Ethel Rohan

The Defiance of Gravity

as a child, she could fly high in the sky, floating above her Iowa home, weightless. The head injury from the car crash resurrected these memories. She is convinced her superpower remains within her, however dormant, and she is determined to recover her wings. In the past three years alone, ever since she received the settlement money, she has traveled to eleven states, following hurricanes and putting herself smack inside the storm’s path, willing ascension.

You haven’t lived, she tells her fellow plane passenger, until the swirl of a storm lifts you right up and bears you along. During her last hurricane, in Galveston, Texas, she’d hung by her hands horizontally from a signpost, six feet off the ground.

“I felt like a bird,” she finishes, dreamy.

Her fellow passenger, a thirty-something woman about her age, flickers a smile and inserts her movie earphones.

Another doubter, she thinks, and closes her eyes. She pictures herself on the wing of the airplane, her blood hot and pulse pounding, about to soar.

Inside the Las Vegas airport, she transfers to her helicopter ride. She’d earned her pilot’s license two years ago, but piloting wasn’t enough. She wants to fly all by herself. En route to the Grand Canyon, she fights the urge to jump out into the sky and feels annoyed again at life’s limits.

The pilot tells her they expect a huge turnout for Yves Rossy’s big stunt the following Tuesday. The inventor known as “Airman” will fly over the Grand Canyon using only his jet-powered wings.

She claps her hands and bucks in her seat, “the defiance of gravity.”

They land and the pilot asks again if she’s sure she doesn’t want to be picked up until Wednesday morning? “It’s only Friday,” he adds, eyeing her few supplies.

The helicopter departs and she sets up her tent as close as possible to the Grand Canyon’s skywalk, a seventy-foot glass bridge that spans the canyon’s floor and is four thousand feet above ground.

She walks onto the glass bridge and through the bright blue sky, her arms stretched out from her sides. She twirls above the rush of the river and inside the foam of clouds, gravity as good as gone.

By nightfall, tens of other Airman enthusiasts have set up camp all around her. Stupid, she knows, but she had hoped to be the only one to see Rossy fly. She’d planned to flag down the brilliant adventurer and shout and plead while he hovered in front of her, to persuade him to loan her his wings so that she, too, could fly.

As the stars burst overhead, the campers gather together, eating and drinking, and talking and laughing. Red dots from cigarettes burn the night. When her car crashed, motorists had carried her from the wreck moments before the vehicle burst into flames. She remembered feeling as if she’d flown from the fire.

She returns to the glass bridge, but the wonder is closed for the day, denying her return to the sky. She stands at the mouth of the heavens, gravity gripping her heels.

Ethel Rohan is the author of Hard to Say (PANK, 2011) and Cut Through the Bone (Dark Sky Books, 2010), the latter named a 2010 Notable Story Collection by The Story Prize. Her work has or will appear in World Literature Today, Tin House Online, The Irish Times, Post Road Magazine, The Rumpus, The Chattahoochee Review, Potomac Review and Southeast Review Online, among many others. She earned her MFA in fiction from Mills College, California. Raised in Dublin, Ireland, Ethel Rohan now lives in San Francisco with her husband and two daughters.


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