The Girl Who Could Float
Fiction by Pete Stevens
When Jonathan first witnessed his wife float, tiny bullets of sweat popped out across his forehead, under his arms. She’d sat him down on the sofa, told him to open his eyes and shut his mouth. Initially, Sara seemed to hum all over, as if she were vibrating. Then, gradually, she lifted her feet – entire body – off the floor.
“You’re floating,” Jonathan said. “How are you floating?”
Sara responded that she didn’t know, that she was undergoing the process of understanding. Kneeling to the floor with ruler in hand, Jonathan measured the height of levitation that his wife was able to achieve: three and one-quarter inches.
Early on, Sara said, she could only raise herself an inch, maybe less, that she’d been training herself to go higher. Jonathan thought: no. He envisioned his wife rising higher and higher, up, up, like an untethered balloon, then gone.
“How long have you been able to float?”
Sara turned away before responding. “I don’t know. It’s probably been two weeks now.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought you’d be upset or ask me to go seek help. I like to float.”
Later that night, the couple searched until they found a television show about street magicians. The show followed Jordan Starr, a world famous magician with dark and deep-set eyes. In the opening sequence, while new-age rock droned restlessly in the background, he approached a group of inner-city teens waiting at a bus stop. The teens watched slack-jawed as Jordan burst wads of cash into flame, only to have the money reappear in a puff of gray smoke.
“Is that real?” Sara asked.
Jonathan didn’t know.
Onscreen, Jordan stood at a busy intersection and held out his arms, Christ-like, with his eyes closed. The people walking past didn’t seem to notice right away, but soon a crowd began to form. Jordan’s assistant, a heavy-set woman with red cheeks and an aluminum clipboard, kept people back and maintained control. The camera zoomed to Jordan’s leather-booted feet, the assistant telling everyone to stay quiet. Then, without warning, Jordan began to levitate. He stayed in the air for five seconds before collapsing into the arms of his assistant, seemingly exhausted. The crowd broke into a series of reactions: some yelling, some laughing, and others calling out for their lord and savior.
“How long are you able to stay floating?” Jonathan asked his wife.
Sara shifted her weight on the couch and leaned into him. “For as long as I like. Maybe there’s a limit, but I haven’t reached it yet.”
“Does it tire you out like that? Does it hurt?”
“No, not at all. I feel like I could float all day.”
When Sara was floating she could reach objects on shelves and in cupboards that were normally too high. When Sara was floating she could bob in the air as if she were a buoy in the ocean. One day over breakfast, she said that she liked to float in the shower so she didn’t slip. She said when floating it was like anything was possible.
At work, where he analyzed statistical predictions for an investment firm, Jonathan wondered about his wife. He asked other coworkers if their husbands or wives could float and they all said no. He tried to bend the math for a human to levitate but the numbers, calculations, wouldn’t add up. One day my wife could not float and the next day she could. People don’t float. There is no logical explanation. Then what?
There were days when Jonathan returned home and Sara would be floating. She’d be floating in the kitchen or under the skylight. Floating outside would’ve exposed her to others who might not comprehend— or stay quiet. Insular by nature, Sara didn’t want anyone else to know about her new ability. She preferred to keep to herself, didn’t enjoy dinners out or trips shopping. The press of bodies against hers and the scattered noise wore at her fortitude, her mental stability. One night, she walked out of a restaurant to go sit in the car, alone. Jonathan continued to cut his steak into smaller and smaller pieces, the meat juicy in his mouth. A local band had been hired to play at the restaurant that night and when the instruments started, when some of the diners began to dance, their bodies bumping the table, Sara had to leave. She said it was too much, that the congestion and noise were beating her down.
“Hey, hon,” Jonathan said, turning the corner into the living room. Sara sat on the floor watching a television show about a woman who was eating her couch one piece at a time. The woman on TV was crying and slipping chunks of foam into her mouth.
Sara looked to Jonathan. “I’m not like her, am I?”
“No, not at all. What do you mean?”
The show documented people with bizarre or taboo compulsions. Sara worried that she was a freak, someone to gawk at, a spectacle. She didn’t think her ability to float was something that should be considered bizarre. She said floating was beautiful.
Jonathan selected a cube of pre-cut watermelon from the ceramic bowl between Sara’s legs. He didn’t think that Sara’s floating was beautiful: it scared him. The concepts of religion had always been arcane to Jonathan, ideas held over from a bygone era. He believed in the certainty of science, proven facts, and the discipline of mathematics. Sara’s ability to float stuck a finger in the eye of what he held as truth. If my wife can float, then what else is possible?
“Maybe we should go talk to someone,” Jonathan said. “Maybe there’s a doctor who has worked with people who float.”
“Please no. I knew you’d want me to go talk with someone, get examined. There isn’t a doctor who can help me.”
“Then no doctor. Maybe a psychologist.”
