MAISIE AT 8000 FEET
Maisie at 8000 Feet is the story of an eight-year old girl who can fly and her idyllic summer in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey that ends in a moment of catastrophic loss. Following the death of her mother, Maisie travels the Pine Barrens with her artist father; meets his cousin and confidante, Sally, who wants to repair the little girl’s heart; and flies over it all trying to see how her life could have taken such a turn.
Many years later, her son gone to college and her marriage ended, Maisie struggles to reconnect with the aging Sally. Doing so, she hopes to understand why her father didn’t raise her, what that long-ago summer was all about, and whether she has ever really been attached to anyone in any place.
Seen from the heights of Maisie’s childlike imagination and the rootless perspective of the woman she becomes, the fractures in her life reveal the slippery connection between childhood and identity — and between remembering and forgetting.
Hear a video excerpt read by Gloria Chung:
$16.00 | Paperback | 5 1/2 x 8 1/4 | 272 pages
ISBN: 978-1-60953-130-0 | Carton Quantity: 24
Maisie was over the Hackensack River when a Pan Am Boeing 707 passed less than a thousand feet above her. She dipped her shoulder and banked to the left, away from the flight path of the big jet coming out of Newark, then turned south, keeping the orange ribbon that was the New Jersey Turnpike to her right and the vast blackness of the Atlantic on the left horizon. It was cold. She passed through gauzy wisps of cloud and tucked her head into her collar as she passed over the port of Elizabeth, stinkier than usual—a confetti of sparkling points sprawling below.
She followed the line of trucks and cars streaming beneath her in a narrow jet of red taillights flowing south, then branching westward toward Philly and eastward toward the Jersey Shore. It reminded her of the diagram of the human circulatory system that hung in her classroom at school—the place where the two external iliac veins in the legs come together and enter the common vein in the trunk of the body—except that the nighttime roadway was just a formless arcade of light, which made her wonder about each individual car and truck, where they were coming from, where they were going, and exploded the whole picture into a dimension she had trouble imagining.
Maisie slowed and came down quickly, swooping over power lines and landing with a hop and a skip at the far end of the parking lot. The rapid descent made her feel a little queasy and light-headed. She pinched her nostrils and blew to equalize the pressure in her ears. Service areas were the safest landing places along the turnpike. Flat, open to the sky. Alden’s green-and-white Volkswagen Westfalia was parked in a patch of darkness by the fence. Duchamp the camper, he called it. Duchamp had a pop top and louvered windows and a sink and an ice box and curtains you could close for privacy. She climbed in and shut the door behind her. Where’s Boris? she asked herself. The raccoon’s cage was empty. Maybe Alden had let him go. Maisie checked the water and food in his bowl and climbed into the front seat. They’d found Boris at the side of the turnpike a few days earlier. His rear leg had been injured, probably hit by a car. They made a cage for him out of a food crate, fed and took care of him, and now he was nearly recovered. He seemed grateful to them but, even so, was always a little nervous and trembly. All it took was a screech of tires or the hiss of air brakes or a slamming door to turn the inside of the camper into a tangle of claws and fur. Getting the frightened raccoon back into his box was no picnic.
Duchamp smelled strongly of food scraps and damp fur. Maisie sank into the passenger seat and looked up into the pop top at the fluorescent star decals Alden had stuck there. Raccoons are nocturnal animals, and Alden said seeing the stars up there probably calmed them. Alden was a Piney. He was used to living outdoors and being around wild animals and could as easily have skinned and worn Boris on his head as set his broken paw and taken him for walks on a leash. There was a little grassy area along the back fence with picnic tables. An eight-year-old girl could do just about anything she felt like in all the coming and going there, including care for an injured raccoon, and not be noticed. Maisie watched in the side mirror as a big truck backed into one of the parking spaces with loud squeaks and squeals, then finally shuddered and came to a stop. The driver hopped from the cab, lit a cigarette, and stood smoking in front of the enormous grill of his rig. Maisie put her feet up on Duchamp’s dashboard and slid down into the seat. She liked feeling tucked in behind panels and glass and hinges, with dials to look at and mirrors to watch from. She imagined it was what the cockpit of an airplane felt like. She’d never sat in the cockpit of an airplane, but she felt a kinship with pilots and wondered how well, given her natural flying ability, she would manage at the controls of a big machine, if she would take to it at all or only feel unnatural, like a fish captaining a submarine or a tortoise driving a tank.
Alden startled her awake. He was holding Boris in his arms and struggling with the door handle. “That’s a good boy,” he said to the squirming raccoon. “Found him by the Dumpster eating French fries.”
Maisie scooted out of the way as Alden pushed the struggling animal into the crate and closed the top. “How’d he get loose?”
Alden slammed the door without answering. A second later he was behind the wheel, starting the engine.
“What’s wrong? Why are we leaving?” Maisie crawled forward as Alden backed out of the parking space. She slid into the front seat and glanced back to make sure the crate was still closed. “Why are we leaving?” she asked again, looking out the window as Alden shifted gears and punched the accelerator. They merged with a rattle into turnpike traffic. He glanced at her in the way he had of outlining the full meaning of a thing without speaking, then reached into his shirt pocket and took out an envelope. “Count it,” he said and handed it to her. When she told him how much was there he said, “Count it again.” When it came out the same he shook his head and drove for a while without saying anything. He pulled off at the next service area, told Maisie to wait, and went inside.
“You need to use the bathroom?” he asked when he returned a little while later.
Maisie shook her head. “Where are we going?”
“To let Boris go.”
“Think he’s ready?”
“Ready as he’ll ever be.”
When they were back on the highway he said, “We shouldn’t have started treating him like a pet.”
“He was hurt.”
“Yes. But he’s still wild.” Alden looked at Maisie and smiled.
Half an hour later they were on a dark highway that ran flat and straight and soon gave way to forest. Maisie was about to ask where they were going when Alden put on the brakes and rolled to a stop in the middle of the road. He backed up about a hundred feet and drove straight into the woods through a narrow cut in the trees. The headlights cast an arc of light that dissolved quickly and formed a tunnel of green and brown and black. Slowly they drove deeper into the forest. The ground was soft and sandy beneath the tires. Branches scraped the sides and the roof. Maisie was too excited and too scared to ask where they were going. Her heart began to race. She could tell by the way Alden leaned forward and gripped the steering wheel that he knew exactly where they were. All at once they broke into a clearing. He turned off the lights and cut the engine. The sudden shock of total darkness took Maisie’s breath away. “Let your eyes adjust,” Alden said. “Just takes a few minutes.”
It was very quiet. Gradually the darkness yielded and another world began to emerge. When Alden rolled down his window a torrent of sounds and fragrances rushed in. Maisie could make out blotted shapes beyond the windshield. She leaned forward and saw a wash of stars overhead. Then the dimmed light brightened, the clearing opened up, and a whole night landscape blossomed into view.
“We’re letting you go,” Alden said and carried Boris’s crate into the middle of the clearing. He left it there and retreated. They waited inside the camper until, finally, Boris climbed out, sniffed the air, waddled and tottered around, going first this way, then that, as if he couldn’t decide. Then, all at once, he was gone.
And so were they.