"
      "Look at this."
      The other walked over, looked out the window and--

#

      --saw a woman floating away on a quilt of quintuplets.


Darby Larson

Darby is a California writer. He's had fiction published on the web at Eyeshot, Pindeldyboz, Eclectica, Mcsweeney's Internet Tendency, Bullfight Review, Uber, Yankee Pot Roast, Word Riot, Hobart, The Quarterly Staple, Barrelhouse, Opium Magazine, Perfectland, and Smokelong Quarterly, among others.



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