“Stop. The only other person we’re aware of who can float is Jordan Starr. Get me Jordan and I’ll talk.”
It wasn’t possible, Jonathan said, but his mind began to cycle through options and possibilities. He thought of Jordan levitating on that street corner, how he had collapsed in pain.
“Hey, maybe we should go talk with a local magician, someone who may know about this. If you won’t go see a medical professional, then I think we need to look for answers elsewhere.”
“Why do we need answers? Just let it be.”
Jonathan went through his phone to search magicians in their area. The woman on TV continued to eat foam in tears. Resigned, Sara went to her bowl of cubed watermelon, fed a piece into her mouth, then another, as if trying to establish a kinship with the woman and her couch.
Terms were agreed to after a five-minute phone conversation: the magician would come to Sara and Jonathan’s home, the fee would be set at $75 plus round-trip cab fare, and the magician, above all, must be discreet.
Appearing at the doorway after a series of swift knocks, the magician, Spiro, was a bulbous man with an elongated neck, his body like a bowling pin. He wore a red felt fez and crossed the entranceway with haste, made introductions, shook Sara and Jonathan’s hands.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Spiro said, licking his teeth. “A fine home indeed, and a lovely wife.”
Jonathan heard an accent in the magician’s voice, possibly Greek or Israeli, maybe Turkish.
The group moved to the kitchen where Sara offered Spiro a glass of juice and he declined.
“My dear, I must say that I cannot wait any longer. After our talk you had me going, and if what your husband says is true, then this is a splendid day indeed.”
Sara said that she was nervous, that she had never tried to float in the presence of anyone other than her husband. She bit at her lip and looked from Jonathan to Spiro.
“Now hold on,” Jonathan said. “My wife and I brought you out here to talk, to maybe help us find answers or get some peace of mind.”
“Yes, yes, you said. But understand my curiosity is strong. Would I have come to your home without being paid? No. Yet, I am here, and if your wife cannot levitate we have nothing to discuss. So, yes. First things first?”
Sara sat the magician down on the couch just as she had with her husband, told him to keep quiet and pay attention. While pacing, Jonathan watched Sara close her eyes. Spiro adjusted his hat and sank deeper into the cushions. There wasn’t time for Jonathan to think about the implications of this act: Sara began to float. She levitated as easily as all the times before, her feet about five inches off the floor. Spiro didn’t react at first, kept still, took in the sight of a woman suspended mid-air.
It wasn’t until Sara lowered herself back to the floor that Spiro spoke: “My god, a vision. Truly spectacular, my dear. You’re a specimen, a wonder.”
“Tell me that you’ve seen this before,” Jonathan said. “Tell me that you’ve worked with other magicians who could levitate, like Jordan Starr.”
Spiro said that he’d never met Jordan and didn’t want to. “Jordan is of a new school, a guerilla magician. He dresses like a vagabond and accosts people in the street. I am of an older school, where showmanship and stage presence are essential to the experience.”
“But do you think Jordan can float?” Sara asked.
“The man who lived to uphold traditions and a code of ethics would say, yes, he can. The man who just witnessed a woman float before his eyes says, no, he can’t.”
“Then it’s bullshit. You can’t help Sara.”
“Yes, but I can.” Spiro stood from the sofa and walked to Sara, placed his hands on her shoulders. “You’re a miracle, an act of God. You deserve an entire production. Thousands will pay to see your show, to witness the miracle.”
“Stop,” Sara said and shook from Spiro’s grasp. “I appreciate you visiting but what you’re saying isn’t what I want at all.”
Jonathan had heard what he needed to hear and again thanked the magician for his time, reminded him to stay quiet about what he had seen. Spiro continued about the show and the exposure as Jonathan ushered him to the door.
“Just think about it,” Spiro said as the door clicked shut. And so Jonathan did. He pictured Sara up on stage, her dress like spun silver. He saw her floating, the red faces of the audience clapping. There were explosions of light and mirrors to dazzle. The faces pointed. They stared on in amazement and never once got up from their seats. Jonathan heard his own voice call out to Sara but she couldn’t – or wouldn’t – respond. The lights grew brighter and brighter as Sara rose higher. The faces looked on, still clapping. Jonathan stood from his seat and again called out, his voice lost in the cheering. Sara towered above them all, high against a backdrop of bursting white light. The red faces now turned to Jonathan. They said, in unison, that it was Sara’s turn. They said that not every question has an answer.
Jonathan’s plan was to use charts and numbers and graphs. His plan was to experiment and study data.
“Hold this,” Jonathan said.
Sara held a backpack loaded with twenty-five pounds of assorted hand weights. She watched as Jonathan made a notation in his notebook.
“Okay, now try and float.”
Sara rose with ease. Jonathan made another notation and instructed Sara to follow.
