THE SYLPH OF THY 305
THE SYLPH OF THY 305
Of course I don’t expect to ever see you again. You’ve disappeared, as elementals do. Even so, I find myself smiling because I’m sitting one row from where I first heard your voice. English-accented and yet not English. Polite. A caress even at the first word. I heard it behind me, offering aid, as I tried to fit my roller bag in the overhead locker. Once you’d put it up for me, I turned and saw you for the first time: taller than the lockers; straight, Pilates-like posture; handsome in a pinched, Northern sort of way; a bright, boyish smile, just a bit higher on the right side than the left; big ears that gave you a spritely charm despite your height; hands in pockets as you observed the plane and its passengers—almost as if you were guarding us. I put my smaller bag in a locker further down. When I turned back, I caught you peeking at me. And I wondered: were you the naughty sylph or was I?
Of course I was uncomfortable in the no-leg-room cot row, squished between two people who didn’t look like they had any appetite for conversation. And then the only other free seats were in the middle of your row, and the guy on the opposite end told me not to sit next to him—his loss. Thus, by default, I found myself next to you.
Now I’m on the Istanbul return. Just a few feet behind me are the two enchanted seats where we chatted for hours about tennis and yoga, danger and safety, truth and lies; where you confessed, with tears in your eyes, that there hadn’t been a day since you learned of your wife’s affair (four years ago) that you hadn’t thought of divorce; the seats where I apologized to you, on your wife’s behalf, for her infidelity; where you asked to hold my hand. I feel again your soft palm, the bulge of veins between the thumb and index finger. Just as I didn’t want to let go of your hand then, I don’t want to let go of the memory now.
I’m trying to figure out exactly which row it was, but I’m not sure. So I love all the rows that could possibly be ours and caress the seat tops as I pass on the way to and from the restrooms. Everything on this plane seems touched with fairy dust because you were once in it. Because we held each other’s hands here, beneath fleece blankets.
Did you tell me lies? I imagine so. Perhaps I was the bit of vengeance that allowed you to settle down again; the sting of a thorn so miniscule that she would never find it. The sixteenth-century Swiss philosopher Paracelsus wrote that sylphs move through the air like humans, but on earth, they get stuck. I think of you down there on earth, among the colorful buildings of Copenhagen, stuck in a marriage that clogs your wings with thick black oil. Like Shakespeare’s Ariel imprisoned in a cloven pine, you live, you breathe. But you do not fly.
Up here, I’m soaring again, as every sylph should. It’s hard to believe, because I too was once imprisoned in a tree of my own planting. But I shattered it. And it shattered me. Dear Ariel, above a world that was shaking and cities that are still falling, you were a garden of poplar fluff, a bed of clouds, a garland of red sparrows.
Sometimes I wonder if you actually want Prospero to set you free, or if you enjoy your pine. I’m grateful for your disappearance. Your memory occasionally bounces and flits but doesn’t cling. On our flight together I told you I’d put my pieces back together. I didn’t tell you that lost kisses and angry seagulls were still whirling in my throat. I wanted, as I sat with you, to pretend that the tempest had subsided. Indeed it had, for a few minutes, as we held hands beneath fleece blankets. Wherever you are and with whomever, for that brief reprieve I send, on the wings of a Sirocco that will never reach you, a thousand thanks.
Nektaria Petrou’s work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Al-Monitor, Panoply, Sixfold, The Shanghai Literary Review, and more. She received honorable mentions in Ruminate's 2015 Short Fiction Contest and Glimmertrain’s Spring 2017 New Writer Contest. One of her short stories will be included in the New Rivers Press/University of Minnesota American Short Fiction Anthology, to be published in 2019. She recently completed a novel about the Greeks of Istanbul, where she lives and works.