Book titles are an under-discussed art-form. You glance at them as the vibrancy, colors, and images of the covers overwhelm your senses; yet there are some book titles you cannot escape. “The Paradox of Vertical Flight” by debut YA author Emil Ostrovski is one of those.
In a world where a baby named Socrates contemplates our places in the universe, where the relationship with Jack’s best friend Tommy is fluctuating too quickly and unpredictably, where Jack’s ex-girlfriend throws chairs at him to make her points beyond clear, Jack learns that falling may be the best part of it all. Especially when you add Anaximander to the mixture.
YARN is thrilled to share with you “So Many Pieces,” an original short story by the exciting mind that wrote that debut novel.
By Emil Ostrovski
Grandma sat in her rocker on the porch and spoke of the tides, of gravitational forces, irreversible damage, also madness, ha, and collective insanity, but even she was silenced by the splendor of our victory over the moon. For weeks, pieces of the moon rained down through the atmosphere, oh, what a meteor shower, a thousand thousand moving embers, day and night and day, and no great white shadow to haunt our sleeping hours anymore.
Not long after, we began to fall apart.
The old folk, grandparents, and senior citizens, on walkers, in wheel chairs, yes, wheelchairs, rolling rolling rolling, they succumbed to disorder first. Grandma’s head rolled off her body, useless legs detached from her torso, what few teeth remained dropped from her mouth, until only pieces remained, pieces in and around the rocker, and these pieces broke down further, and further, on and on, past dust, until what bits remained simply winked out of existence, little dying stars lost in the ever-expanding, ever-accelerating universe of her disintegrating consciousness.
The parents went next. Driving back from work, an arm would fall off, the car would veer into a tree. In Price Chopper, Mother, sudden blackness, “total blackness,” she said, “such blackness,” she said, groping on her hands and feet, across the dirty tile, came upon two bloody eyeballs, her eyeballs, and tried in vain, in vain, to stuff them back into empty eye-sockets.
It’s our turn now, I know, we the children who’ve not yet had children, but I believe, I believe there is a way. Juliet says there isn’t. I hold her to me and kiss the spot where her ear used to be, the ear she keeps in her pocket and tries to reattach when she thinks I’m not looking—here, in the living room of my deserted house I tell her “we can fix this,” I tell her “all we have to do is put back all the pieces of the moon, put them all back together,” and she looks at me with her one eye, the eye she has left, and a part of me is revolted, but I know I hardly look better, and she says to me “There’s so many, Jonah. There’s so many pieces and we’re just the two of us—”
She doesn’t have to finish, doesn’t have to say it, because then my hand, the hand I was caressing her with, the hand I was brushing through her hair, it breaks off, and she can’t help it, can’t help repressing a shudder. I pull her in tight so she can shudder into me.
We watch transfixed as my hand slowly disappears, as we tremble into one another, and I whisper to her “There’s a chance. The pieces, we’ve just got to get all the pieces.”
So we go out into the empty streets and one by one we begin to gather the pieces of the moon, we fill our pockets with those jagged white rocks, make little white piles on street corners.
“Where do you think everyone is?” I ask her and she says, “You know how dogs run away to die—”
That’s when we find the little girl, a little girl with strawberry blond hair and two missing legs, lying near a drain, singing to herself, she’s singing Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow…and then she sees us and stops, rubs her eyes. We kneel down next to her and she says, “I thought everyone was gone. I’m so hungry.”
“What’s your name? Would you like to come with us?” I say. I look at Juliet and she nods, puts a hand on the little girl’s little shoulder. She says, “We’re going to get you some food and if you want, you can help us—we’re on a really important mission.” She gives the little girl a mysterious wink.
“Can you tell me?” the girl asks.
“Only if you tell me your name,” Juliet says.
“—Dorothy,” the girl says.
“Dorothy,” Juliet says, “We’re going to put the moon back together.” She glances up at me. “Right?”
“Right,” I say. “We’re going to put it back together and set things right, you’ll see.” And I reach into my pocket and pull out a handful of white pieces, moonrocks, and Dorothy’s mouth makes an O shape and she says, “Wow.” She says, “Will you make things back like they were?”
“We’ll try,” Juliet says, and gives her an encouraging smile, even though she was telling me it was hopeless before, she’s willing to believe it, or say she believes it, all for little legless Dorothy with her strawberry blond hair.
