Nora rolled over, onto her back. The spring grass tickled her neck as she leaned back, and repositioned her black beret. Beside her, Neal ruffled his blond hair, looking for a ladybug which had crawled in. Nora daintily inserted two fingers into his hair, plucking out the bug. With a slight smile, she flicked it into the open sky, and watched it buzz into emptiness. She saw no clouds, but dandelion fluff floated in the sea of sky, as if trying to fill in, before the breeze swept them aside. The breeze flowed in a lazy wave, around and above the contours of the rolling hills.
“I'm bored,” Nora announced.
“Yeah, aren't I always?” she said, sitting up and leaning forward. Neal pushed himself up.
“Pretty much. What do you want to do about it?” Neal brushed some grass off his back, and picked up the beret, which had fallen again.
“You know the cellphone tower?” she said, pointing. She knew she didn't need to point, everyone knew where it stood. You could see it from anywhere in the town. Amid the cornfields, the prairie grass, and the homes, atop a larger than normal hill rose the tower. It seemed an obelisk of steel, a monolith of engineering. A little cousin of the Eiffel Tower, right in the middle of nowhere. Mounted atop the four-legged tower, among the massive altar of antennas, nestled a blinking red light. Nora stared intently at that light. It always sat there, mocking her, challenging her with its regular beat.
“Obviously,” he said.
“I want to climb it.”
“I'm bored, it's there, I haven't done it before.”
“I don't know, climbing that thing could be dangerous.”
“Those bars look pretty evenly spaced to me. Easy,” Nora shrugged, looking up and down the structure of the tower. From this distance, atop the hill, it didn't look that high, but she knew it would seem different looking from the base of it.
“I don't think those bars were exactly designed for climbing.”
“It's not like I was expecting monkey bars or anything, it still doesn't look that bad.”
“You aren't even any good at monkey bars,” Neal said, poking her in the belly. Nora jumped slightly, and the beret slid off her short black hair. She gave him a cross look.
“Sure I am.”
“Yeah, that's why you were always losing hold in the playground.”
“I wasn't any good at monkey bars,” she said, “but that was years ago, plus monkey bars don't have footholds. Also, I'm stronger now.” She punctuated the point by punching him in the arm. Neal laughed, while wincing. He snatched the beret and scrambled to his feet, running.
“Bastard!” Nora took after him.
“Come on, let's go see if there's a movie playing.”
“I can't believe we wasted an entire afternoon yesterday watching that terrible movie,” Nora said, sitting backwards on a chair, looking out the rain soaked window at the dark skies. In the clouds, she could see the faint red pulse of the tower, beckoning.
“It wasn't that bad, we've seen worse.”
“The writing was shoddy, the acting was wooden, most shots were bad, the pacing was off in the second half, and that actor had a mole on the upper lip, totally distracting.”
“Did you have any better ideas?” Neal teased. He was lying down on the old yellow coach, legs up on the arm.
“Yeah, I did. I was going to climb the tower. I'll just have to do it today.”
“You are absolutely not climbing today, end of story.”
“Yeah, and why?”
“Because you would be swept off, and I'm not good at catching falling people.”
“Then I'm doing it the first day it doesn't rain, or else right away,” Nora grinned, Neal scowled.
“I'll certainly miss the sun, but here's hoping it never stops raining. This is dangerous.”
Nora got up from the chair, and paced.
“I know, I know. But it'll be okay. I've been thinking about this for a while.”
“A while? Like, two days?”
“No Neal, longer than that,” she said. “Anyways, you are right, I'll do it when the weather is clear, and no wind. I don't want any cross wind when I'm up there. Climbing the bars won't be hard, this isn't a shear cliff, the tower is angled, so I could even pause if I got tired.”
“What if you get electrocuted? You'd be climbing all sorts of electronics up there,” Neil said, sitting upright on the couch. Nora walked into the kitchen without bothering to turn on the lights, she knew her way around. She opened the fridge, revealing the little frightened light hiding from the darkness outside, and looked inside.
“Yeah, but don't birds hang out in there? They would be dropping like popped balloons if there were anything dangerous up there,” she said from the kitchen.
“Jesus. Get a good pair of gloves then, leather or some other tough material. I don't want you ruining your hands grabbing sharp metal crossbeams.”
Nora emerged from the kitchen, grinned at Neal, and sat down to hug him around his shoulders.
“I think you're out of milk.”
“Alright, just promise me you'll keep safe. What if I lost you?”
“You'd be just fine.”
“I can't even buy milk unless you remind me, Nora.”
