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The Flight of Francie

Here's the ending I'd like to tell you:
In every heroine's journey, a moment comes when, despite all fears and doubts, she must make a leap of faith. High atop the Memorial Arch, Francine stepped from the shadow of a winged statue to the observation deck's ledge. Through my telephoto lens, I saw her mouthing the words, "I can fly, I can fly."
I'd like to say that my heart was certain that she could, but even in this make-believe ending, I can't.
Prakash, the master of ceremonies, conducted the show from a makeshift stage in the Plaza below. A squadron of paper airplanes swirled around him in tight formation, a pretty display of telekinesis unless you knew, as I did, he couldn't lift anything heavier than a sheet of paper, despite years of trying. His voice echoed through a microphone, introducing Francine to the cheering crowd around me.
She leapt, arms flung forward, body stretched to ride the wind. But gravity is greedy and implacable; Francine writhed mid-air before slipping its grasp.
And then she flew, just as she'd always known she could.
My wife, my angel, swooped over the length of Prospect Park. The Talent Show and Benefit for Flaming Mike's Medical Fund spread below her like a three-ring circus. At the southern end, waterwalkers danced across the lake's surface and ice queens froze crystalline spires along its shores. Speed-demons raced along the footpaths, trailing tiny sonic booms in their wake, and firebugs glowed in the tree shade, flames snaking across their skin. Francine circled back to the park's northern tip, looped around the Arch, and landed tiptoed on the cobbled pavement before running into my arms.
"Just let your Talent carry you," Prakash had said before she'd climbed the Arch's hidden staircase. "You are Flights of Francie, after all." And finally, after years of doubts and lies, she was.
Except that wasn't what happened, even though we live in an age of miracles.
Wingmen and flygirls, bats and birds, gliders, flying monkeys--call them what you want. Seven of them waved from atop the Arch, as Prakash announced them over his PA system. One by one, the birdbrains jumped, gliding down in wide arcs, until Francine, star of the show, stood alone.
You've seen Francine flying in subways ads and magazine photos, even if you haven't followed her website, Flights of Francie, where she'd posted the announcement that morning: "Debut public appearance, Talent Show, 2pm, Prospect Park." Below that scrolled three years' worth of postings, two dozen photos of her soaring against the New York City skyline, her dark curls streaming in the wind.
The latest photo showed her soaring above the Coney Island pier. No one else knew that I'd Photoshopped away how she'd been standing on the wooden railing, one leg stretched behind her in an arabesque. "Take a picture of me flying," she'd called, while she balanced above the churning ocean. I snapped a few shots, kneeling to angle the lens up, until a gust of wind snatched at her. I'd yanked her back onto the pier, growling, "You aren't a mermaid either."
That one word, "either," clawed at her, despite my apologies. But she'd said nothing until that morning when, a Talent Show leaflet twisting in her hands, she declared to Prakash, "I'm a Talent, too."
So now, camera pointed toward the sky, I filled my head with memories of her floating an inch or two above the sheets when she orgasmed or the way she hovered for an instant when she hopped from our brownstone's porch to the sidewalk.
But the moment her feet left the ledge, I shouted, "No!" and pushed forward, arms outstretched to catch her.
Our eyes locked as Francine flailed against gravity, the ground rushing toward her faster than I could run. Behind her panic blazed the unspoken accusation: how could she soar under the weight of my doubts?
I did believe, though. Desperation makes believers of us all, and at that moment, my very soul thrummed with the conviction she would fly.
Let me pause here for the squeamish among you. For while we're wishing that my first ending could be true, aren't you feeling a twinge of relief? Bitter, guilty relief? Maybe you grew up, like I did, before the Talents appeared. You trusted fundamental laws of science to always be true.
I could stop the story here, before the impact. Physics trumps belief--a familiar, if not satisfying, moral. One that maybe you, like me, had been secretly longing to hear, although not at the cost of my wife.
But this is the age of miracles, after all.
Ten feet from the ground, Francine fell into a pillow of air. Her body floated down, a leaf drifting on wind, and hit the cobbles with all the force of a child collapsing into bed. Then she jerked upright, as if waking from a nightmare.
As I pushed through the last of the crowd, murmurs swirled behind me. "A flop? I thought she could fly. Why didn't she die?" Francine's eyes asked me the same thing.
"A miracle." I fell to my knees where she'd landed. "You--"
"I did it." The microphone carried Prakash's whisper. He stood frozen on his stage, one palm out like a traffic cop signaling a stop. Triumph bloomed across his face. "Finally. I always knew I could."
Paper airplanes scattered on the pavement as he ran to Francine. "Keep trying. I'll catch you." He pressed a hand over her heart. "You know you can fly."
But Francine shook her head. "No more leaps of faith." Her chest shuddered with sudden sobs. "I'm not a mermaid either."
Are you still waiting for a Hollywood ending? Try this:
She stood taller as she pulled me up, and we ran, stumbling, toward Union Street. Into the sunset, if you will. Maybe her steps wavered from the trauma of falling, the aftershock of her beliefs shattering.
Or maybe because her feet floated two inches above the ground.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, June 14th, 2019
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