Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cemetery Girl, with Goggles - a Short Story

Cemetery Girl, with Goggles

"She's weird, Charles."  The words from my mother fell flat, dropped like stones down a deep well. I can still hear them, echoing in freefall. "A cemetery? At night? Wearing goggles? Whatever will the neighbors think?"

My shoulders hunched. Who cared what the neighbors thought? Sweat ran down my face, stinging my eyes as I gripped the thick cotton pad wrapped around the handle of a hot iron and pushed the wrinkles in the pin-striped pants into submission. They resisted, of course, but the iron was adamant. The iron reminded me of my mother, the pants, me. My dad, too. We were both garments to her iron.

She's weird.

Ironing was my penance. Before Mom and Dad left for their evening walk, she'd pointed to a distressingly large mound of rumpled clothes in the corner, then to three irons on the steel plate by the fire, one to use, two to keep hot. The trick was to alternate them before they either cooled off too much to do any good or stayed by the fire too long which scorched the clothes. I wasn't very good at it, but then, ironing was not my forte.

Hair stuck to my face and I could feel moisture gathering in my armpits, running down my ribcage, seeping into my petticoat. A soft movement of air from the open window had me lifting my sweaty face to it, begging for comfort.  I wanted to climb right out that tiny window, wade through the salt marshes, and leap into the ocean, half-framed by sand dunes dotted with sea oats.

My right arm ached from the iron's drag. I pushed it forward once again and felt a bump against the pointed black tip. I set the iron on the warming plate, and fished in the pocket for the culprit.

It was a key.

Not just any key. I knew this key. It was to my father's workshop, a place to which I'd been forever banned. Tinkering around with Daddy's "inventions" was not ladylike, and above all, I must be ladylike, which forbade me from wearing goggles while sitting in cemeteries, or helping to build Daddy's steam-powered dish cleaner.

The key dug into my palm as I considered possibilities and ramifications. It didn't take long - I am my father's daughter, after all.

In the workshop, I touched the flywheel and boiler of the dish cleaner. It didn't look like he'd gotten any farther with it. The dials were still missing, for one thing. I'd had an idea for that, but… I sighed and moved on, running my hands over the gears of a non-working cuckoo clock, the bird stuck in mid-journey, shiny copper eyes connected to a brass head aged to a rich patina.

Oh. Wait, what was this?


I hadn't seen this before. The entire contraption was fitted onto a tailor's mannequin. The shoulder harness was fashioned from thickly tooled leather, the small hydrogen tank mounted on a solid brass back piece. Copper tubing ran from tank to steam thrusters and riveted to wide wristbands. A thinner tube ran from wristband to handheld trigger mechanism. The wings themselves were massive, tips of the long white feathers brushing the floor.

Strapping on the contraption in awkward haste, I trembled and pushed my hair back from my sweaty face.  Did I dare? I looked back through the opened doorway and into the tiny kitchen. The irons waited.

Right. Of course I dared. A groping hand under the mattress of my bed yielded my beloved goggles and I was out the door.

Figuring I needed a bit of height to get started, I climbed the old wood trellis to the roof. The wind tugged at the feathers as I tread carefully on tarred shingles. I slipped the goggles over my eyes, spread my arms wide and stepped off the roof.

The air whooshed under my wings and sent me flying, barely missing the old oak at the edge of the yard. I banked, squeezing the hand trigger and shot across the salt marsh. The ocean beckoned, whitecaps rolling onto shore.  I frolicked in the air currents, riding the thermals, soaring with the wheeling gulls.

I sighed, remembering the ironing and turned back reluctantly, leaving the ocean and salt marsh, flying above the old gravel road leading home.

It was there I saw them; three men and my parents.  I climbed higher, not wanting them to see me, gliding in large concentric circles, watching.

Wait! What were they doing? They were… attacking? The men leapt upon my father and he went down, while mother beat at their backs ineffectually.


A squeeze on the trigger mechanism and steam hissed through the thrusters, lending speed to my dive. I shot toward the group, wind tearing the scream from my mouth.  I can only imagine what I must have looked like coming from high above, goggled, white wings flattened against my side as I bulleted toward them, hair streaming out wildly behind. A monstrously-feathered, avenging angel.

The men looked up, wild-eyed and slack-jawed as I swooped by. I banked, wheeled and dove again, chasing them through the salt marsh until they were well and truly lost.

I hovered a moment, hydrogen and steam releasing slowly, sun-kissed wings spread wide to stay aloft. Satisfied, I whirled and glided away.

My parents knew where to find me, of course - alone in the cemetery, perched on a gravestone, winged, with goggles. It earned me more rumpled laundry to iron. The lock was changed on the workroom.

I didn't care. My mom didn't know about my latest invention - a tiny brass lock-picker. I smiled. I am my father's daughter, after all.

1 comment:

  1. Perched on a gravestone, winged, with goggles - that is quite a visual!!! Love the story!