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Today's Story by Stuart Hopen

I hadn’t thought about jumping. It’s a very good idea.


When they rolled Lemuel Baymore into the ER at Preservation General, he had broken seven long bones and ruptured his spleen, and lacerated his liver.  The staff hustled like a flock of ministering angels to his side when they called the trauma alert.  He was, after all, one of their own.  Crow, the coroner, showed up too, partly out of friendship, and partly in case he was needed professionally.

Lemuel Baymore had gotten by just fine working as an orderly in the Psychiatric Ward in Preservation General.  Then his girlfriend dumped him.  He loved her.  He would. He was a romanticist.  He didn’t mind the way pockmarks had ruined her complexion, or the way her profile resembled the Indian on the old nickel.

She dropped him because her horse died.  The grief hit her so hard she became afraid to love.  “I will never love again,” she told him.  Lemuel went into the stall of a public restroom where no one would see him crying.  On the tiled walls some passing teenaged graffiti poet had written:

I met a girl.
I thought she was the sun.
She thought
I was a light bulb.
She was the sun,
Seducing a poor Icarus.
I was a light bulb.
To be turned on,
And discarded.

The poem infuriated Lemuel, and he started punching holes in the tiled walls, as if he were trying to break open a portal into a world where people were not afraid to love.  It took me and two other guys to pull Lemuel out of the stall.  Lemuel was brutally strong.

One day Lemuel announced that he was going to build a pair of wings and fly.

I asked, “What are you talking about?  An airplane?”

“You know the old paranormal hero Daedeles, who busted the Spondo Mob?  Wings like his.”

“Lemuel, Daedeles was some kind… I don’t know… he had special training… and mutant hollow bones.  You can’t… You would have a better chance of flying if you were bitten by a radioactive pigeon.”

He gave me that hurt look that always said I shouldn’t rib him when he was serious.

A week or so later, I found Lemuel in front of our con-apart complex, hunkered over what he called “his designs.”  They weren’t blueprints for a pair of wings, but rather, lovingly penciled drawings of tailored bodies, part bird, and part angel, heavily muscled but sculptured for flight, effortlessly cleaving the beaten air with their cambered wings as they flew, hand in hand, toward that country where people were not afraid to love.

“Nice, Lemuel.  Classical.  Like DaVinci.”  Then I noticed the blocks of balsa wood, cans of liquid fiberglass, aluminum piping, and other sundry construction materials neatly stacked in the corner of the porch.

“What’s all this shit?”

“Don’t you remember?  I told you, I was going to build wings.”

“How much did all this shit cost?”

“I lost count.  Maybe two thousand dollars.”

“Aw, geez, Lemuel.”

“It was my money I saved and I’m not hurting anyone.  I just don’t want to be stuck on the ground anymore.”

Over the next few weeks, as Lemuel’s dream of flight took on material form, the neat pile of construction materials spread out like a gradual explosion across the front lawn.  Eventually, the landlord complained to me about dead spots in the grass caused by fumes from the liquid fiberglass.

“And someone is going to have to clean up all those bits of wax and metal shavings,” he shouted angrily as he drove off in his aging Firebird.

Lemuel didn’t mean to destroy things.  It just happened that way, and it happened so often that it became a running joke, usually at my expense, although I always managed to psychologically recoup my losses in one way or another.  I had all ready lost my temper at Lemuel twice.  First, for using my nail clippers to cut wire. Second, for using my pressure cooker to melt the lead amalgam he used in casting the wing joints.

I decided it was time to have another talk with Lemuel.  “Take a look at the grass.  See the way it is turning brown.  Can you guess what makes the grass turn brown?”

“The fiberglass?”

“Good guess.  Can’t you take this shit inside?”

“The fiberglass will kill me.”

“Look, for chrissake, these God damned wings are never going to work!”

“Maybe I won’t get very far, but I figure they should be good for an hour at least.  They worked for Daedeles.  They will work for me.”

“Look, Lemuel.  I care about you.  I don’t know why, sometimes, but I do.  Too much to let you go jumping off a building.”  I instantly regretted the last statement, and will feel guilty about it forever.

“I hadn’t thought about jumping.  It’s a very good idea.  It would certainly give me additional lift to compensate for the drag.  This damp air tends to clog the wings.  But I think I can take off from the ground.  It may not look pretty, but I should be able to generate enough lift if I’m running into the wind.”

The weeks rolled by.  Finally, one day, I came home to find him strutting around the yard, fanning his wings like a great flightless bird from down under.  The wings were a bizarre structure, stretched over a loose frame of balsa wood reinforced with aluminum battens to give them a semblance of aerodynamic integrity.  The wings were fixed to his arms by studded leather straps.

“How do I look?” He asked after I finished helping him.

“Like a true aviator.”

“I finished them this morning, but I knew you would want to see this so I’ve been waiting for you.  But don’t be disappointed if all I can do is make it over the bushes in back.”  I couldn’t tell what had reduced his ambitions.  Was it a sign that the forces of realism were finally beginning to penetrate his romanticism?   Or was it was intended as a build up, to add suspense to his anticipated triumphant lifting into the sky?  Or had he, in fact, sought to alleviate any disappointment I might feel if he failed?

He fanned the wings again.  He backed up several paces, rooted himself, and then, with his arms outstretched at right angles to his body, he lunged heavily forward.  It was a false start, however, and he stumbled to a stop.

“Don’t worry,” he said, as he back up farther.  Once again he fanned his wings, rooted himself, and pounced upon the breeze with outstretched arms.  This time he didn’t stumble, but the air resistance immediately forced the wings inward and then down hard against his hips, as if he were flying violently into himself.  As he propelled himself across the yard, he struggled to raise his arms.  There was a sharp snap, then a jagged opening cracked at the center of the right wing.  A similar crack appeared in the left.  Expelled bits of balsa wood and fiberglass trailed in his wake.   The air tore at the fabric, exposing the aluminum battens that glittered in the sunlight.  Ironically, as the wings lost whatever aerodynamic integrity they may have had, it finally became possible for Lemuel to raise them.  There was a burst of flapping, several desperate leaps, and then all motion stopped when Lemuel reached the bushes.

“At least you didn’t jump off the roof,” I said, not knowing how else to offer consolation.

“Doesn’t matter.  I found out too late I was using the wrong kind of fiberglass. I knew this would happen.

Lemuel regarded the sky, his right hand forming a ledge across his brow, to shade his eyes that narrowed to slits and overflowed against the brightness.

The sun still beckoned.


Stuart Hopen’s writing has been published by various comic book companies, including D.C., Marvel, Eclipse, Amazing, and Fantagraphics. His science fiction novel, Warp Angel, was published by Tor Books, and his critical writing has published in Rain Taxi Review of Books and the Comics Journal.

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