A kite floats along the horizon for an indeterminate period of time as they ascend the carved stairway at the foot of the mountain. Droves of people crowd the path, stopping every five steps to take the same two blurred cell phone photographs. The mountain is a tourist trap at this time of year, so they backpedal and choose instead to sit in the grass surrounding the parking lot to people watch.
The kite, which seems to have been suspended at the same vantage point for hours, is an unremarkable maroon with a small tail flailing in the wind. Despite its lack of flair, it soars far above its contenders — which are laborious creations built to be more visually striking than practical.
Two mothers struggling with their adolescent daughter’s impatience lose control over their own inferior box kite. It crashes unceremoniously into a large elm, sporting its early November orange leaves. The first mother stops just at the foot of the tree and tugs too hard to wrestle the thing free and instead allows the string to snap, abandoning it on its perch. The second kneels down so she’s eye level with their daughter and attempts to comfort her and fails. The child’s cries are piercing, but there’s a chaotic temporary passion to them that makes them intriguing.
He stares at them, amused by their predicament, and she pinches his thigh, laughing. “We’re too far away for you to hear them.”
He looks back sheepishly. “How can you always tell when I’m eavesdropping?”
She rolls her eyes and points to the first kite. It’s higher than before, and for a moment blocks out the sun, creating a brief diagonal eclipse. The sky is a brilliant burnt orange as the sun starts its descent, but this small piece of paper and string holds her attention more than anything else has before it. She runs her fingers through his hair, and for a moment, they’re quiet.
He surveys the rest of the park at the foot of the mountain, searching for the pilot of this magnificent beast. He sees a runner trip over a rock and right himself in seconds flat, and he sees one of the mothers pick up her comforted daughter and heft her onto the other’s shoulders, but no more kite fliers. The maroon outlaw has outlasted its casual competitors. They’ve either lost control like the two mothers, or given up on catching the wind for more than a few fitful bursts and migrated to the small country store a few hundred yards away. They're now perusing cheaply made sweaters sold for fifty times their worth, and sampling fruit preserves touting local labels and foreign ingredients.
“Hey,” he says, trying to steal her attention from the kite for at least a second, “who do you think is flying it?”
She looks around in the same sweeping manner as he did before her. Seeing the same lack of pilot puts a smile on her face. “I bet they’re a world-renowned kite flier.”
He raises his eyebrows.
“And that to show their face anywhere would mean they’d have to sign autographs and answer questions.”
She puts her head in his lap and closes her eyes for one moment. He stares into her eyelashes and plays along. “So they hide at the edge of the woods in a public park and fly the least noticeable kite they can find.”
“But it’s special,” she coos, starting to fall asleep.
“Because it’s the very first kite they ever flew with their mother,” he whispers, tracing letters into her shoulder blade. The sky’s burnt orange is penetrated by dusk. Most of the tourists are leaving, but they make no move to return to their own car. The kite is barely visible, but still there. “And she taught them how to fly from their house in the clouds.”
“Who do you think they are?”
“Or an astronaut.”
They fall asleep and don’t wake up until the grass is covered with early-morning dew. The kite is nowhere to be seen.