the spectacular now – a short story

The man paused on top of the building. The pre-dawn light was both spooky and golden. He looked left over the rooftops spread out below him towards the now-deserted parkland filled with children’s laughter and rusting playground equipment. He paused to think about the people inside the houses, who would soon be waking up and getting ready for their day.

He thought about George, who had smoked so much dope at school and varsity that nobody thought he’d amount to anything. And yet he was now the owner of a multi-million company that influenced young minds on a daily basis. And then there was Jennifer, who would get so nervous during exam time she’d pull at her eyebrows until there wasn’t a single hair left. Because of that and all her other nervous tics , most people who knew her back then figured she’d become a mousey data capturer or some other office-bound mundane thing. Instead, she was one of the most successful human rights lawyers around – her fiercely intent face appearing often on the late-night news, with eyebrows perfectly intact.

The man shook his head in wonderment. How had all of his friends and schoolmates managed it? He’d been the one most likely to succeed. He’d been the golden boy. He had expected something magnificent to happen. He’d expected to be a fascinating person who lived an extraordinary life. That had been his right, his destiny. Today, though, he’d fulfil that promise. He’d leave behind a legacy of the spectacular.

Looking right he could see the distant mountains, a dark shape at this time of day, but he knew they’d soon be purple and moss green even at that distance. The sun was peeping over the range, pushing its bright happiness into the day, whether anyone wanted it or not. He’d been like that once, pushing his own joy into whatever landscape appeared.

Behind him lay a cityscape, still-on lights glittering and ignored robots blinking stop or go. He glimpsed at it but turned away. That must remain behind him. He felt a deep sense of relief that he’d never have to face it ever again.

He didn’t dare look down at the few insect-like cars buzzing towards the city in case he fell towards them – too early. He glanced at his watch for the hundredth time since he’d been standing there. The movement wasn’t easy considering the heavy apparatus strapped to his back and arms.

He shifted slightly to redistribute the weight on his shoulders. A feather detached itself and fluttered off the rooftop, zigzagging down. He glanced down at the contraption attached to his belly, pleased to see the lights were still blinking, indicating it was good to go.

He looked again towards the rising sun and took a deep breath; trying to infuse his body with the dawn’s promise. It was going to be the perfect day. Nothing would go wrong and even the weather would behave. He’d done his research and based on statistics, this particular day of the year was the most likely to be exactly what he wanted – a specific temperature and a specific wind speed going in the right direction.

Good flying weather.

The building to his right was a floor lower than his chosen rooftop. Someone had ambitiously started an urban farm there; rows and rows of green neatly planted. A deck chair and small table sat to one side, with gardening tools neatly stacked against the short parapet wall. He gazed down at the simple oasis and felt a slight tinge of regret. Urban farming had once been something he’d wanted to get into. He’d researched all the methods and had even picked out a suitable building in the city; one that would be perfect for the grand scheme he had – to produce enough food for around 200 families a month. But he’d gotten distracted and hadn’t followed through. The three story high graffiti mural he’d produced on the building’s outer wall now pulled people in to a trance club – apparently his vegetable-themed graffiti fitted in well with how the bare-foot trancites saw the world.

The sun was almost above the mountain range and the first rays created a hovering rainbow over the park’s dewy grass. Almost time.

He shifted his feet and adjusted his shoulder straps. He moved his wrists in small anti-clockwise circles before slipping his hands through the loops. He wriggled his toes and bounced forward on the balls of his feet. Taking another deep breath, he lifted his arms, the painstakingly made wings stretching out a metre beyond his own arm-span. The white and grey feathers, collected over several years fluttered softly in the slight breeze. Two hundred thousand feathers. The surprising weight had worried him at first. But over the past six months, his intensive training had given him the physical strength to not only lift, but also flap his wings with ease.

He lifted his wings over his head and wondered if anyone would happen to glance up and see him standing angel-like. Probably not.

The sun had now cleared the top of the mountain range and the man stepped back. 10 paces. He stood still again, his wings now folded down. He counted out two minutes and stepped back another 10 paces. Counted again. The alarm would now be sounding in his house, his wife and daughter struggling to open their eyes, keen to cuddle back down into the soft bedding for just one moment more. Keen to hold on to the starlit dreams they surely had.

He took a deep breath and popped the end of the string attached to his belly bomb in his mouth. He lifted his wings to shoulder height and stepped back before launching into a sprint. Time slowed as he hurtled towards the building’s edge. As he took off the lightness in his heart threatened to overwhelm him. He glanced at the sky below the rising sun.

Its hue was the exact colour of his new wife’s eyes when she woke in the morning. He heard on the wind his daughter’s voice saying, ‘silly dad’ and her giggle exploded out of an arrow of swallows flying past. His head jerked up in surprise and he turned to see where her voice had come from; the movement dislodging the end of the string from his mouth.

The man with wings soared over the few rooftops towards the still deserted park. He slalomed in the air towards the centre of the park; a lone figure stood there, a hand lifted in greeting. The man lowered his wings slightly and bent his body so his legs were facing downward, ready to land.

His feet touched the ground lightly, bounced back up and touched again, his legs pumping to keep from nose-diving. He came to a stop right in front of the figure. His father.

‘Well done son. That was a perfect landing. You looked spectacular in flight. And on top of the building, I could have sworn you were an angel.’

‘But dad, how did you know?’

‘I always know. I’m always there, watching, cheering you on. You’re the reason I also keep fighting for the spectacular.’

‘I was going to die today. Why didn’t you stop me?’

‘Because I knew it wasn’t your time. There’s more in store for you, and I wanted to see you fly. I also jimmied your belly bomb last night. It’s not going to go off.’

The man stared at his father for a time; anger, pride, love and hate flitting across his face.

‘Go home to your family, son. Go and live in the spectacular now.’

The old man walked away, his back straight and a sad smile softening his face.


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