I wrote this short-short as a tribute to a dear colleague who retired, but I thought I’d share it here, for all of those other supersonic girls out there.
For Kathy King
By Bryn Chancellor
At the top of the tallest hill in the world, the girl stood astride her trusty green bicycle, her left foot pressed against the pedal, the right one planted on the ground. She rocked the tire over the lip of the hill. A warm summer mist coiled up from the ground, rolled above the trees, thick with the smells of pine sap and iron. For the past hour, a thunderstorm had trapped her inside, but as soon as it passed, and despite warnings that dinner was almost ready, the girl had flung open the front door and leapt outside into the fading light, running for the shiny metal machine tucked up against the side the house.
She gripped the black rubber handles, flicked the glittering silver streamers that stuck off the handles like horsetails. Her bike. A girl bike, one of the boys on the block had called it. That boy, he of the peanut-butter breath and crusty eyes, would be in the same kindergarten class with her come fall. She scrunched up her nose, remembering the punching sneer of his voice. She understood that he meant girl as an insult but she didn’t know why. She shrugged. He clearly didn’t understand words, or girls. He had no idea who she was or what she could do.
For one: she could fly. She discovered this through her books. She was on the cusp of reading: words still were taking shape, their meanings shrouded in a halo glow, blurred like distant stars. Soon they would come into great sharp focus, but for now, she had their sound, their wondrous shapes. With the pictures, she understood that she was reading about soaring creatures and aircraft, winged things built for wind and speed. The words would get caught in her head, loop around, alight on her tongue. Coopers hawk, she would whisper under the sheets, her face aglow by the secret flashlight. Zeppelin, she said to her breakfast eggs. In the backyard, she strapped an old sheet across her shoulders, fastened to her wrists with clumps of masking tape. She climbed the old picnic bench, closed her eyes, and with a cry of Supersonic! leapt out. Her wings billowed, and there she went. Flying. Higher and higher, circling over the trees and housetops of town—she spit onto the roof of the crusty-eyed boy— until the very blue of the sky soaked into her skin.
Yesterday, when she came down from the sky, she had eaten her grilled cheese and read a book about snakes, and oh! how one name stood out on the page. It was as if someone had written it in fire. Above the name was a picture of the meaty, muscular snake, but that wasn’t what caught her; it was the words themselves, their curvature and fine ligaments, their contradictory lengths and sounds: short and long, hollow and hissing. She traced them with her index finger and turned the two words over in her mouth, savoring each syllable, the hum and press of her lips, the tip of her tongue against the back of her teeth. Whatever their true meaning, to her they came to contain something much larger: an aching golden happiness, the whole beating heart of the world.
Here on the top of the tallest hill in the world, the girl stood astride her trusty green bike. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, tumbling again into her extraordinary imagination, seeing only the sharp slope and the mission before her. Of course, she could not see that she would spend her life parsing the mystery of words and meaning. She could not see that she would become a girl academic and study and discover girl writers, punching back against that persistent punching sneer. She could not see how people would watch with wonder as she swanned down the hallways and paced the classroom, the long wings of her sweaters fluttering, her aura as bright and fierce as a comet’s tail.
For now, she could only see one thing: destiny.
“Go like the wind, my Boa Constrictor!” she yelled, and she pushed off, righting her handlebars after one quick wobble. Shoulders hunched, she pedaled as hard as she could, her knees in riotous spin, and then stood up straight on the pedals. She went faster and faster, and then higher and higher: a new kind of travel, both land and air at once. Supersonic girl, patron saint of glitter-handled bicycles. So fast and high did she go that for a moment, she was sure she could see the curve of the Earth. In the dusk, the frame of that little bike began to glow, flaring with feral light. The girl felt her legs tremble, but she wasn’t sure if it was the mighty machine – or her. The wind beat against her hair, whizzed the shells of her ears, but she leaned in. She was going to make it.