Night Vaulting

by Camille Alexa

“Night Vaulting” first appeared in the 2007 anthology Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic. This story is a Washington Small Press Award nominee for best short fiction in small press publications in 2007.

In my dreams, I flew.

I’d never pole vaulted in waking life. But for the past thirty-two months, three weeks and two days, in dreams I vaulted over pit and crowd and sky at the end of a pole. At night, the slender stalk of aluminum and fiberglass in my chalky grip planted itself–an extension of my spine and lungs and the muscles of my arms — in the ground and shot me through the air, and I flew. Beneath, the garish motley of spectators in over-bright tee-shirts undulated. All sound ceased except the pumping of my heart. The zenith moment was not brief, but elastic, sustained. My body hung suspended, in absolute success and physical perfectitude, without weight.

And then I would twist and fall. When my back slammed into the mat I would wake, gasping with the impact; crying, struggling upright, sucking breaths between sobs.

John would quiet my flailings, my beating heart, my despair. Often, neither of us could return to sleep. He’d lift me into my chair and wheel me to the kitchen. He’d make coffee, and dawn would creep across the sky, apologetic.

When John assured himself I was fine, he would wheel my chair into the den, where I spent mornings reading while he took his own wheels — the beautiful Italian bicycle he loved as much as he loved me — and they would ride the fresh morning trails together amid the dewdrops and the opening petals of wildflowers. That was their romance: dew and flowers and unfettered sunshine.

At dinner John served salad, then poured me another glass of wine.

His bicycle leaned against the dining room wall. He claimed it was easier to wheel it here, through the sliding-glass patio doors, than take it all the way around to the garage. Sometimes he forgot to put it away and at night, when I wasn’t sailing through the sky at the end of a pole, I could hear the bicycle all the way from my bedroom.

“You all right, Catherine?” asked John. “The anniversary’s coming up, but it’s been nearly three years. I’d hoped….”

“Thirty-two months, three weeks and three days,” I said.

He reached across the table and placed his hand over mine. “It was nobody’s fault,” he said. “Just an accident. A stupid, horrible accident.”

I looked at the rumpled napkin in my lap, corners sticking out like the wings of broken doves. “I didn’t mention fault,” I said.

John hadn’t driven in thirty-two months, three weeks and three days. Nothing, since the crash, but the bicycle. I turned my head to watch it lean against the wall. My chair looked stocky and reliable next to the Italian’s streamlined curves.

After dinner, John wheeled me to bed. He helped me undress and laid the sheets across my body; across the thick dead logs of my legs. He and the Italian went for an evening ride; “Just a turn about the field,” he said.

They left by the dining room patio door. Even from the bedroom, I heard the click of the latch. My chair sat by the window, motionless, staring in the direction of my departing husband and his wheels.

That night I woke gasping for breath into darkness, clutching my breast with the hand which moments before had gripped the slender tower of fiberglass and vaulted me high above the bar like a rocket, like a shot, like a meteorite.

My breathing calmed. The beats of my heart resumed their ordinary rhythm. The scent of freedom and success faded from my nostrils and I lay quiet.

I saw the outline of John’s body in the dark. He faced away, his breathing unhurried. The window, where my chair usually waited, was vacant.

I closed my eyes and listened. I could hear my chair in the dining room by the sliding patio doors, its rubber wheels pressed against the glass.

Without waking John I rolled myself onto the floor. I’d felt nothing below the waist for nearly thirty-two months, three weeks and four days. If there were going to be bruises, they wouldn’t pain me. If bits of floor dragged and scraped my thighs where my nightgown rode up, I might bleed but unless I looked, I wouldn’t know.

My palms were tingly and raw by the time I reached the dining room. My shoulders ached. By moonlight filtering in the patio doors I saw the spokes of my wheels and those of the Italian, glinting, side by side.

The last few feet were the hardest. It took me a moment to catch my breath, but the wheels were patient, and silent.

I fumbled open the lock on the sliding door, pressed both palms against the glass, and thrust it as wide as I could. My chair bounced back from the rough motion. The Italian shuddered, but didn’t fall.

The screen was light, and easy to slide aside. The wheels trembled on the edge of the threshold, then the Italian shot past and sped to the edge of the yard, where it hesitated. My chair, heavy and safe, waited.

“Go,” I said. “It’s all right, really.”

The chair bumped over the aluminum threshold and rolled across the night-soaked grasses and curled-up leaves of clover to stand beside the Italian. They then wheeled as one, veered away, and I soon lost sight of them in the tall growth of the field behind the house.

Rather than drag myself back to bed, I slept slumped against the wall. This time, when the pole cracked the whip of itself and vaulted me above the crowd, I flew higher than ever.

I spread my arms. My body soared over countryside and the sprinklings of cities. Flattened against invisible currents, I watched anonymous landscape pass below; patchwork cornfields and the mottled greens of forest. On the edge of the horizon near the rising sun I caught the twinkle of spokes, spinning across the earth as I shot, unapologetic, across the sky.

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