Arts & Culture » Culture

Excerpt from the beginning of “Lift”

From Giraffes
Atomic Quill Press
$15.95, 126 pp.

The first of the blue carded boys took off down the dirt runway on the east side of the Park. One of the boys had built an enormous kite, box-shaped with light woods and sheets of cloth dyed in psychedelic colors. The boy slipped inside a pouch sewn into the center of the kite and had himself launched by an enormous fan. The wind generated lift, carried the boy high for a time, though eventually the wind beneath disappeared, the kite lost horizontal flow, was deprived of thrust and tumbled downward through unresistant pressure. Al tried not to stare at the boy's face as he fell to earth with the shocked look of an osprey struck by lightning.

Earlier, six boys scheduled to take their Right of Passage exam stood with Al near the holding pen. The Park was large and surrounded by trees. The boys had just turned twelve. Overhead red carded fliers dipped and soared in aerostatic spasms. The first crash occurred in the center of the Park. Boys still airborne looked down while men in long yellow coats came with gurneys, trash bags and electric golf carts to remove the fallen. Picnickers raised then lowered their umbrellas. The debris scattered and the smoke cleared. The clean-up crew carried burlap bags filled with quicklime which they poured into the Elimination Pit; the Department of Human Accountability ordering all failed boys disposed of as soon as possible.

Jed L. dyed his blond hair black, the bangs kept from his eyes by a red terrycloth sweatband, identical to the ones Chinese dissidents wore in Tiananmen Square. To Tubby, he said "You don't know. Everyone has to eventually."

"Not true. My dad told me."

"So what?" The elastic string around Jed's neck had a blue card attached. He spit into the grass as he saw older men do. "Course, you couldn't do it anyway. That's why you're exempt."

Tubby's face wobbled when he shook his head. A black card hung over his belly. Tubby's dad had made a fortune selling decontaminated meats to the market, his success affording the family certain favors. "We're a broad minded institution," the Director of Procurement for the Dept. of H.A. announced, "and not opposed to private contributions." Young Tubby ate ice cream, assumed his entitlement with presumption. "You just wish you didn't have to either."

Jed laughed and poked Tubby in the chest. "Even if I had a black card, I wouldn't use it."

"So you say. But if your dad."

"Fuck you."

"I mean if you were me."

"I'd shave my ass and walk backwards."

Al Boyd had tiny hands the size of sparrow quills. The scar on his chin was pink and thick. He stood with the others, glancing furtively every now and then at Tubby's black card. Eight months before his own exam, Al built a pair of wings, eager to assess his potential, only to plunge face first from his bedroom window. Dad in a panic, drove Al to the hospital. "Lift and drag," they reviewed afterward the principles of flight, how "Sticks and leaves won't do the trick. An apparatus may appear like wings, but the model you made was barely a prototype, more costume than actual construct."

Al sat in the kitchen, his chin freshly stitched, his shoulders slender and hunched inward while Dad leaned against the counter and reminded him, "There are better ways than landing face first on the pavement. Your fall was miscalculation not misfortune." He smiled and asked Al to, "Tell me."

"To fly, the air passing over the top of a surface must be faster than the air below," he spoke from memory, the words a reflex. "Air speed creates a decrease in static pressure. When the pressure above is less than beneath, an object will rise."

"And the wings you made?"

"Were for Bernoulli Lift."

"And not?"

"Reaction Lift."

"Then why did you build a device designed for one form of flight and apply it to something completely different?"

The pain in Al's chin was raw, the pills and novocaine making him groggy. His entire face felt heavy and numb at the same time. "I made a mistake," he conceded.

Dad sighed and had Al recite Newton's Conservation of Energy Theory and Bernoulli's Equation adopted for fluids, then said, "We aren't birds. We can't just leap and soar. People don't have that capacity. We need to make adjustments and be resourceful."

Al stared down at the flatness of his hands, his arms smooth and slender, ineffective for any real lift. Dad tried to ignore the bandage wrapped white and lightly padded around Al's chin. "Tell me then," he encouraged. "What's the difference between a bird and a plane?"

"An airplane relies on Reaction Lift, on the artificial thrust from an engine," Al answered without having to think. "The brute force of the engine pushes the air pressure down while a counter thrust flows up under the wings creating lift."

"And this is completely different from?"

"Bernoulli Lift."

"Which relies on?"

"The shape of the wing, the velocity and density of the air."

"If you knew this," Dad remained puzzled by Al's error, the wings he built absent the necessary curve, the bulge at the top and flatness below allowing the proper distribution of air flow. "What did you expect?"

"I hoped," Al said.

"Hope is good," Dad made every effort to sound assuring. "I, myself, am not without hope," he gave a wink, cleared his throat. "But hope's not enough. You can't stand on a ledge and hope to fly. You have to know your abilities as well as your limitations. The wings you made weren't shaped to transfer the speed of the air which, by the way, you failed to generate. And the downward force," Dad said.

"Like a hand on my head."

"Which is why?"

Al touched his chin.

"The way you went about things," Dad cautioned, and softening his tone, offered to go back over Newton and Bernoulli.

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