Carolyn Lightens Up
Carolyn was standing by her open window one evening to cool down during a hot flush, when her feet left the ground, her body tilted until it was horizontal and she began to float slowly out of the window.
“Ah! No! What the hell…?”
Frantically she grabbed at the window frame, but it eluded her grasp and she made slow, steady progress over the back garden. Instinctively she made some breaststroke movements to guide her until she found herself level with the enormous chestnut tree in the garden next door but one. She clutched a substantial branch and hauled herself up, where she sat breathing deeply and holding on to the branch until her knuckles turned white.
“OK”, she said aloud. “I’m not drunk, I’m not mad and I’m not on drugs. Therefore I can fly.”
She sat in the tree for a few minutes until her heart rate slowed to normal, then she pushed herself off the branch and glided back to her open window.
Indoors, she wedged her feet under the windowsill to keep herself stable and pushed the window shut. Then she floated across the room and hovered above her bed until she gradually felt her body grow heavy again and sank slowly down on to the duvet.
Carolyn hated her downstairs neighbour. In his twenties, James was a floppy-haired golden boy with a well-paid job in finance and an air of privilege, as though good luck and success were his by right. He had a girlfriend called Camilla who did not live with him, but who was there every weekend and often during the week. She was small and blonde with a frequent high-pitched giggle which Carolyn guessed had once been called infectious, and she had been infecting people with it ever since.
In the summer they would lie scantily-dressed in the back garden, James with his hand casually resting on Camilla’s breast or thigh. Carolyn considered herself too old and too fat to lie around scantily-dressed, her skin was too fair for sunbathing and she had not been touched by a man in years. She would watch them from her window and feel a murderous rage that anybody could be so young, beautiful and carefree. I’m going mad, she thought. I’ve got to get a grip.
Sometimes, in the evenings, she would hear James playing music, its thumping beat rising up through her floorboards. If she was on the early shift the next morning (and somehow these episodes always happened when she was) she would go downstairs and ask him, as politely as she could, to turn it down and he, equally politely, would agree to do so, but with a smirk which said, oh well, better humour the old bat. Upstairs again, Carolyn would realise he had turned the music down ever so slightly, but not enough to give her the peace she needed. She would curse him and reach for her earplugs.
Her next flight came three days after her first. She was just leaving her flat when she felt a sudden lightness all through her body. Quickly, she stepped towards the top of the stairs and clung to the newel post as she felt her feet leave the ground and her legs float out behind her. Then, to her horror, she heard James’s door close downstairs. She saw him emerge from his flat. He stopped by the shelf in the hall to check the mail. Don’t look round, Carolyn silently begged him. Please don’t look round.
She held her breath while James sorted through the envelopes, pulled out two and slipped them into his jacket pocket. Then he opened the front door and went out.
Carolyn’s sigh of relief was so great she let go of the newel post and began to float towards the front of the house. She flailed her arms to try to find something to hold on to but all she could reach was the smooth paintwork of the wall.
Her mind began to race. Somebody has obviously already left for work because the mail has been picked up off the doormat, she thought. Most likely Ben and Sharon in the ground floor front. The flat next to mine is empty and Mark on top works nights and is probably asleep. Good. No one will see me. She let herself drift to the front door, grabbed the frame, turned round like a swimmer and was about to launch herself for the journey back to her flat when James’s door opened again.
Camilla emerged, looking nauseatingly cute in a baggy t-shirt with a picture of a kitten on it and her hair sticking up at strange angles.
“Hi”, she said, rubbing her eyes. “I thought I heard a noise and James had come back for something.”
“Oh no”, Carolyn said cheerily. “It’s only me.”
Camilla turned round and began to go back inside. Carolyn was about to launch herself again when Camilla turned round.
“Er… Carolyn, what are you doing?”
“Oh, I’m just looking for something.”
Camilla closed the door behind her. Carolyn glanced at her watch. She was going to be late if she didn’t come down to earth soon. She looked through the glass panel in the door. It was a dark, rainy morning. No one would be looking upwards… yes, she would do it.
She reached down, turned the door handle and cautiously peered outside. There was no one about. Hooking her shoulder bag diagonally across her body she slipped out. It was an effort to close the door but she managed it by sticking one foot into the letterbox and pulling with all her strength, while holding on to the wall on either side.
Then, a sudden gust of wind took her up into the sky. She screamed as her body was taken further up, above the houses, and was tossed and turned by the wind like a plastic bottle in a rough sea. She began to move her arms and legs in a breaststroke to give herself some control.
She looked down. Where the hell was she? A red bus, like a child’s toy, made its way slowly down the road among other traffic. She calculated that it must be going in the direction of the station so she began to follow it.
Once her panic wore off she began to enjoy the sensation of flying. Her hair was blowing backwards and the wind and rain on her face, though cold, were exhilarating. When the wind changed direction and was behind her she found herself speeding up, all worries forgotten. It was more exciting than any of the fairground rides she had enjoyed as a child.
So caught up was she in her weightless pleasure she forgot to keep an eye on the ground and with a jolt of panic she realised she was over the river and had gone past her destination. Turning round, she could see the sprawling buildings of the hospital where she worked. She circled her arms and drifted towards it and then, when she was directly above the flat roof of the Chichester Wing, consulted her watch, saw she still had plenty of time and turned on her back to await her descent with her arms folded across her chest.
When she regained her weight she dragged herself through the trapdoor on the roof. Pam, one of the other nurses, came out of a side ward, saw Carolyn and raised her eyebrows.
