We’ll Fly Away
Salma stared at the clouds all day. The quiet stilled her mind to let her dream dreams of flight. Salma would find a way into the library after closing and spend the night lying on the tables in the reading room staring at the clouds on the ceiling. She snuck in after dark, no one was sure how.
Sasha first met Salma under a bridge at night. She was crouched on the ground, looking at a puddle. Sasha crouched next to her. “Why are you looking at this puddle?”
Salma didn’t look up. She merely said, “When the lights go out, magic comes out to play.”
The puddle was bland, nothing more than a shallow pool of water in the dirt. Sasha looked at the puddle. “What does that mean?”
Salma looked up. “The borders between worlds are faint. When it’s bright they can’t be seen at all. But when it’s dark you can see the borders.” She looked back at the puddle, her eyes squinting. “And how to cross them.”
That was their first meeting. The mysterious girl under the bridge and the runaway. Sasha had a tent that she slept in. Salma slept wherever she could. After they met Salma slept in Sasha’s tent too.
She talked a lot about strange things. Borders between worlds. Invisible creatures. Sometimes she disappeared for a week before appearing suddenly in the tent. Sasha worried that she was a junkie, but Salma swore she wasn’t.
As time went on Salma brought Sasha to the museums in New York, always after they closed. She knew about secret passageways disguised with false walls and doors hidden behind metal signs. In the dark they looked at paintings on the walls. Sasha loved it, the spookiness of the armor at the Metropolitan, the strangeness of the Museum of Natural History.
But Salma saw things differently. Where Sasha’s vision began and ended with paints on the canvas, Salma went deeper. Where Sasha was content to merely wander the halls and explore the nooks and crannies, Salma often got lost in the worlds of the art on the walls. She would spend entire nights gazing at a landscape painting or a medieval tapestry. The borders, the magic, to Salma it was real.
But the library held a special magic for Salma.
Filled with rooms closed off to the public and hidden books, the library held secret magic unseen by almost everyone. Salma knew where to find magical tomes and archaic spiritual guidebooks. There were no paintings for her to get lost in, except for the ceiling in the reading room.
While Sasha read, Salma would lie on the tables in the reading room, staring at the clouds. She spent the whole night staring at the clouds while Sasha ran around the empty halls.
Sasha and Salma were in the tent when Sasha’s curiosity got the better of her. “Why do you spend so much time looking at the ceiling in the library?”
Salma didn’t turn over. “Because I can’t fly yet. But someday I will.” Sasha looked at her. “I haven’t got the knack of missing the ground yet.” For weeks afterward Sasha stayed close to Salma in the museums. She tried to see through Salma’s eyes, but the borders Salma saw remained invisible.
Then Salma disappeared.
She searched all the museums, then she searched them again. But Salma was nowhere to be found. She slipped into the library by the secret ways, but Salma was not there either. Almost a month passed before Sasha slipped into the library again. She wandered the halls, footsteps echoing across the marble floors. Eventually she found her way to the reading room.
She wandered through the cathedral that was the reading room, surrounded by long tables, dwarfed by the huge ceiling. It felt sacred, especially in the night when all was silent. Sasha gazed out across the tables, all empty save for one.
She ran to the end of the hall, a smile breaking out across her face. Salma was there, on her back, watching the clouds on the ceiling. “Salma. Where have you been? It’s been weeks. I couldn’t find you anywhere.”
Salma didn’t look. “I’ve been everywhere. I’ve been in between and underneath. I had to learn more because the clouds are the only border I can’t reach. Tonight is the night. I finally think I can do it.”
Sasha sat at the table by Salma’s head. “What are you going to do? You’re not going to leave again are you?”
Salma’s face crinkled. “I’m not sure. I don’t know if coming back will be possible once I get there.” Her gaze intensified, focused on the clouds on the ceiling. “More than anything else I’ve always wanted to reach the clouds. But they were always too high. I don’t know what I’ll find when I pass the border and I don’t know if I can cross back. It’s all just an experiment of the soul. Most people use drugs to conduct their mental experiments. The problem with that is the lack of depth. When you make a hole in a wall with a bomb you can’t see the other side because of the dust.”
Sasha leaned forward, cradled her head in her arms. “I never understand what you’re talking about.” She looked at Salma. “But I want to understand. Please don’t leave.” Her eyes grew wet, but tears wouldn’t come.
Salma stood up slowly on the table. “I’m nothing more than a dream you had. I’ll always be there in the back of your mind, just below the surface. Don’t stop watching the borders. They’ll come into view sooner or later. But I can’t stay. I need to reach the one place that was unreachable.” She walked to the end of the table and turned to face Sasha. “I think I’ll get there this time. If flight only occurs in dreams, and I am a dream, then I should be able to fly.”
Sasha watched Salma close her eyes and lean back, bit by bit, until she fell. She didn’t hit the ground. She slowed in her descent, until she was floating at an angle. She started swimming her arms through the air, pulling herself up, to the clouds in the ceiling. Sasha watched Salma’s slow ascent with tears in her eyes. When Salma reached the clouds she touched the ceiling.
It was solid for only a moment. Sasha strained through her tears to see what was happening. A faint edge of golden light traced its way around the painting, only barely visible, but vivid through the prisms of Sasha’s tears. Salma gently kicked her feet, and passed through the ceiling. The faint gold border that surrounded the painting stayed behind. The magic that Sasha strived to see stayed behind, a reminder of the depth that existed beyond paints on a canvas.
more by LIAM DELANEY
photograph by XVIRE