The bed stood silent in the bedroom. Afternoon sun broke in through the blinds and warmed the carpet, lit framed photos along the wall. Following Jonathan’s lead, Sara lay face-down on the bed.
“I’m going to lie on you,” he said.
After steadying himself, after checking a box on his notepad, Jonathan pressed his body atop Sara’s. Together they stayed one body on another, both straining to maintain position. He asked Sara to float.
“I can’t,” she said, her voice muffled by the sheets.
“You can’t or you won’t?”
“I don’t know. Just get off me.”
Days passed with more experiments and a twelve-page list of quantified measurements. There were tests that pushed the limits of Sara’s levitation, tests that stressed her load-bearing abilities. Progress was limited. Yet, Jonathan continued to probe and prod, analyzing Sara’s ability in every facet, every situation. It seemed that the more Jonathan learned, the less he understood.
“I’m not a guinea pig,” Sara said.
“I know. It’s just. Please. It’s the only way I know how.”
“Only way you know how to what?”
“To make sense of you.”
Sara sat cross-legged on the floor, Jonathan above her with a clipboard, when a rapid sequence of knocks rang out from the front door. Together, they went to answer.
When the door swung wide it was Spiro with a news reporter and cameraman waiting, their faces alive with excitement.
“There she is! The miracle!”
“Ma’am! Is it true you’re able to float?”
Jonathan slammed the door shut and turned to Sara. “My love.”
There was more knocking, Spiro’s anxious voice audible through the closed door.
Eyes wet with tears, Sara retreated to the kitchen. “Make them go away!”
They wouldn’t go away. Each day Spiro and the news crew came and knocked. Each day for three days straight they came, until Jonathan opened the door to say that Spiro was liar, that whatever he was claiming were the ravings of a sick old man.
“But sir,” the reporter said. “What do you say to this video?”
The perspective was from the couch where Spiro had sat. The video was clear, in color, and showed Sara on that day floating in the living room, unmistakably, her eyes closed, her body suspended. Yet, to Jonathan the video looked like a forgery, like a scene from a movie. He’d witnessed his wife float countless times, but onscreen she appeared like a special effect, and he didn’t want to see his wife as a collection of pixels.
“You bastard. We never gave you permission for this!”
The reporter pushed on, stuck her microphone in Jonathan’s face. “Then it’s true? Your wife can levitate?”
Once more the door was closed. Jonathan went to his wife. Together they stood in the kitchen, arms wrapped around one another, not knowing what would come next.
The views for Sara’s video climbed by the thousands each day. With each view came new commentary, more speculations from the public. They said the video was fake, a hoax. They said that Sara needed to be tested by the government. Some said Sara was the second coming, a gift from God. Debates went back and forth in chat rooms and over social media. There were talking heads on television arguing over Sara’s ability. They didn’t know what to make of her. Most agreed that there needed to be more evidence, a deeper examination.
Every night and day the phone rang and the door knocked. Sara curled into a ball and didn’t float. She cried to herself. She asked Jonathan to bury her deep inside a hole with no light, no possibility for others to find her.
Jonathan couldn’t help but follow the coverage from his laptop. He learned that Spiro had plans for Sara. He was shown the swing and might of the masses. He witnessed their greed.
“What are you going to do?” Sara asked. She hadn’t eaten in two days. Her hair was tangled, her eyes shot with exhaustion.
“I’m sorry. I can’t make them stop. This, like everything, will pass.”
Sara didn’t want to hear it. She went back under the blankets. The darkness, Sara said, was the only comfort she had left.
Days later, early in the a.m., with the sound of lawn mowers buzzing through the neighborhood, Jonathan received an email. He got a second, a third. There were reports from across the country about other floaters. A man in Colorado was seen floating above a train. A little girl from Indiana decided to float for show and tell.
“Sara,” Jonathan said, lifting the blanket. “You’re not alone.”
Reading from the laptop, Sara’s face began to open. “Now they have no reason to hound us. I’ll be left alone.”
“But there are others like you.” Jonathan thought: answer.
Next came the knocking. Knocking and knocking and knocking from the door. Jonathan split the blinds to view the porch. A man continued to knock, his rhythm steady.
Sara answered the door to a man floating. His smile was as wide as his hat. Behind the man, out on the lawn, women, men, and children were floating. They were all quiet, expecting. Sara took a step and then another. Jonathan watched as she joined the others on the lawn. Together they rose and swayed at different heights, different angles. Jonathan thought they appeared like waves in a sea. He didn’t call to Sara or worry for her safety. He joined the crowd barefoot in the grass. With each step the blades poked up between his toes.
Pete Stevens is the fiction editor at Squalorly. His writing has appeared at SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, Yemassee, Split Lip Magazine, Quarterly West, Superstition Review, and Copper Nickel, among others. Currently, he is writing and teaching in Minnesota. He can be found online atpetestevensfiction.com.