12 hours ago
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Late Summer Rerun: Lord Knows, Child
One day Ella's grandmother took her to the county fair, something which Ella looked forward to all year long.
Her grandmother wouldn't go on any of the rides, not even the Ferris Wheel, but Ella didn't mind going by herself. If her grandmother had allowed her to, Ella would have gone on every ride --the big, swirling, spinning rides, the fast and high and upside-down rides-- over and over again. She liked to be high above the world, like an astronaut when he could still see the lights and the rooftops and the trees and the tiny people going about their lives, before he moved into the dark part of space.
Ella wanted to be James Bond, only a girl, but if she couldn't be James Bond her second choice was to become an astronaut or a race car driver. She would always like to wear beautiful clothes, though, whatever she did, and she would have to be able to put flower stickers and spangly things on her astronaut suit. When her mother moved away she had left behind boxes of fashion magazines in her old bedroom, along with a collection of James Bond novels that had belonged to Ella's father before he was buried in the cemetery of soldiers. These magazines and books were the main things Ella liked to look at and read.
At any rate, the one day Ella knew she would always remember at the county fair was different from every other day she had spent at the county fair, all of which had been wonderful in their own way. But on that particular day Ella had seen a man --a man wearing a suit very similar to those worn by astronauts or race car drivers-- fired from a cannon and carried high above the bright lights of the Ferris Wheel, beyond which was a waiting net.
Ella asked her grandmother why a man would be fired from a cannon, and her grandmother had said, "Lord knows, child, I suppose he just likes the way it feels."
Later, after they had seen the Human Cannonball, Ella and her grandmother had walked through the county historical museum and the Indian museum and the fish building. The last building Ella's grandmother always liked to look around in was the arts and crafts building, and that afternoon there was an old man sitting at a table and making tiny ships inside of glass bottles.
Ella had never seen anything like it, and she studied the finished projects that were on display with a combination of wonder and confusion. They were beautiful little ships, remarkably intricate, and Ella couldn't understand why they were in the bottles or how they had gotten there. At the moment Ella and her grandmother happened by, the old man was just beginning to build another ship in a bottle, and it was too early to tell exactly how he intended to do it.
Still, it was the question of why that troubled Ella, and she stared at the old man for a moment --he was peering through a large, mounted magnifying glass-- and then she just came out and said what was on her mind. "Why would you put a ship inside a bottle?" she asked.
The man raised his head and seemed to give the matter serious thought. And then he smiled at Ella --it was, she thought, an unmistakably happy smile that she would never forget-- and said, "And what do you think you are, young lady, right this moment, but a ship inside a bottle?"
"But how does the ship get out of the bottle?" Ella asked.
"I do believe," the man said, "that in no time at all you're going to figure that out."