And the cars were the size of her thumbnail, just like he’d said. She reached her hand through the railing with her thumb extended, as though she were about to kill an ant, and lined it up with the road to be sure. Next to her thumbnail was a white car, of equal length. In front of her nail, there was a blue one. She moved her thumb over the cars and watched them vanish.

The people on the street moved very slowly and she could only tell they had any height at all by the long shadows that spilled out onto the sidewalk. A bicycle wheeled through an intersection like a tiny toy. It seemed to Frances that all the motions taking place below her were hindered by a thick form of air, an invisible substance gumming up the speed with which things moved.

“Stay back, Frances,” her father said. He was holding her shoulders and pressing her so close that she could smell him. He smelled a little like toothpaste and a little like the bathroom towels before they were washed.

“I am.”

The cables moved, and the cart brought them further up into the air. Far away, she saw a helicopter moving smoothly through the sky, easy and soundless as a softball.

“Look!” she shouted, pointing.

Her father laughed a little and pulled her closer. “I see it, I see. Don’t move around now.”

“Is there a helicopter most days?” Frances asked.

“Nope. Almost never. It must be out today just for you.”

Frances smiled and thought it was nice of him to lie for her. He did a lot of things that were nice, like telling her stories and taking her up so high even though it made him afraid. Frances grabbed his wrists and hung on tight. She closed her eyes. The wind made her face feel hot on the inside and cold on the outside. It made a noise in her ears, the same noise the sheets made when her mother took them out of the dryer and snapped them in the air.

Frances opened her eyes and looked down at all the small people, lining up on the corner for a bus that could fit on her palm. She watched the slow movements of the street and thought about all the tiny things that had to have happened, since the very beginning of time, for this moment to be exactly as it was. She thought how unbearably strange it was that she had been born, that she was here today, that there was a helicopter and a bicycle and all the people getting on the bus. It could have happened so many other ways. She thought of all the thousands and thousands of stories that people had written and would write, and how she was none of them: She was one of the few things that happened for real. It made her feel open and warm in her chest to think that, and she told herself, I will remember this feeling forever, I will remember this moment forever.

That’s what she was thinking when the first cable broke.

Carolyn Nash used to sell hot dogs in New York City. Her writing has appeared in Cicada, New York Press, The Detroit Free
Press, and elsewhere.


The Air Up Here was inspired by my childhood fascination with the butterfly effect and my nostalgia for a capacity for wonder that becomes more intellectual and less visceral as we get older. If I've outgrown my ability to feel the world's unbearable strangeness, I hope I've at least retained the ability to remember it.




Copyright 2009