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Kenyon Wells - A Flight of Fancy

“There are people who will say that this whole account is a lie, but a thing isn’t necessarily a lie even if it didn’t necessarily happen.” John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday

            1954. The boy watches the man make the preparations. He smiles, but remains silent. The boy is 4 years old. The man and the boy are in the kitchen of a small neat apartment that occupies the second story of a house that belongs to the man’s in-laws. A pleasant, early evening breeze comes through the casement window over the sink. Both sides of the window have been cranked full open by the man. The screen will be removed in a little while. The man looks at his son sitting quietly in a wooden chair at the kitchen table and winds at the boy.

            Just after the boy was born, his family returned to this small town where the boy’s mother grew up. The man had begun a management training position at a factory. He commutes to this job with other men from the town relying on one of them for transportation. The man doesn’t own a car or have a driver’s license. This circumstance does not trouble the man even as he is aware that this lack of mobility casts doubt by some on the degree of success he and his family are experiencing in this new middle class life. Sometimes his wife wishes it did. She often wonders how he can be satisfied with his life; with their life. The man never wonders about this at all.

            Now the man nods slightly at the boy, walks over to the kitchen sink and looks out the window. The shadows on the garden below have lengthened and the man knows that it is time. A popular breakfast food commercial on television featuring a flight of fantasy by two wholesome, smiling children had recently captured the interest of the man and the boy. This commercial became the inspiration for what they are about to attempt. The TV ad depicts the children eating special cereal and instantly becoming fortified with a sudden burst of energy that propels them up from the breakfast table to an open kitchen window and launches them into the sky. This scene fantastic as it must be also seemed like a real possibility to the man and the boy, a possibility they did not want to deny. And why should they? Every brand new day now in America is a fresh beginning chock-full of possibilities. Television helps to spread this message, its purpose not to suspend belief but to show us things in which to believe. Flights of fancy become soaring realities daily on television.

            The man and the boy studied the TV ad this past Saturday morning while the boy’s mother was visiting her parents on the floor below. They scrutinized every move made by the children, not in an effort to determine the truthfulness of the depiction, but to memorize the sequence. This had not been the first time the man and the boy had made this study but a sense of urgency had suddenly taken hold of them.

            Now the man opens a cupboard and removes two bowls and places them on the table, one in front of the boy and one at the place next to him. The children on television are always seated side by side. The boy gets down from his chair and goes to the silverware drawer next to the sink and removes two spoons. Each spoon bears an engraved initial—the first letter of his mother’s maiden name. He places a spoon to the right of each bowl and returns to his seat. The man takes a box of the special cereal from the small closet that serves as a pantry and sets it on the table between the bowls. The box is new and the man rubs it gently as if it were a magic lamp before he opens the top flap. The box is the vivid blue of the summer sky and red like a hard candy fireball. Stars and planets are everywhere on the box. To the right of the brand name a rocket ship is pictured. The man takes a milk bottle from the refrigerator and places it on the kitchen counter. From a cabinet, he takes down a pitcher and fills it from the bottle. The milk is always in a pitcher in the TV kitchen. The man bought this milk pitcher the previous afternoon just for this occasion. His wife had wondered at his purchase when the man produced it from a bag upon arriving home. She said nothing beyond remarking at “how nice” having a milk pitcher would be. She immediately washed the pitcher and put it away.

            The man returns the milk bottle to the refrigerator and places the pitcher on the table next to the cereal box. He goes to the window above the sink, removes the screen and sets it on the floor against the wall. The boy, watching intently, shows no signs of anxiety or excitement. He simply feels safe. His confidence this evening is as natural and unconditional as the love he feels for the man.

            The man sits in the chair next to the boy, and the final phase of the preparation begins. The boy raises himself to his knees on the seat of the chair, and takes the cereal box from its place on the table in both his hands. He slowly tips the top of the box forward and a small pile of cereal forms in his bowl. The man smiles his approval and takes the box from the boy’s small hands, brushing them with his larger ones. He puts cereal into his bowl in the same manner as the boy. The man lifts the milk pitcher and pours steadily, first into the boy’s bowl (leaving the tip of the pile of cereal exposed), and then into the bowl in front of him, creating the same result. A small amount of milk remains in the pitcher. Following a shared memory they simultaneously and gently push down the cereal with their spoons submerging the tops of their piles and spreading the small spheres of corn into the bottoms of their bowls. The man and the boy eat with purpose and when the cereal is gone, they take the bowls in their hands, tip them to their mouths and drink off the excess milk. The bowls are returned to the table and with a single motion the man and the boy wipe their chins with the backs of their right hands.

            Outside the window above the sink the light is fading from the sky. The air is still. An early star is faintly visible over the hill at the top of the garden. The man and the boy leave their chairs and briefly exchange a smile. They share a state of tranquility, a deeply satisfying sense of mutual complicity that defies apprehension or incredulity and that even a small child comprehends. The man picks up the boy’s chair and places it before the sink. He puts his hands under the boy’s arms and lifts his easily, placing the boy in a standing position on the chair. The man takes his place to the right of the boy. They look out the window at the old poplar tree at the edge of the property, at the garden running up the middle of the lawn, at the slowly brightening star over the hill. They do not look at each other and they do not look down. Now the man and the boy, their knees slightly bent, raise and extend their arms before them, palms down, fingers together. The intake of their single breath is audible, less a gulp than a sigh.

            The next morning the boy’s mother is in the kitchen pouring the milk remaining in the pitcher down the drain in the sink. She closes the top of the cereal box, making sure it is properly sealed. She puts it back in the pantry, washes the bowls and spoons, and dries them with a small towel embroidered with a single initial – the first letter of her maiden name. The man’s wife returns the bowls and the silverware to their rightful places. She picks up t he screen from where it lies propped against the kitchen wall and fastens it back into the window above the sink. And as she does this the woman looks outside. There are the man and the boy walking down the hill through the garden toward the house. The woman can see that the man is talking to the boy. He has one arm around the boy’s shoulders and with the other arm the man makes a sweeping motion encompassing their surroundings, and ends this movement by pointing to the window where the woman stands. She smiles. The man and the boy wave.