“Have you been on the roof?”
Carolyn realised from her encounter with Camilla that people will accept the most preposterous statements if you make them with conviction, so she smiled at Pam, said, “Short cut”, and hurried to the cloakroom to repair the damage to her hair and face and change into her uniform.
Just after midday, when she was beginning to think about lunch, one of Carolyn’s post-operative patients began to haemorrhage, much to the horror of her daughter who was visiting. Carolyn swung into action with her usual efficiency, bleeping the surgeon and alerting the blood bank, before leading the patient’s daughter, a timid mouse of a woman, into Sister’s office for a calming cup of tea.
Carolyn sat opposite the woman and explained that haemorrhage sometimes happened in cases like her mother’s and although it looked alarming, with prompt treatment was usually not a serious cause for concern. While she was in the middle of her explanation she felt the familiar feeling of lightness take over her body and she slowly rose out of her seat. Desperately she wondered what to do and decided to continue her explanation in the cool, calm voice she used on anxious relatives, her body still in a sitting position and bobbing gently just below the ceiling like a balloon on a string. The patient’s daughter looked at her with huge eyes, a tissue pressed to her mouth, unable to say a word.
“So, if you’d like to stay here and finish your tea, I’ll go and see how your mother is getting on.”
“W-will you come back?”
Carolyn straightened out her body and swam to the door, ducked under the frame and hid out in the loo opposite until she sank to the ground.
She began to keep a diary of her flights. They all occurred either in the morning, when she was rushing to get ready for work, the middle of the day or at night during a hot flush. However, that was as predictable as they ever got. Sometimes she had three flights a day for two days, then none for a week.
Most of all she enjoyed her night flights; the sense of total freedom from care as she allowed herself to be carried on the breeze, the power she felt as she used her arms and legs to control her direction. She loved, too, the naughty sense of voyeurism as she glided past other people’s windows, feeling sorry for the tired-looking woman who stood at her ironing board while her pig-like husband swigged beer in front of the television, and laughing delightedly at the two handsome young men who, clad only in their underwear, engaged in a vigorous pillow fight. One night as she swooped past a window her heart nearly stopped as she found herself looking directly into the face of an old man, but then added her sigh of relief to the rushing air around her as she realised it was the blind man at number 26.
Her morning flights were riskier. It was winter, and the wind carried her to the hospital at a brisk speed. Below her, pedestrians kept their eyes to the ground or straight ahead, but what would happen when summer came?
She managed to keep her noon flights a secret by arranging to take her lunch break at the time she knew she might take off and heading for a deserted ward in the old part of the hospital where she would swoop and soar, all thoughts of illness and pain forgotten, until she felt heaviness return to her limbs. Then she would go to the hospital library where she would read everything she could find about the menopause, but could discover no instances in the medical journals of menopausal women who could fly.
Spring came, and Carolyn solved the problem of how to avoid being seen in flight by changing to the night shift. This meant she was at home for her morning and noon flights, gently floating around her bedroom with her eyes closed.
At night she would simply allow herself to float above the beds of her sleeping patients, propelling herself up and down the ward with front crawl movements of her arms. What she would do if one of them awoke and needed attention she did not know.
At home, however, the problem of James and Camilla continued. Although she was out of the house when they played music at night, a spell of warm weather meant they spent their weekends out in the garden, listening to music on the radio, accompanied by Camilla’s infectious giggle. On two occasions, she leaned out of the window (it was a time of day when she did not fly) and asked them to turn it down, explaining that she was working nights and needed to sleep. They obliged, but not without exchanging looks of irritation. The third occasion was on a weekday, both of them having taken the day off work.
Angrily, Carolyn stuck her head out of the window.
“Damn it, I’ve told you I’m working nights. For Christ’s sake turn that racket down and stop being so bloody selfish.”
This time, James sneered at her and said, “Shut up you boring old bitch. We’re entitled to listen to music if we want to.”
Camilla chimed in, “Why don’t you move out if you don’t like it?”
Before she could think of a reply, Carolyn felt the familiar sensation of her feet leaving the ground and her legs floating behind her. She drifted out of the window, aware of James and Camilla’s faces, blank and open-mouthed, below her. It’s the wrong time, she thought. I never fly at this time. Then, she felt heavy again, not gradually as before, but all at once, and came crashing down to earth, to land on James. Camilla stared at her, then ran squealing indoors.
She never saw Camilla again, and there were no other witnesses to the incident as all the neighbours were at work. Carolyn, her fall broken by James’s body, was unhurt apart from a few bruises. She struggled to her feet, returned to her flat and went to bed, where she slept until it was time to get up for work. James’s body was found by Ben, who lived on the ground floor. A policeman questioned all who lived in the house.
“I’m a nurse, working nights”, Carolyn told him. “I must have been asleep when it happened. Honestly, officer, I had such a tough shift last night I don’t think anything could have woken me.”
The policeman, a veteran of many night shifts himself, sympathised. Carolyn heard no more about James and as far as she knew, his death remained just another unsolved mystery.
After that, Carolyn never flew again. Mostly she was relieved, but occasionally, when she stood at her window at night, she would watch the top branches of the trees swaying in the breeze and long to be up there again, enjoying the sensation of being carried far above the trivial concerns of everyday life.
A note from the author:
“I wrote Carolyn Lightens Up as an antidote to the trials and tribulations of middle-age.”
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