By Cecilia Kennedy
Twisted and rampant with weeds and wild blades of grass, a flat parcel of land stretched lengthwise across from my house. A two-lane state route and barbed wire separated me from it, but I found ways to cross, crawl under, and sit before the towering oak tree, its trunk wide, a knotted hole in the middle with a large fold of roots inside that made it look like a stomach churning bodies. The fields, and even part of my parents’ property, were the site of a tuberculosis hospital. I wondered how many bodies had been sacrificed to the tree. I wondered how many escaped.
Making a fleet of paper airplanes requires patience, but I like folding the paper lengthwise, the shshshshsh of making the crease, folding the corners down and down again—and then comes the wings and the test flight past the open window—and I repeat: down the center, fold the corners, make the wings, shshshshsh.
On the other end of the phone, my mother tells me Dad’s going into the hospital to have a mole removed because it’s cancerous, so they’re also checking to see if the cancer has spread—and her voice trails off in a whimper. Dad picks up to laugh and tell me he’s fine, and he doesn’t think he’s going anywhere just yet.
The paper airplane fleet has grown. Every square inch of the attic is wings and points and snow-white flutters that shshshshsh when the air kicks on. It’s the day of Dad’s surgery and his test to see if the cancer’s spread, and I sense the planes are intending to fly. They lift off the floor in the slightest breeze, so I open the window and let them go. They take off in perfect formation, still shshshsh-ing, and they never touch the ground. I watch until they’re just a dot—a speck in the sky—flying on their own. The shshshsh-ing stays in my mind, lulling me to sleep, so I rest my head where dust gathered around paper points and tips, spread out my arms like wings, and imagine myself soaring.
The phone rings. I’m folding paper, making lines and creases. When I pick up, Mom’s voice is all bells and birdsong—relieved to know the results of Dad’s test—that the cancer hasn’t spread, and I’m so caught up in the bells of her voice that I almost miss her question: Did I know what she saw in the sky above the fields? A fleet of paper airplanes. They touched ground briefly, she said, then rose again.
I cut my finger on the edge of a crease.
I hear shshshsh-ing rising in a crescendo outside the attic, so I open the window, let the planes back in. I reach for them with my bandaged finger. Their tips are bloody, the wings soaked crimson—and I think again of that tree, with the gnarled bits like a churning stomach—and what must have happened to let my father live.
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Cecilia Kennedy (she/her) is a writer who taught English and Spanish in Ohio for 20 years before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published stories in international literary magazines and anthologies. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Tiny Molecules, Rejection Letters, Kandisha Press, Ghost Orchid Press, and others. You can follow her on Twitter (@ckennedyhola).