It takes us a while, with me carrying Dorothy, but we find food like we promised, it’s important to keep promises in a broken world, that’s what I whisper into Dorothy’s ear, wondering if Juliet heard, hoping she did. In a shattered-window Starbucks we find some stale bagels and eat watching the sun set. . .
Thunder resounds in the night, wakes me up, and in minutes, sheets of rain crash down. I feel the spray, even from inside the Starbucks, and it feels Good. Dorothy stirs, says she dreamed of Mom and school and a boy named James. Why, she asks, voice groggy. She wants to know. She says there used to be this thing called America. Where did America go, she wants to know. Where did James go?
“Everything is made of so many little pieces,” I try to explain to her, in the darkness. “The moon, and America, and you and me.”
I feel Juliet’s head on my shoulder and hug her close. She says to me, too soft for Dorothy to hear, “I don’t know what to do. What are we even doing? Maybe we could just find a bed and lay in it together until—” and again she doesn’t have to finish the thought. “We could make a list of all the things we remember. I remember high school. Waiting at the bus-stop with you…”
I want to say yes. I want nothing more than to fall apart together, the bits of me mingling with the bits of her, but we can’t.
“The Moon—” I say.
“Is too big.”
“We have to try, don’t we?” I say.
“It’s madness,” she says.
“Yes,” I admit. “I remember the bus stop,” I tell her, “and I remember you coming to watch basketball practice even though you think it’s boring and then letting me walk you home.”
“I remember you spent way too much time playing that Future War game—”
“Future Warfare,” I say. “I didn’t play it that much—”
“You did. And I also remember you were a good kisser.”
We kiss, to the sound of Dorothy’s light snores, and I feel her working at my pants, her breast in my hand, nipple under my fingers. She moans softly. In the drowsiness before sleep she says something about having a family, being a family all of us, having a baby, giving Dorothy a baby brother to play with.
I tell her we’re just kids.
In the morning, Dorothy is gone, just gone, all that’s left is her lips, red lips there on the floor, and I think to myself, a bird will fly in and eat them, eat what’s left of Dorothy with her strawberry blond hair. So we take her lips and bury them in a park a few blocks away, and Juliet cries and cries like she’s the girl’s mother and I cry and cry too, though I don’t know why, and I say to the little mound of soil under which I laid her lips—such little lips—to rest, “There are things that are more than the sum of their pieces. It’s a cliché, you probably don’t know what a cliché is, but it’s a thing that people say a lot. But sometimes people say things a lot cause they’re true. Anyway, America is like that. And you and me and James and maybe even the moon are like that. Maybe that’s what we did wrong.”
Juliet and I wander back in the direction of the house, but we keep getting lost and I wonder if maybe our brains are falling apart too. We’re no longer bothering with the moonrocks. Madness, she was right, madness, a child’s silly fantasy (we’re just kids), to put the moon back
together, ha. Haha. Could that be why we went to war with the moon in the first place—were our brains the first to go?
I say “It’s a sad thing if all we are is our brains, you know,” and Juliet leans into me and says “Even if we were something more, God would find a way to break us apart,” and I say, “You believe in God?” and she says, “It varies on a moment by moment basis,” and for the first time in a long while I laugh. And laugh. And find myself on the pavement. I’m on the pavement—can’t get up. Don’t remember how I got here but Juliet’s beside me, kissing my cheek so I feel OK. Both her ears are gone now. When did that— She fumbles, worms a hand into her pocket and takes out the moonrocks, says, “Let’s make little moons together, Jonah. Moons and stars. A whole universe. While we can. It’ll be our last—our legacy.”
“Okay,” I say.
So we do, with the pieces in our pockets we make planets and suns and moons and we give them names, names are what make them more than just bits of moonrocks, Juliet and I agree on that, and then, then when it’s complete, when we’re done, when all the pieces are in place, she screams, oh what a scream, and flings herself at our universe, destroys it, planet after planet, sun after sun, and I laugh. I collapse onto my back and laugh and can’t seem to recall what this strange, thrashing, disintegrating creature is beside me.
Emil Ostrovski is 23 years old. His debut novel, The Paradox of Vertical Flight, was released on September 24th in America, and at a later date in Spain and Germany. He received a bachelors degree in philosophy from Vassar College, and is currently attending the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Columbia University. Also: he thinks it’s really hard not to sound like a jerk when writing about yourself in third person. For more from Emil, visit his website and follow him on Twitter.