Interrupting Joy

EA-my flight feathers shuffle and shiver behind me, shaking off a spray of water. You won’t believe how much strength it takes to haul several hundred wet feathers out of a pool. It’s like those old photos you see of immigrants dragging trunks and sacks and more trunks on their backs. Like that, only soggy.

My neighbor, Joy, stands in front of me with fists on hips.

“This the second time you landed here in a week,” she said, lips firmly pursed. “Hope you brought your own towels this time.”

I know beneath her irked tone, she finds this hysterical. Her laughter is barely held in through her brightly lipsticked mouth, which often smiles. She smiles at most things, Joy. She is the only person in our snooty neighborhood of Midwestern retirees who looks at me without a mix of horror and envy. She is also the only African American in our gated community, where the people look as carefully groomed as their yards, but we both swear up and down that has nothing to do with anything.

Even so, I’m the only one who smiles for real when I see her, and not just to be polite.

You and me, she sometimes jokes, are birds of a feather.  And then she breaks out laughing.

“Sorry about the crash landing,” I say. “Sorta lost focus again.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” Joy says, all mock-glaring at me. “Maybe if some folks had wings, they wouldn’t be thinking about every other thing in the universe besides keeping their feathered behinds in the air. Maybe they would concentrate.”

I would try to look sheepish and appropriately sorry, but my hair drips into my eyes, my shorts are wedged wetly into my butt crack, my special t-shirt with the wing and arm holes is bunched up at odd angles, and I am cold. This is the problem with flying; it takes concentration. It’s not like driving, there’s no cruise control, no GPS … and no brakes. Birds have instincts for getting around. People have a massive frontal lobe for overthinking the simplest things, like which conditioner should I use on the downy stuff. But no instincts. That means a simple midair turn requires actual focus, just at the precise moment I am thinking wow, this is so coooool … oops.

My feathers are all shaken out, but are useless for flying until dry. I’d shrug, but my shoulders feel like they’re still carrying all those trunks and bags and stuff. There isn’t much to do about the few gallons of puddle collected at my feet, except apologize again.

Joy shakes her head. “It’ll dry. And when you dry, you come back. I’ll make us Arnold Palmers.”

“Let me treat you. Starbucks?” I have only iced green tea in my fridge, which Joy hates.

“Deal.”

She lets me out the side gate so I don’t drip through her living room, and I manage the half-block home and towel off in my own backyard. I’m an introvert by nature, and flying is a solitary escape for me, one that I frequently ruin with my impromptu landings. But at least I got a coffee date out of this, and that, for me, is something.

I shake off a few more droplets and head into the house to change, Joy’s mirth already infecting me with a kind of hopefulness, even if I really have to swear off dropping in on her like that.

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