The Vault of the Sky


By Mark Plattner

            The little boy felt that he could hoist the world upthat he could reach down and pull it out from beneath his feet, raise it to his straining chest, pause for breath, and heave it past his vision, over his head, holding it there, at least for a moment, triumphant, legs taut with the effort.
            He opened the front door and stuck his head out into the heat of a summer day. He looked past his porch and down the street, then the other way, pausing in the middle, scanning for neighbors and strangers who might be out walking dogs or clipping hedges and having to stop and chat, shading their eyes against the furious sun, wishing to move on in this heat back to their own cooler air. The strength of the sun, though, had pressed people into their homes and the street was empty, and he felt disappointed and relieved.
            The small boy then looked straight across the street, at the green door surrounded by the tan house with the chocolate trim, and the pretty girl who lived inside. When he hoisted the world he would turn to her with humilityno pride in his great featand he would offer it to her without speaking, but with a pure and intimate countenance that explained that this was only for his feelings about her. This lifting of the heavy world was an act that proclaimed what words and thoughts could not. The green door was shut as all the others on the street, and the curtains were drawn in each window, so he stepped onto his porch.
            He stretched there, pulling one arm with the other hand, wanting to express the sinews in his biceps and chest and abdomen, wanting his entire thew and bone structure and mindset to know what task was ahead, and wanting the world to have a moment to take notice of what was to begin.
            The boy stepped down from the porch, strode to the end of the walk, and took a few paces down the narrow, combusted sidewalk. He chose a spot and inhaled, exhaled. He sized up the sidewalk, and the earth that sprawled out from underneath, taking in the thick oak in the yard to his left and to his right, the fissured, frying asphalt angry in the day’s heat. These were incidentals, like the worms that struggled beneath the sidewalk to dig and eat, the sod on the lawns, the cars parked in the street, the houses, the green door, the ineffable beauty herself, and the suburb that encircled them both and the city that stretched away in all directions to the sea. All was merely necessary to the feat, what would be hefted when he heaved the world up to his stomach, pausing there to catch his breath before the next great effort. These were just what was stuck to the world and so would rise with it whether he intended this or otherwise.
            The boy knelt, one knee on the coarse concrete of the sidewalk. He pressed his palms into the worn edge on each side of the walk and slipped his fingers down along the sides and into the dirt. He then rose from his knee so his hands were in place on the ground and his legs were bent, tense, eager. His face looked into the colorless concrete, the sand and grit that sparkled on the slab. He flexed his fingers and clenched his thighs. His calves tightened, and he lifted.
            His triceps flexed against their biceps and the world moved slightly beneath him. Heavier than he could have imagined, damning all the litter in his mind, the buildings and parking meters and crops, and the rivers and bays for he knew water was heavy with its indispensability and its inarticulate weight.
            Umph, he strained.
            Then he relaxed.
            Breathing hard, still stooped, sweat slipping down, what was still down, his arms toward his palms on the sidewalk, he understood that first effort was not everything he had, that he’d spent the opportunity to have it done on the first try, and that it could be done.
            He flexed his fingers in the dirt, forcing blood back into them. He braced his arms, knelt to straighten his back, and pulled up on the world, chest striating as he heaved, his calves and feet popping with vascularity.
            And it did move.
            The world came away an inch from his tip-toes. And the feeling of that emptiness surged into him. He pulled the world farther from his feet until his legs scissored out into the void, and the momentum of the world moving pushed itself past his abdomen up to his chest, where his arms rested, collapsed in against themselves for the briefest space of time. The incredible weight forced his face to the side, his cheek pressing into the sidewalk. This sidewalkhis contact with the uplifted worldscraped into his skin, a rouge spreading across his chest and cheek where the grit of the surface found its weight borne by this boy.
            Then he re-clenched his back muscles. His forearms found themselves pressed too severely into their upper limbs and the knowledge of each other and the work they had done and could do filled them and they forced the world up, past his sight, and over his head.
            And my Godthe young boy stood, silent, straining, beaming on the vastness of space and holding the world over his head, balancing the great weight.
            Euphoria melded with the dysphoric pain of it like the oceans above him sloshing together at their imagined edges. He stood, arms raised, and the unknowable ache he felt was becoming the indelible mark of the moment. Whatever staining bruises, whatever torn muscles, cuffs or ligaments, hairline fractures, dehydration and mental diseaseall would be trophies of this day’s triumph.
            His shoulders burned like some fire that must be raging somewhere above him. Still he turned his head the little he could with his clenched neck. He looked toward the green door, and it was open. The girl stood on her porch and saw his gesturehis first honest expression of what she meant to him. From across their street, through an eternity of absence, a space once filled with molecules and residue and waves, she said, “Are you doing a handstand?”


Mark lives in Tampa, Florida with his dog Zoey. His work has been published in 3Elements Review.

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