Better Than Flying
Photograph by Arianna Lago, Story by Isabelle Broom
The boy was fourteen the first time he went to the lake.
The door to summer was closing and autumn was waiting in the gap, ready to stride out in its costume of many colours. The family dropped their bags on the cabin floor and ran, all five, along the path through the trees; shrieks of excitement and thundering feet.
Upon reaching the shoreline, they stilled; collective breath taken prisoner by the sunlight that was drizzled like honey across the surface of the water, by cool air and whispering leaves. There were pebbles on the ground – smooth, cool, reassuringly solid – and the boy reached down.
The first stone hit, sinking, though he hoped it would skim. The boy’s father laughed, offered words of encouragement, and he bent again for another. His siblings were shedding clothes, a plimsoll tossed, and a pinafore crumpled; they waded in, the two of them, skin slick and silvery, hair glistening wet, eyes alive, beckoning the boy to join them.
He turned in search of his mother’s permission and was untethered by her smile, the only nudge he needed to go forwards through the shallows. The coldness lapped his shins, his knees, his stomach, and with a cry the boy was snatched up and thrown into the air, soaring high as his brother and sister screamed below. The youngest of three, he was their toy; the last to be born, his mother’s wish granted, a dream that had endured beyond waking. That was what she told him, that he was better than flying; that he was the answer to a question she did not know she needed to ask.
It was spring on their second visit, yet winter in their lives, and battalions of wildflowers stood guard around the lake. A person was missing, the compass point they had followed until now, yet despair can be distracted when there is such beauty to be found; when blossom is exploding and buds are unfurling. New life turning, forever circling like the hands of a clock.
They walked and watched as insects buzzed from petal to stem; they sprawled out on the warm earth and gazed up through branches to a sky of laundered blue. Picnics were shared on a threadbare blanket; toes dipped, trees climbed and memories shared. They knew the lake had become the place they would go. To remember him.
Summers were a different beast. Days stretched like bubble gum to evenings that throbbed with heat. The boy became the water; goose bumps on his tanned arms, a mud-splattered towel, and a brother and sister whose tradition it was to throw him, no matter how much older he grew, into the air. It felt to him as if the years were passing rapidly, time the flutter of a wing; but weeks at the lake seemed endless.
The boy became a man. He was taught truth. That a face remembered is never lost, a love cherished is a heartbeat of hope. Yet grief lurked in the sidelines, a shadow cast by loss; hopelessness and helplessness two boulders blocking the passage to acceptance. His father’s death had opened up a chasm of sorrow inside him, but he could see that same pain reflected in his mother’s eyes and strode towards it. Towards her.
Winter saw the stars reflected, a rippling dance of a thousand diamonds. They pulled down hats over ears and wrapped up in scarves; his breath thick as smoke, her cold toes brittle. Frozen pockets of water became windows into another world. The man and his mother waited, delighted to see fish dart beneath.
Christmas lights were passed, woven amongst pine needles that fell and attached to socks.. The crackle of a log splitting in the fire, kindled with a single flick, a smoulder, a whoosh. When daylight drained away, the man peered through the cabin window; up towards the moon; a flashlight from heaven, guiding the way.
Under a blanket, warmth divided and breath even. His mother was his comfort, his armour, the hook upon which he hung. The other two had broken away, content in the pattern of themselves. The man needed more; he needed her.
Back at home, a photo on his wall. A child thrown as casually as a ball, up towards the clouds then down to break the surface.
Over and over and over.
We are all made of stardust – she told him that. How bright we shine is determined by how much we share, how far we open ourselves up to the world. Every action is a stitch, coloured thread on a tapestry; a picture emerges of the who, of the what. We are the artist; time is our canvas. All this she knew, all this she passed to her son.
The boy who became a man sits now as he has for many hours, absorbed by his thoughts as he stares out across the lake. He has asked the water why life feels so much like a race. All those emotions, the impatience, fear, hope, excitement, sadness – each one is a dog at his heels, chasing him onwards. The joke is on him, though, as it so often appears to be. He has been tricked into thinking that tomorrow will better today, that around the next corner he will be shown the right way. His mother tried to lead him there, showed him how to carry the weight of the past.
But only now she is gone does the man understand.
The others are down on the shoreline, dark silhouettes and reflections that shudder. Four tall, six smaller, each bonded by blood, waiting for their brother and uncle to join them.
The cabin is strung with cobwebs now and the path through the trees overgrown. Yet the water greeted them with sparkles.
Too late, too little, too loved, too afraid – his tears are both happy and sad.
The man gathers his mother to him, his chest tightening with courage, and steps forwards.
Towards the water.
Isabelle Broom travels all over the world seeking out settings for her escapist fiction novels. Currently based in Suffolk, where she shares a cottage with her two dogs and approximately 467 spiders, Isabelle fits her writing around a busy freelance career and tries her best not to be crushed to oblivion under her ever-growing pile of to-be-read books. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram @Isabelle_Broom
Arianna Lago is based in London, photographer Arianna Lago finds inspiration in quiet observation of nature and searching for beauty in the everyday. Her style has developed to manipulated organic compositions in which she applies a strong sensibility to color. Using mostly 35mm, her work conveys an effortless fragility and an organic painterly feel. Find and follow her here on instagram @Arianna.lago