Here’s something a little cheerier. This one didn’t come from the regression exercises, but from a dream. If you haven’t done it already, consider keeping something by your bed to write with. Dreams can be a wonderful source of ideas. I tend to dream in stories; I’ve gotten several short stories and even the starts to novels that way. Dreams are often odd. elliptical, and evocative–all of which makes for a wonderful, rich source from which to draw. But enough–meet Amanda Miranda, the The Girl Who Could Fly. Amanda’s a favorite of mine. You’ll meet her, folded, spindled, tweaked, and under another name when I get my young adult novel, The Flying Walinski’s, published. But for now, meet her as I met her first, in a dream:
She leaned forward, eyes closed, arms spread, pressing her body against the baking wind sweeping up from the valley below. Grasses rustled tawny against her tanned, chubby legs. Her starched cotton skirt and stiff white eyelet petticoat pressed against her flat chest and round little belly and belled out behind her like a sail. She opened her mouth and the hot wind rushed in, tasting of dust, of flour, of grain, and under it all just a hint of river. She leaned harder, trusting the wind.
“Manda, Momma said don’t.”
Amanda opened her eyes but kept her arms wide and leaned even farther, pressing her luck beyond the danger point.
“You’re gonna fall…”
The wind cradled her, hot, purifying, and immediate. She stared out beyond the tumble of rocks that plunged from just below her feet down into the valley. She looked past the roofs faded to soft pinks, gray greens, charcoal blues, past the dusty green squares of parks patchworking the city, past the Round-Up Pavilion with its faded red, gold, and blue sign, to the glittering mansions set in splendor on North Hill. She had only ever seen the mansions from outside, when Momma drove her and her sister Polly to the High School pool for Red Cross swimming lessons. The mansions were old, with columns, porticos, stucco, and half-timbering, backed by lombardy poplars, oaks, and evergreens.
North Hill was impossibly out of reach from here behind the church, with Momma inside helping the other deaconnesses wash the tiny cups from Quarterly Service. The ranks of the deaconnesses weren’t populated by wives from North Hill. North Hill belonged not to the wealthy, of whom Amanda’s church had a few, but to the Wealthy—people whose pedigrees stretched back to the days when hotblooded town partisans had stolen the Umatilla County records from the city of Umatilla twenty miles downriver. They held the records hostage until Umatilla reluctantly conceded that Pendleton should be the county seat, since after all, the county records were there…Pendleton prospered, booming on lumber and county and later state business.
Umatilla withered into a quiet backwater along the Columbia River. They had the Port of the Umatilla—a towering grain elevator built on the Columbia River banks—and that was all. Grain trucks from all over Morrow and Umatilla counties drove to the elevator in the summers, carrying the grain grown on the rolling golden hills to be loaded onto barges, floated down the river to Portland, and then to the world. Umatilla still had the Port of Umatilla—largely because Pendleton hadn’t yet devised a means of diverting the Columbia River to Pendleton. The Port employed a grand total of three men—four in a good year—and was run by Umatilla County Grain Growers (headquarters, Pendleton.)
The hot blood had cooled, but such decisive action shapes a family. People capable of acquiring a county seat by theft tended to thrive in a place like Pendleton, but enough of that. This is not a story of a town, but of a girl, Amanda, who we left leaning on the wind and staring out across the faded, misty, ozone-blue valley to the mansions of the children of bandits, and beyond to the tall white spires of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—because that was who else North Hill belonged to: The Mormons. It seemed right to Amanda. She was just old enough to understand some of her mother’s outraged comments about polygamy, and the Mormons who practiced it in defiance of the laws of the Lord, the Land and Common Morality. That the lawless Mormons would choose to build their big, beautiful church in the back yards of men whose fathers had stolen prosperity and now flaunted it seemed right and natural. North Hill was rich, lawless, and wicked.
But Amanda wasn’t thinking about Mormons and stolen prosperity. She was wasn’t really thinking at all. She was seeing the white spires turn misty against the pale blue horizon. She was hearing the trees rustle in the parks far below her. She was hearing the chorus of birdsong—sparrows, crows, larks, and gulls. She was tasting the dry, dusty, faintly floury wind, and above all, she was feeling the wind hold her up. Gulls swirled and screamed, riding the updrafts like eagles and vultures. She leaned harder, stretched farther, and for just a second her feet left the ground and she hovered, airborne.
“Amanda Miranda, stop that right now.”
The spell was broken. Amanda’s feet thudded back to earth. Her arms dropped. “Sorry Momma.”
“Get away from there. What have I told you about playing past the guard rail?”
“But I was just picking bachelor’s buttons.”
“No you weren’t. You were pretending to fly,” said Polly in her Holy Child voice, the one Amanda hated because it usually got her into trouble.
Momma clicked briskly across the parking lot, her good, dark, modest church dress neatly covered by a ruffled bib apron. The apron looked strange to Amanda. Her mother wore aprons often, but they were usually cobbler’s aprons, almost smocks. The bib apron was holy; Momma only wore it on occasions like this, when she was working with the other deaconnesses to clean up after Quarterly Service.
Momma was carrying a big metal pitcher in her hands now. She carefully stepped over the guardrail at the edge of the parking lot and picked her way through the tawny grass and bachelor’s buttons, nearly to the edge of the cliff, almost as far down the slope as Amanda herself had been standing. Then she squatted and carefully poured a stream of purple grape juice out over the rocks. She poured slowly, so it wouldn’t splash her Sabbath dress, her stocking-clad legs, or her pointy, patent-leather pumps.
“Whatcha doin?” Amanda asked.
“What are you doing?” Momma corrected her.
“What are you doing?” Amanda parroted impatiently.
