Fiction · 09/11/2013

Tonight, I Built a Kite

Tonight, I built a kite. I taped together chopsticks we’d saved from every order of Bang Bang chicken to make the frame. I wound and glued fat string to make a bridle on the spine, stretched a white garbage bag across the chopstick skeleton, and tied on tails made from a pair of my old red tights.

I am in the middle of losing everything. This house, my credit, the dog I never liked, weight I don’t have to lose, the blonde from my hair, my breath every time our four-year-old asks when his father is coming home. I tell him, Not tonight. I have lost him already. Tonight, J is sleeping at Her apartment again, so I won’t sleep, not in bed, or on the couch, not at all.

Building a kite was something to pass the time until morning. That’s what they say, Go fly a kite, right? But I finished at two and now, I roam, taking inventory of all that will go when the papers are finalized. In the kitchen, I put junk into neat piles: cookie wrappers, clothespins, butter knife, oversized coupon for chimney cleaning, socks. I organize toys, setting cars up around the sleeping dog. 4 A.M. is the strangest time, not night, not morning. J and I are like 4 A.M.

I stand on the back deck in a nightgown and sweater and try to smoke a cigarette. It is January and too windy. I think about the two of them having a dinner she baked in the oven, fucking under a down comforter, sleeping like spoons in front of a fireplace. I am cold.

I find my son sleeping in my room. Tomorrow, I will take him to the beach to see if the kite will fly. It is a thing made to fly, after all. I curl around his sleeping body. I wish I could nurse him one last time. I rest my cheek on top of his head and wait until sunrise.

+

The beach cuts right through us and thank god. It makes me feel like I’m still here. It’s raw wind. Sand crunches underfoot like thin ice as we trudge our way towards the water. The ocean snarls. It is afraid to be seen in winter, still moving. Sea-spray slices my cheeks. If ever a kite were going to fly it would be in this January air and this kite needs a little more get-up-and-go than one of those lazy, summer kites with hollow bones. Chopsticks are heavy when taped up into a three-foot diamond.

It wants down. I lay it on the sand, let loose some line and run with the wind. The boy runs in step with me. I coax the kite up until it catches the air. It flies. It does fly.

I stand, heeled into the rigid sand, driving the kite, the boy at my side. He holds my coat pocket as we watch the kite do a herky-jerky figure eight, the garbage bag crackling in the wind. The red tails loop and whip the pale, thin sky. One breaks loose. It is nice to see my tights out and about.

This is some kite, I say. The boy wants to fly it.

You’re too small, love.

He insists, so I hand him the line. I control his arms. He squints up at the kite, his hair flapping, nose runny, hands bright red. The kite pulls and tugs at us like a living thing.

It wants to get away, the boy says.

Hold tight. Don’t let go, I say. He tightens his grip, knuckles white like little walnuts. I think about the woman he will marry. The kite comes crashing down.

+

Tonight, after roaming, sorting, and piling, I stand again on the back deck trying to smoke. Embers from the cherry fly past my head, singeing my hair. It smells like a rotten omelet, and I imagine J and Her eating putrid eggs for breakfast and vomiting on each other at the table. It is nearly four.

You want to go fly the kite? I ask the sleeping boy as I tickle his foot. He is boneless, still half-sleeping as I dress him.

He stands on the deck, yawning in his pajamas, coat and boots. The yard glows under the moon, and I run the kite. Wind wooshes up my nightgown. I am not wearing a bra. The kite flops like a fish on a line behind me, its garbage bag skin snapping. I drag it a few yards more before I jerk the string and give it a lift. It pulls away from me as it takes the wind. I feed it more line despite the scraggly oaks encircling us, their bare branches like witch fingers ready to snatch the kite away.

I decide that at daybreak we will go down to the beach and fly this kite again. And many more kites. I will go with five or six homemade kites and stake them down in a circle around me. And years from now, I will be skinny and white haired and alone, sitting on a beach chair, eating Bang Bang chicken, encircled by kites wearing a nightgown and sweater and my son and his wife will beg me to stop. But, I’ll say, No thank you, and they will give me a blanket and a plaid thermos of hot chocolate like they do. I will tell her, Be kind to him. I nursed him until he was almost three. And then, once more. She will say, Of course, and I will be warm and content watching them walk back to their car, holding hands tightly. Little white walnut knuckles. That week, he will call me to tell me they are pregnant.

I let the kite climb higher. It is trying to free itself, but it is tethered to me and stops, hangs in the night, hovering in the inky sky. The red-tight-tails flutter in protest.

Be happy there, I say. I could just as easily let go of the string. The last time I wore those red tights was Christmas three years ago. I got all dolled up. I stood under mistletoe.

The boy asks if he can fly it again. I tell him, yes. You can have this kite, I say. I have a drawer full of old tights I am not wearing and more kites to make.

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Apryl Lee’s work has been published at Word Riot, The Feminist Breeder, Underwater NY, and is forthcoming at Keyhole online. “Tonight I Built a Kite” is part of a larger work of connected stories that is looking for a home. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and teaches screenwriting in New Jersey where she lives with her husband, son, and some cats. She is at work on her first novel and has a blog at www.apryllee.com.