“Your Imperial Highness,” I begin, my throat closing in anxiety and my voice hitting a couple of octaves above my normal speaking notes. I breathe deeply, lower my head and clear my throat.
The Empress smiles fondly at me. I wonder how many of these harebrained requests she gets a year. She adjusts a pillow for greater comfort.
“Haven’t you come to the wrong place, child?” she murmurs. “Justice is down the hall.”
“No, Mum,” she prefers her loved ones to call her Mum, “no, Mum, I have had Justice’s ruling. It is your Mercy I seek.”
“Tell us about your plea, then.”
“Thank you, Mum,” I breathe my relief in just being heard. “It started a long time ago for me.”
A three-year-old with cornsilk hair stands on her tricycle, trying to see over the picket fence into the yard next door. It is warm and dusty in the Florida afternoon, a good time to be in the shade.
“Can you come and play? Can someone come and play?” she calls over the fence in invitation.
She is persistent, a lifelong trait as it turns out. She wants the neighbors to like her. She wants them to be friendly and to play. She is innovative. She cannot see over the fence without her tricycle, a handy step-ladder. She can see the neighbors in their house, looking at her and smiling. They don’t come out. She grabs the points of the pickets, still calling out in invitation. The neighbors laugh.
She hops a little, her tiny shoes lifting off the seat of the tricycle. The wheels roll and she slips, a sharp point of a picket catching her just under her chin. Her mother hears her cries and scoops her off the fence, staunching the blood with her skirt. The doctors stitch the wound so that it is barely noticeable. The neighbors never come out. Her mother blames them forever.
The girl has just turned six and she is in a round in-ground swimming pool, the deepest point in the center of the pool. It’s a birthday party for her kindergarten classmate Buzz. Buzz’ family has a big house and a big yard. Buzz’ birthday party will be featured in the Sunday newspaper where fashionable society events appear. She likes Buzz, his infectious laugh, his crooked teeth turning his mouth into a perpetual grin. She has a new bathing suit. She does not know how to swim.
She grasps the tiles at the rim of the round pool while moms sunbathe and the other children scream with happiness, cannonballing into the water to make the biggest splash. The sunlight sparkles on the water. Her feet slide on the slanted pool bottom and she loses her grip. She goes under towards the deep center. She thrashes, her head momentarily surfacing. She is facing the moms in their lounge chairs in the sun. She screams for help but her cries are lost amid the other children’s happiness. She goes under again, swallowing some water, gravity dragging her down. She fights for the surface and learns, in an instant, that no one will be there to save her no matter how long she calls for help, no friend, no one’s mother. She cannot swim but she must. She does, awkwardly, frantic but determined, and reaches the tile edge. She is proud of her accomplishment, teaching herself to swim when it was most needed, and angry too. She knows she was almost ignored to death.
“Poor darling!” the Empress soothes, a small crease appearing between her brows. “Your mother sent you to swimming lessons after that.” The Empress knows these things.
“Yes,” I nodded, “but gravity, you know. Gravity’s pull almost got me again.”
“But it wasn’t always that way?”
“Well, no, not exactly,” I hesitated. Then I started again knowing she would understand this too.
The little girl with cornsilk hair is in her pink cotton nightgown sitting with her knees drawn up under her long skirts in the driveway in front of her house just before dawn. She loves the colors of the dawn, how light and color seep into the fluffy clouds, then reach farther out across the sky. She contemplates that color purple, then the next and next until they are plums and peaches. She stands up, looking at the grass and its heavy dew, and determines to try one more time.
Her father finds her sobbing, her back against the carport post. She is inconsolable. He is afraid she has been hurt and reaches down to pick her up, her face red and dripping, her nightie sopping and clinging wet with dew from the lawn.
“Are you OK?” he asks, looking up and down the empty street for the bad man who must have hurt his youngest, ready to retaliate against the unseen.
“Daddy, I can’t fly anymore!” She bubbles, wiping her nose with her arm.
He stops a moment not understanding, his confusion clear, but relieved there is no monster.
“Let’s go have some orange juice and cereal.” He was confident food should fix this problem whatever it was, and he carried her from the dew and dawn into the blue house with sparkles on the walls.
“It actually got worse from there,” I explained. “I mean, I’ve fallen down stairs all over the United States. The worst was in the Field Museum of Natural History and those marble stairs. My feet hurt so badly that I couldn’t feel them any more and I landed in the Egyptian exhibit. The baskets and cat mummies went skittering across the room. It was mortifying.”
She smiled and adjusted her crown, the twelve stars reflecting rainbows all around them.
“Is that a nice tribute to cats they did?” she murmured. “I know you love cats. They just wanted to keep them forever to be with them in the Afterlife. Cats are very special to me, you know. And none of the cat mummies were actually damaged that day.” She tilted her head and gave me a fond look. “Even you weren’t actually damaged that day even though those beautiful marble stairs were sharp in places.”
“True.” You can’t lie to the Empress after all. She’s going to know it if you try. “But what about that scooter thing in 2001? That was a gravity humdinger. The elbow, the knee. It’s a wonder I didn’t get a head injury too.”
“That backpack you had kept your head off the concrete. Remember how happy you were when realized you could see and wiggle your toes? And that nice man with the terrible look on his face was so startled when you asked him to get your scooter for you! And you got back on and rode it down to the ferry dock and didn’t even know you’d broken anything or ripped all those things until you tried to stand on the dock. And by then, all your friends were there to catch you when you fell the second time.” She smiled at her unruly child.
I nodded remembering the day, the fear, the relief, the ice packs, the phone call to my husband explaining that we would need to go to the emergency room.
“That’s just it,” I said, pressing on with my point. “I don’t mind the weather elbow so much. It’s nice to have another little predictive tool. And I’ve learned a lot from my knee about humility and taking life slower and the nature of pain. It’s been 10 years and I’m really grateful for only a few encounters with gravity since then. Why, that tush-over-teakettle thing in the ghost town in Nevada was actually one of the funnier parts of that vacation!” I hesitated.
“It’s just that I feel I have done my part to demonstrate the power and effectiveness of gravity. And, well, I was hoping for something like a hall pass. I’m just thinking that I don’t bounce as well as I used to. So I know it’s not fair, not just. Everyone is subject to the Law of Gravity. But, well, you being Mother Nature and all, I was hoping you could grant me an exception,” I added shyly, “Mom.”
“We’ll see,” she said, smoothing a wrinkle on her gown. “You need to eat your vegetables though and fewer potato chips. I know that astrologer told you that Gravity is not your friend, but that’s not exactly true. I feel if you learn to work with Gravity, Gravity will work with you.”
Moms are like that.