ROBERT MANDATTA PONZIO
Standing on the hotel’s flat
roof, Ben can see far into the Vermont hills. Right now he’s
looking north where a narrow dirt road winds down an especially steep
hill. A cloud of dust rises into the air as horse-drawn wagons
filled with farm families head into town.
Ben shades his eyes from the noon
sun with his left hand as he turns to look down into the village
square. It’s the opening day of the 1850 Orange County
Fair. Satisfied with the size of the crowd already gathered, he
beckons with his right hand across the roof to a strange figure of a man
who appears winged and bird-like.
The bird-man hesitates for a
moment. He appears uncertain and confused, but slowly he makes his
way towards the boy standing at the roof’s edge.
Ben calls to him with a voice both
reassuring and tense with excitement. “C’mon, Cal, don’t be
afraid. You gotta remember what we’re doing. It’s for the
Professor — we’re doing this to save the Professor.”
At the mention of the Professor, the
bird-man raises his head and peers about him, less uncertain but still
The sounds of the crowd milling in
the town square grow louder as more people arrive. It makes Ben
eager to put into motion the plan hatched only days before to save the
Professor. He calls again to the bird-man, who has stopped
half-way across the roof.
“Don’t be scared!
Remember, you always wanted to fly!”
At the mention of flying, Cal raises
his arms. His attached “wings” flutter in the light breeze
that blows across the rooftop.
When Ben sees this, he reminds Cal
of the serious reason they are standing three stories above the town on
the biggest day of the year: “You know the Professor saved you,
now you gotta save him.”
Cal nods his head slightly but doesn’t
speak in reply.
“C’mere,” Ben says. He
motions one last time, “Come over to the edge here where you’re
Cal carefully crosses the roof to
Ben. Together they lean out and peer below.
“Look at all those people,
Cal! They’re all here for the County Fair. They don’t
know it yet, but they’re gonna see you fly!”
Ben grins widely at Cal, whose face
seems empty of thought or feeling.
Suddenly Cal’s eyes light
up. It’s as if everything Ben has been saying finally has taken
shape in his mind.
Ben notices and relief spreads
across his own face. “Okay. I’m gonna hook you up to this wire
like I told you. See how it runs across the square to the new
Their eyes follow the slender black
line of the telegraph wire as it drops from the hotel roof. It
stretches diagonally across the square to the new depot along the
gleaming train tracks.
Once more the excitement and chatter
of the crowd reaches up to them, causing Ben to fidget with worry.
He scans the crowd below. His corn-flower blue eyes dart every
which way, yet always return to the county jail at the northeast corner
of the square. Ben is looking for the face of his twin sister,
Becca, but he can’t find her.
“Where’s Becca?” Ben fumes,
“and why ain’t she ready yet?”
Silently Cal stares ahead of him,
his eyes riveted to the wire. It’s as if he can see a small
piece of the future hanging just out of reach along its slender black
thread. An involuntary shiver rises out of him, causing his wings
When Ben hears the rustling wings,
his own anxiety mounts until he says, “Oh, I’m getting
nervous. I just can’t wait any longer! Let’s go, Cal,
start flapping those wings we put on you.”
Slowly Cal begins to raise his arms
up and down in a flying motion, as Ben cups his hands to his mouth like
a megaphone and shouts to the unsuspecting crowd below.
“Hey, everybody! Look up
here! Look up here! He’s gonna fly! HE’S GONNA FLY!”