If you’ve ever fancied yourself an artist, then you know there are inspirations that grab hold of your heart and refuse to let go. Once, I was the victim of such a creative attack. A song and a warm breeze created an image that carved itself into my mind and infected my dreams. To this day, I find it unbelievable that single tune pushed me from the water I was treading and onto unfamiliar roads. After all, I never thought I would have so much gratitude towards a piano.
I was partway through college, struggling to balance several jobs and personal conflicts. It was unusual for me to find free time, but I didn’t mind, since free time gave me an opportunity to worry. On this day, however, I was the solitary employee at a wine and imported cheese shop. The owners – bless their naive souls – thought that an improvised city on the outskirts of St. Louis would be the perfect location for such a specialized store. During its drastically short life, the store saw fewer than thirty customers. This was a day where I wouldn’t see any. I needed a distraction.
Spring had settled over the Midwest like the morning river-fog. It rolled in from the banks and into the soybean fields – wet, brief and sweet. With the rain clouds finally pulling back, I decided to prop open the door, hoping it would attract a customer. To aid in my quest, I took control of the radio system, playing instrumentals from my broken-down laptop.
The breeze came in, warm and soft with the scent of damp soil. I closed my eyes, trying not to think of the piling bills or looming papers in my agenda. That’s when the song stated to play. It from a show I’d marathoned the week before. But this was the first time I heard the tune without characters talking over it. Ailes Grises. Gray wings.
Somewhere between the stirring earth, the gentle wind, and the sad, hollow tune, an image formed in my imagination. I saw a young girl, her hair tossed in the wind, balancing on a wire between two turbines. Something about the scene caught caused my breath to catch. I played the song again, and again, and another time after that. It was still playing in my head when I locked the doors and scurried to my server job at the Greek restaurant across the street.
At night, I added more. There were windmills everywhere. The world was overcast, and the sky cracked with gray clouds. But the breeze was warm. I imagined it swirling around this girl’s frigid fingertips like a gentle current. The promise of spring and brighter skies kept her moving towards the next mill. For days, I thought of toolboxes and climbing rigs. I couldn’t get her out of my head. At times, her orange hair and freckles felt more familiar than my own features.
I put up with this for two years. Sometimes, as I navigated the choppy waters of adulthood, I would add something from my life to her’s. My volunteer work with the Commemorative Air Force made her into an engineer. The wonder I saw in props and engine hoses became her obsession. I developed a disliking for milk and she developed a taste for it. As my voice grew with confidence, her’s softened with insecurity. We evolved to be unlike one another and I loved her all the more for it.
I’ve wanted to write since I was three.My parents saved picture books I made from my grandpa’s graphing paper and ballpoint pens. They said I would dictate stories to them like an infantile Homer. It seemed inevitable that one day I would need to write her tale. While listening to a panel on female literature in YA, the inevitable became the present. That night, I typed the first sentences of Kite Lyons’ journey.
In the background, I was still playing that song.