Growing up, there were four boys on my street, all of us about the same age. Danny, my best friend from birth and the clown of the group, with his dimpled smile and his freckled face. He went on to be the only one of us to enroll in the army, but at the time, he was a mop of hair, haphazardly parted and falling into his eyes when he ran. There was Jacob, the youngest of us and something of a tagalong, who went on to become a famous movie critic. There was me, the quiet one. And then there was Evan, who moved into the old house at the end of our street when we were in first grade.
Evan was the storyteller of the group, to say the least. His eyes shining, he’d spin us golden tales about his grandfather, who had singlehandedly led the American Army to victory during the Great War. He’d swear on his life that old Mr. Dupont was a Russian spy, and he’d speak in low whispers about the time he’d seen a dragon on the horizon as the sun disappeared over the edge of the woods. Being seven years old and new to lies, I hung onto his every word like a precious stone.
My favorite stories were always those about his father. “He’s a pilot,” Evan would say, his back straightening and his mouth going stiff, “and he owns three planes, and he flies ‘em all day. He ain’t got no passengers, no one else with him. He’s up there all alone up in the air, jus’ like a bird. Every day.” Once, he had flown right across the Pacific and skimmed the top of Mount Everest with his wing. Another time, he had broken right out of the earth’s atmosphere and scraped against the edge of the moon. In fact, he was so busy with his planes that he was rarely home. “But I don’t mind,” Evan told us. “He’s the best Dad in the world.”
My own father was a history teacher up at Junior High; Danny and Jacob came from long lines of respectable mechanics. In those years, Evan’s father was our hero, and my heart’s deepest want was to ask him what it felt like to fly.
I often stayed up late at night to read, and every so often, I’d look out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. I knew what I’d see, of course; it was the same every time. Exhausted after a hard day of flight, he’d stagger home under the yellow streetlamps, a green bottle clutched loosely in one hand. I figured he must’ve been half asleep, swaying from side to side as much as he did.
I’d never spoken to Evan’s father; I’d never so much as set foot inside his house. I suppose it should have stricken me as strange; I’d been to Danny’s and Jacob’s more times than I could count. But, again, I was new to lies, and I saw no reason to doubt.
It was early fall when I decided to take matters into my own hands. I remember the brown leaves crunching beneath me as I stepped off of my porch, and the wind knocking against my cheeks. Evan’s house was at the end of the street, barely visible, beaten down and tucked into the bend. The sky above was a cloudless shade of blue.
It was an empty day, the kind with too little sunlight and too much wind. I stepped up to the door and gave three sharp knocks on the wood. It swung open a crack, and Evan’s face fell when he saw me. He moved into the door frame as he opened it the rest of the way, obscuring my view of the room beyond.
I tried to peer past him, but he moved again. I shifted from heel to toe. Starting to regret my decision, I had no choice but to see it through. “Uh…is your Dad home?”
Evan blinked. For a moment, something like confusion flashed across his face, but it was gone before I could be sure.
“No. He’s flying. Go away.”
My heart sank in my chest, but as he moved to shut the door, I caught a glimpse of the room behind him. The walls were a faded cream that I suspected had once been snowcap white, and the paint was peeling away from the plaster. Mismatched furniture was arranged haphazardly around the room: a gray couch here, two wooden chairs there, a hexagonal table tucked into the corner. A stubborn layer of dust coated it all, and the floor was littered with green glass bottles and empty cans.
On the couch lay Evan’s father. His eyes were closed, and his mouth wide open. He seemed to be asleep; his chest rose and fell steadily, and his head lolled towards his right shoulder. Saliva dripped from his lower lip down to the collar of his shirt.
I stared at him, mesmerized. So this was what he looked like after a hard day’s flying! Evan must not want to disturb him. I tried to smash down the jealousy bubbling up inside of me. Why couldn’t he be my father?
I forced a smile and looked back at Evan. “I’m going.” Slowly, I backed down the stairs and turned, running down the path.
I didn’t see much of Evan over the next few weeks. When I came out to play, he’d disappear inside; when I ran into him at school, he’d send a sharp nod my way and pass me by. At the time, I wondered if he’d realized my jealousy, but now I understand that he was confused, and embarrassed, and maybe a bit scared. While things got back to being normal between us after a while, I didn’t realize until many years later that Evan’s father wasn’t a pilot at all.
Prisha Mehta is a student at Millburn High School in New Jersey, and she is very passionate about her writing. She aspires to be a successful author one day, and she has won many writing awards, including a Scholastic National Gold Medal. Her work has been published in “Spaceports and Spidersilk”, “Asymmetry”, “Ginosko”, “Blue Marble Review”, Stinkwaves”, “Riggwelter”, “Drabble”, “Body Without Organs”, “Gravel”, “Spelk” and “Five on Fifth”. When she isn’t writing, she can often be found scrolling through psychology articles, sketching in her notebook, or, of course, reading. You can find out more about her at prishamehta.com