“Oh, big deal,” she laughed.
The sun shone bright, and Nora felt the slightest breeze that still smelled of fresh rain. Neal and Nora walked up the hill to the tower. They made hushed small talk until they reached the concrete base of the tower. The grass abruptly ended in a crisp edge of poured concrete, and from the concrete emerged one leg of the tower. The other three bases formed a square with this one, and the sides were sixty feet across. They stepped onto the base, and Nora placed her gloved hands on the first bars.
“Good luck, and please don't hurt yourself,” Neal said.
“Thanks, see you back down in not too long,” Nora said, as she grabbed the next crossbar and positioned her feet. She climbed rapidly, hand over hand, foot over foot. It felt like climbing a tree, the hand holds and foot holds were so frequent and easy. A giant metallic tree, but it grew upside down, Nora thought when she reached the point where the four legs joined into the trunk. Here she paused for a moment, the majority of the climb still ahead of her. Feeling her breathing settle down, she shifted sideways to get from the leg to the center of the central spire, and continued up. Hand over hand, foot over foot, it took ages. Her arms began to tire, but she didn't slow her pace. As she got further up, the bars occurred increasingly frequently, they were widest apart where the spire was broadest. Each time she grabbed the next crossbeam, she felt grateful for the gloves. The edges of the metal were harsh, and she knew she would have cut her hands climbing. The gloves provided her good grip as she got to the increasingly vertical part of the tower. She paused again to look up. Only twenty more feet. The last few went quickly, and Nora hoisted herself up, on to the little platform where the array of electronics stood.
And among it she saw the flash of the huge red light. Nora stared it down for a moment, then turned her back to it, before it blinded her, grinning in silent success. She threw her arms in the air, as if herself an antenna. And up there, among the bombardment of radio-waves and micro-waves, Nora felt interconnected to all the world, as though pieces of her body scattered across the four corners of the land. She felt each individual molecule of her existence vibrating, up there in the open. They cried out for release into space, each electron straining for broadcast into the universe. She shuddered, then drew in a large breath, as if to pull herself back in and together.
She looked down at the landscape with new eyes. Everything seemed so small. Of course, because of the height, but she held out her hand, and imagined holding the entire town. All her life, she had stayed constrained in this tiny space, a place so much smaller than the dollhouse she once played with. She lowered her hand and stood still for a time.
The trip down took longer and felt more difficult, because the possibility of slipping. Nora moved down in a trance, not entirely aware of her motions. The landscape didn't seem to grow in size as she approached, it still seemed small. When she reached the bottom, and had her feet on the ground again, Neal embraced her and held her close.
“I'm so glad you are safe. I didn't lose you.”
“I wouldn't be so sure,” Nora said. She had meant it to sound playful, but it came out hollow. She choked for a moment, afraid, she squeezed back.
It had been a week since Nora climbed the tower, she knew because they just watched the “new” movie released. After the credits scrolled by, everyone but Nora and Neal had left the theater. They considered themselves completionists; they watched movies for the holistic experience, trailers, movie, credits. They stood up, they sat in the first row, always. Together they loved the eye straining, in your face intensity of the front row, where you couldn't escape the scene however you tried. As Nora strolled up the aisle, she strolled down memory lane. She let her hand slide over the arched backs of the soft red theater chairs, as she recalled the movies they had seen here. Forest Gump, Schindler's List, Pulp Fiction, Braveheart, the gems among the muck. She paused in the middle of the aisle, having finally decided. Neal noticed.
“Neal, I think I want to move.”
“Far away, probably.”
“Farther the better. Let's get away from this place.”
“Nora, you know I can't leave, this is home. My roots are here.”
“I know,” she said, “I think I always knew.”
“Why do you want to go?”
“I can't just stay here and not do anything. I've got to try things, it's so constraining not to.”
“But I'm here for you, everyone is.”
“I know, you'll always be here,” she said, “You'll be here if I come back, I know. You've my anchor, my fallback. I feel safe knowing you will be here.”
“Nora, there is plenty to do here, you don't have to leave.”
“There's nothing here, I've got to move about,” she said. “Here, keep this for me,” she handed him her beret.
“So I am losing you. I knew when you said that thing, it was there in your voice. Promise me you'll keep in touch.”
“I'm so sorry,” she said, hugging him. “I promise you I'll call. I'll remind you to buy new milk and everything.”
“Yeah. We get great cellphone reception here.”
“Oh, please don't be like that.”
“Then do one thing for me, promise me you'll go see the Sundance Festival. Do it for both of us.”
“I promise. I'm so sorry Neal.”