by Melissa Frederick
When the woman was escorted from courthouse to squad car and the flashbulbs began to erupt, along with reporters’ questions about why, exactly, she broke through the upper Electronet on the I-95 Superflyway, why she ascended into restricted airspace during the after-school rush, when she should have known other drivers searching for temporary bypass lanes would follow her into the rupture, how she could live with herself now that a home health aide, a pregnant woman, and three preschoolers were confirmed dead, 97 citizens had been hospitalized, and a mass-transit shuttle was still missing after ricocheting off a hover generator and hurtling uncontrollably into the stratosphere, the defendant (a housewife and mother of three) looked up through the yellow haze of the lower 'net, through car lanes cutting patterns like chain-link fences in the sky, and said, “I heard wings.”
This piece started as a class assignment. (Yes, even though I’m a crusty old coot, I’ve found that you’re never too old or too seasoned for a workshop.) The task was to tell a story in a single sentence. At some point around when the course began, I dropped my son off at school and imagined myself taking an airborne route home. I worked that moment into an idea of future suburbia, technologically advanced yet still possessed of that culture of restriction and judgment. Initially, the woman’s crime was only that she’d broken through the safety net in the flyway. Later, I felt that the story wouldn’t have any real impact unless the housewife had been responsible for some large-scale disaster. After I made the changes, the narrative came to be less about the judgmental nattering of the media and more about how ordinary people can commit monstrous acts in the course of a normal day.
Melissa Frederick is a writer and freelance medical editor from suburban Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Crab Orchard Review, Strange Horizons, Mid-American Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Moon City Review, and Queen Mob’s Tea House and is forthcoming in Mythic Delirium. Her poetry chapbook, She, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2008. Follow her on Twitter at @msficklereader.