Speckles in the Sky
by Suzanne Conboy-Hill
‘Coming on nicely,’ said the man jogging by. ‘Nearly there.’
Lynda turned to check out the source of this odd intrusion. Her heels spun and she almost lost her balance; damn council, leaving the pavements in disrepair. She twisted back again and found herself rotating the other way, like a rapper’s disc on a concrete turntable. Maybe it wasn’t the pavement, maybe it was the wine …
‘Last day, today.’ It was him again, and it wasn’t quite a question. Lynda turned and the turn became a twirl. She winged out her arms for stability. Definitely the wine! As a rule, she didn’t drink during the day but of course this day was different. She took a step back and another forwards and her feet seemed to leave the ground just a little, like she was walking on bubble wrap.
‘You’ll get the hang of it soon enough,’ the man said. Lynda brought her chin down to give him a serious look but he wasn’t there. ‘Up here,’ he said, and there was a kind of rustling overhead. ‘Can you see them yet?’
‘See what?’ Lynda craned her neck and angled her head backwards. That made her feel just a little bit dizzy and also her shoulder blades were suddenly itching like jiggery. She wriggled them and something whooshed.
‘Aha! Bit more of that and you’ll be up and away.’ The man was coming into view feet first: trainers, track suit bottoms, and finally a T shirt with Grey Power printed across the front. The rest of him was rather blurred, and what’s more she could see dark speckles in the sky. Lynda brought her chin back down to the horizontal; drunk, with blood pressure symptoms, feet not feeling the floor, and hallucinations – this was no way to start the next phase of her life.
The man drew level, ‘Mine are green,’ he said, and gestured down at himself as if that explained everything. When Lynda did not respond, he added, ‘You get colours to match your personality. I recycle anything that doesn’t move and I’m a sucker for a sob story, that’s my excuse!’ He laughed and the whooshing started up again, taking the place of something more rhythmic and pulsing. There was a frothy haze around his shoulders.
Lynda’s own shoulders were really beginning to give her trouble. It was like having burrowing ants in there trying to break loose. She flailed an arm around her back, wriggling and shrugging and jiggling to get at the irritation. But before her hand could make contact, the man in the track suit was suddenly far below. He waved. She waved back. She was Alice in Wonderland without a Giants R Us biscuit. No rabbit either. On the other hand, right up here with her were hundreds of butterflies; hovering, flitting rainbows and flags and splashes of paint on the sky. Some of them had bags or carried parcels, and a few of them nodded to her. One looked like her neighbour, Delia.
‘Who are all these – these — whatever they are? Oh God – am I dead?’
‘Far from it, you’re just about to live life more than you ever knew.’ The jogger was back, materialising vertically this time. ‘Ever wonder why the buses are half empty? Nobody on the trains during the daytime? We’re up here. Just put in a few shifts at the bingo, use a couple of concessionaries from time to time, stops people poking around.’
‘What do you mean ‘shifts at the bingo’? Who’s ‘we’? And you know what – Delia didn’t have wings when she was putting out the bins this morning!’
‘You hadn’t retired this morning. You don’t see the wings till you get your own. Welcome to your new life, Lynda.’
‘You’re telling me I just up-ranked from a caterpillar?’
‘That’s one way of looking at it. I’ve certainly worked with people who looked like they pupated years ago. So, are you ready to make your first official flight?’
‘Not seeing as you’re up here already.’ The man tipped a glance at the roofs below.
‘Ok then, here goes. Thrusters on quarter impulse, Cap’n – engage!’ Lynda made superman arms, twitched her shoulders, and shot upwards into a great soaring arc. Then she plunged down, skimmed a chimney pot, alarmed two cats on a shed roof, and scorched down the road on a slalom run between the lamp posts.
‘Cats can see us!’ she said, grabbing a STOP sign and expending her momentum around it.
‘Of course cats can see us! Dogs too, when they put their minds to it. Not fish though.’ The jogger made a neat parallel turn and back-stroked into place next to her.
‘Look at that plumage,’ he said. ‘Orange, gold, silver, and magenta. My goodness, Lynda, you are one loved lady.’
I wrote this story for a lovely colleague, Lynda, for the occasion of her retirement from the NHS, and it is reproduced here with her permission. The R&D conferences will not be the same without her cheery resilience, but I doubt the office biscuits will last any longer!
(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2013.
You may share but not sell, alter, substantially extract, or claim as your own.