“What are you doing?” Father asked.
Billy removed the mirror from under his chin.
“I’m imagining what the world would be like upside down,” Billy explained. “You’d have to lift your feet to walk through doorways.”
“If gravity stopped, we’d all be dead,” Father said. “Nothing would keep us from flying right out into space, and there’s no air in space.”
“What about the clouds?” Billy asked. “If we could land on the clouds, maybe we’d bounce.”
Father shook his head.
“One day, son, you’re going to need to get that head of yours out of the clouds. They may look soft, but they’re just water vapor. There’s nothing to them. You’d fly right through, and out into space where you wouldn’t be able to breathe. Now put down that mirror and help your sister with the dishes.”
Billy did as he was told, though with a heavy sigh to let his father know that he wasn’t happy about it.
“There you are,” Lilith said when Billy entered the kitchen, “I’m almost done washing so you can dry. What’s got you so down?”
Billy shrugged and picked up a towel and a wet bowl.
“Oh,” Lilith said, plucking something from Billy’s cheek, “you get to make a wish.”
On Lilith’s finger was a fallen eyelash. Billy didn’t have to think long about his wish. He blew away the eyelash.
“There’s that smile,” Lilith said. “I was wondering where it had gone. I hope your wish comes true.”
“It won’t,” Billy sighed, “but I wished it anyway.”
“Father means well,” Lilith said after a while. “He thinks it’s important not to get caught up in daydreams. I think it’s also important to wish, and hope, and dream of things that are impossible. Life seems fuller when you do. What do you think?”
Lilith knew what Billy thought. Her little brother was the world’s biggest dreamer. Secretly, Lilith’s greatest wish was that one of Billy’s wonderful ideas might come true, just to remind the world that anything is possible. She gave his hand a reassuring, soapy squeeze.
The next morning, Billy awoke on the floor. He groaned as he sat up, feeling the ache of sleeping on the hard surface. When he focused on his room, it took a second to get his bearings. His bed was above him. So were all of his toys, his clothes, everything. The only thing sharing the hard floor with him was his ceiling lamp, dangling up. Billy jumped to his feet. He fumbled with the doorknob, nearly too high to reach, and tripped over his door frame once the door was open.
Lilith was already rubbing a bruised knee in the hallway. When she saw Billy, a wide smile spread across her face. They heard Mother shriek.
“How did… what on… George!”
Mother, though, wasn’t on the ceiling with Billy and Lilith. She was upside down, with the rest of the house. So was Father, whose mouth hung open when he saw his children on the ceiling.
“Woah!” their mother cried as her feet left the floor.
She clung to Father as her body spun around, and she joined the children.
“Come on, father,” Lilith called, “this is fun!”
She had found the stairs and was shimmying up the ramp to the living room. Billy was the first to reach the front door.
“No Billy, don’t go outside!” called Mother, but it was too late.
Billy and Lilith leaped out the door together.
They fell toward the clouds, laughing, hand in hand. Already most of their neighbors were bouncing from one cloud to the next. When they sank into the cloud, it was the softest thing they had ever touched. The next moment they were soaring back toward the earth. Billy reached out and grasped a leaf from a treetop before falling back again onto another cloud.
They played in the clouds all day. Not just the clouds, but the sky itself. The blue spaces between the clouds weren’t sky at all, but cool pools of water. They splashed and bounced, and laughed until their bellies ached. By mid-afternoon, Mother summoned the courage to join them, and even she laughed. Father, though, stood in the street with his arms crossed, and his feet planted solidly on the pavement.
“This isn’t possible,” he was heard to say.
At last, Billy decided to join his father. He built up his bounces until one sent him all the way back down to the street, where his father caught him and held him tight.
“I’ve had the best day,” he said happily. “I wish you could have played with us.”
A curious expression crossed Father’s face. He held Billy even tighter and placed a kiss on his forehead.
“Alright,” Father said, “what are we playing?”
Billy felt them rise into the air, and listened to Father’s laughter when they bounced off the first soft cloud. They laughed together when they bounced off another and landed in a puddle of blue water between. They played and jumped and splashed and laughed, and when the puddles of blue turned orange and red with the setting sun, they felt themselves drifting downward, back to their neighborhood and their awaiting cozy beds. Billy was asleep already in Father’s arms by the time he was tucked in. Father kissed his forehead and smoothed his hair.
“Thank you,” he whispered into Billy’s ear. And may you enjoy sweet dreams. Dreams are important, after all.”
Upsy Downsy was first published at Ms. McClure’s weblog.