says Milton to Urania. But oh what a feeling, Richie sings to her,
when you’re dancing on the ceiling. Dante wrote something about
descending too. But Astaire dances up there, suspended upside down, scuffing
the rafters. Poppins, even the windblown floater Poppins, says come
back down here. Urania feels sobered when Mary Poppins says it’s
time to go home. That takes the laughter out of anyone, especially
the uncle who loves having friends over and up for tea. The more the
glee, sings the uncle, the more I’m a merrier me. When he is
sad, Urania notices, he is lead crystal, not ethereal like a laugh, and
so he plumes right down.
Urania is a very whimsical yet serious little girl
who loves music, movies, dancing, and books. She wears rings on every
finger; the rings are made of aluminum foil, some encasing a sparkly bead.
Despite the songs about laughing your way up to the ceiling, despite the
ceiling tea parties and tap dances in the movies, Urania used to be afraid
of ceilings. Is there asbestos in there? she wanted to know. Are
there beehives? She feared the ceiling could drop and crush her breathing.
At night she thought she saw sinister faces looming on the ceiling. Milton?
she asked, peeking though the lace edge of her bedsheet. Is that you
up there? Is that me? She heard hooves and giant wings clattering
through the ceiling’s plaster.
Urania didn’t trust ceilings until she found pictures
of ceiling paintings in a great big book. There were mommies in blue drapes
holding babies, and the babies had gauzy gold halos. Angels and cherubs
floated around the ceilings. What she liked best: stars painted on ceilings,
each one adding light until she could hardly notice the scariness of a
ceiling for its stars. Urania began gluing silver aluminum foil bits to
her bedroom ceiling in the pattern of her favorite planets and constellations.
Maybe a ceiling seems scary, Urania thought, because it is not the sky.
It is taking Urania a long time to paste up all the
foil stars, pushing makeshift scaffolding—piles of encyclopedias—around
her bedroom and balancing on them. She does not mind ruining the bindings
of her encyclopedias; she has already photographed A to Z’s entries with
her memory. Dragging books around is not amusing, though. She tries all
the dancing and giggling and singing she has seen in the movies, but none
of it causes spontaneous ascension. Nevertheless, perching atop a “Mnemosyne
to Mytilene” volume, Urania decides there must be a way for her to sneak
She is studying with a schoolteacher who makes letters
in the air with translucent silk. He tosses silk up to the ceiling. It
slips into the shape of a script letter, and stays up in the air for a
moment… a real moment, a long one, you can take a sigh and everything,
before the fabric falls. Urania reads script very well for her age. She
sits upon silk pillows stuffed with scraps of silk and watches the old
man throw his letters. Each silk letter is like a ballet dancer leaping
and staying up awhile. Please stay up, stay up! is what Urania
wishes into every letter’s ascent, just before it lights down. A silk
“U” falls into Urania’s ringed fingers, which delights her. Suddenly she