Jolie biked faster than Claire could skate so she held to the hem of Jolie’s rosy dress, fanning out like a parachute, while they circled the Eiffel Tower. “Faster,” Claire said, feeling the wind rush under her flounced skirt as the wheels on her skates lifted off the ground. With a squeal she let go of Jolie, who never looked back, and Claire spread her arms like a bird taking flight, her feet escaping the skates. She could see the lacy steel sides climb into the mist, glowing pink from the inside.
Rising through the tower’s legs, Claire saw men in black ties and tuxedos, women in sequined, strapless gowns sipping from tulip glasses and reaching for lemon petit fours. At first their conversation was muffled due to the distance between her and the lovely people, but the current carried her close to the restaurant rail where the woman in blue with a puppy on a leash asked Claire to step over. “Have a canapé.”
She had dreamed of being in a place with silver spoons and forks and was tempted to accept the offer yet declined in the sweetest manner possible before bowing her head and blowing a kiss. She knew kisses were priceless, the most revered sign of a full heart as her mother always told her. While the woman in blue waved to Claire, other women gathered at the rail, calling bon voyage. Their voices rose in unison, covering her with hope. Barely thirteen, she was filled with a sense of satisfaction that they were interested in her, their eyes focused on her ascent.
She caught the upward drift, past shops of dark chocolate Buddhas and luscious lips iced red. Another woman in blue, older and portlier, was leaving the confectionery when she spotted Claire and tossed her a white nougat wrapped in clear paper. She raised her right palm,
catching it like manna to be eaten before the heat of the sun. Waving goodbye, she blew her second kiss and slowly unwrapped the confection. She felt its chewy sweetness settle on her tongue, traces of tomorrow. Leaning back Claire waited to pass through the upper grid.
The attendant in his red vest and black top hat was cordial but not inviting. No candy, no flute of champagne.
“Are you prepared?” he asked.
“What do I need?” Claire replied.
“Willingness,” he said
The flock of tourists on the observation deck were smiling at her.
She closed her eyes and listened. Her heart was beating as it beat when she lay by her mother’s side—in rhythm with the river slowly flowing outside their apartment.
While she passed through the Eiffel spire, the sun reflected off the Seine and the wind blew hard, chilling her body and pushing her east through the last cloud. Here the currents flowed more rapidly, bouncing Claire from place to place. They’d start, stop, split into sections then reform so she never was able to get her bearing. Alone in this amorphous stream of wind, she wanted to go home, shape dough for baguettes with her mother.
For a moment, the air became still and the sky clear. In the distance Claire could see other girls floating, very much apart but drifting in the same direction. Their blue skirts like flags waved her welcome.
Chella Courington is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear or are forthcoming in numerous anthologies and journals including Spelk, The Collagist, and Fiction Southeast. Her novella-in-flash, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), was published in February. Originally from the Appalachian South, Courington lives in California.
Artwork: Brooke Shaden, ballet:vacate