Momma looked awkward. The juice poured a little faster. Tiny reddish purple flecks appeared on her shins. “Never mind.”
“But why are you pouring out the juice? Can I have a drink first?”
“But I’m thirsty.” The grape juice pooled in the dust and stained the grasses and bachelor’s buttons like dark, rich blood.
“Be quiet. You know you can’t have this. It’s from Quarterly Service.”
“But it was left over. Can’t we take it home and drink it?”
“No.” Momma looked uncomfortable, and a little irritated. She stood stiffly, teetering a bit on her spike heels, the empty, purple-filmed pitcher balanced on one hand, steadied with the other.
“It’s been blessed,” Momma snapped. She looked embarrassed at uttering what sounded very much like something a Catholic might say. “We can’t drink it after it’s been blessed. It’s the Blood of Christ. We can only use it for Quarterly Service.”
“The Blood of Christ? No it’s not. It’s just grape juice.”
“Symbolically,” Momma huffed, “and don’t contradict. It’s not nice.” She stepped carefully back over the guard rail. “It would be sacriligious to just drink it after it’s been used in Quarterly Service to represent Jesus’ blood. We have to throw it out.”
“But isn’t dumping it out just—”
“No,” Momma cut her off.
“Why didn’t you just put it down the drain?” Amanda asked.
“Because it has to be gotten rid of in a special way. It’s supposed to be poured out where no one will walk on it.”
“No people—” Momma hissed.
“But people don’t walk in drains—”
“Enough,” Momma snapped, both embarrassed at being caught doing something that looked so ridiculous, and irritated at having to explain the ritual disposal of ritual materials to someone for whom the ritual was still, like sex, a forbidden mystery. She turned to go. “Now stay on this side of the guard rail, or go sit up on the hill by Polly.”
Amanda turned to look. Polly sat primly in the tawny grass, her blue dress and white eyelet petticoat—the twin of Amanda’s—immaculate and lovely. It pouffed up around her as she sat prettily braiding the bachelor’s buttons into long garlands. A coronet of the purple, pink, white and blue flowers sat on her golden head. She was the sort of child at whom adults automatically smile. Amanda was not.
She scuffed over to Polly and flounced down beside her under Momma’s steely gaze.
Satisfied, Momma turned and clicked back into the church, her generous hips sweeping her full skirts into an exaggerated sway that Amanda admired enormously. As the door closed she jumped to her feet and tried to make her skirts sway, too. She swung her hips like Momma, but the wind defeated her. Her skirts still just belled up on one side and tangled around her legs on the other. She gave up and went to inspect the puddle of grape juice.
“Manda, Momma said not to.”
“I’m just looking.”
But Amanda was Daddy’s girl, and need not obey Momma, just as Polly was Momma’s girl, and obeyed gladly. Amanda clambered over the dusty white guard rail and stood in the tall grass, feeling it swish against her legs, liking the look of the bachelor’s buttons against her cotton skirt and eyelet petticoat. She stepped carefully through the grass and squatted next to the puddle. It had already soaked into the dry ground, leaving only a dark spot of earth and a few purplish stains on the grass. And far below, on the rocks, a few dark splashes like blood. Amanda plucked a grass stem and sucked it experimentally. The ghost of grape tickled her tongue.
Then Polly sucked in her breath and Amanda, a veteran of situations like this, leaped up and over the guardrail just in time to see Momma appear in the church’s doorway.
“What were you doing?” Momma—also a veteran of situations like this—asked suspiciously.
“Nothing,” said Amanda defiantly. She heard Polly draw in a breath to tattle. She turned so Momma couldn’t see and gave Polly Stink Eye. Polly let her breath out in a long, martyred sigh.
“Come on, girls, time to go home.”
Amanda and Polly followed Momma back into the church. She locked the door behind them, and then they walked quietly, reverently, down long, dark echoing hallways.
Sometimes Amanda saw other deaconesses’ children running and shouting in the dark hallways, playing tag and hide and seek, but she and Polly walked slowly, carefully, and respectfully in God’s House, even though Amanda knew God wasn’t there. God was at home, with Daddy, probably taking a nap. Walking the dark hallways always left Amanda with the feeling of having missed something crucial, a sad, hopeless, and weary unto death feeling. She wished Momma would let them walk straight from the hot, free hilltop to the car, but Momma said she needed to lock the doors. The minister trusted her with the church keys. She must not fail him. Amanda and Polly must, therefore, pass through the Valley of the Shadow of the Church Basement on their way from the heavenly pleasures of the back parking lot back to their regular earthly existence.
They navigated the warren of dark hallways and emerged at the steps leading up, then up again, around the landing and up yet again to the foyer. Momma let them all out the big wooden front doors, then locked the doors carefully while Amanda and Polly waited. They walked down the sweeping front steps and across the street and up the hill to the front parking lot. In the car on the way home Polly hissed, “I’m telling,” into Amanda’s ear.
“Go ahead,” Amanda hissed back, lifting her chin and giving Polly Stink Eye again. Polly glared back, but there was fear behind her eyes, and Amanda knew she would not tell.
Amanda rode the rest of the way home in silence, breathing in the ripe-wheat-and-hamburger-scented wind, holding onto her amazing, joyful, secret, the memory of that split second she had been airborne, before her mother’s voice had brought her crashing back to earth. What might have happened if Momma had not come out just then?
Amanda’s soul trembled with the wonder of it. Beside her, Polly sat neatly, hands folded, staring out her window at nothing. She looked lovely. Even though they looked exactly alike, were exactly the same age, and dressed exactly the same, no one except perfect strangers ever confused the two girls, nor did anyone except perfect strangers think of them as identical, though technically they were. Polly was the Good one, who sat quietly and looked beautiful. Amanda Miranda was the Bad one, the girl who could fly.