I am not sure how I feel about this story today. Having said that, I believe it still possesses a certain charm.
The Fallen Man
The man fell from the sky on a cloudy spring morning in 1942.
I was standing by my mother’s side as she tended to the geraniums and crocuses in the garden. I looked up at the sky, wishing I could float up from the gentle rolling hills of the Yorkshire Moors and form a union with the grey expanse above me. I was six-years-old then, and I wanted nothing more than to be sky.
That was when I saw him, falling almost directly above us, tangled in the cords and material of his parachute. Watching this unexpected reverie, I could think only of the story my older brother, Thomas, read to me in the evenings in the parlour. The story of a boy named Icarus who soared through the sky with feather-and-wax wings. Through the tingle of awe and confusion, I could think of nothing else. I anxiously tugged my mother’s apron and pointed to the sky above us.
“My God,” she whispered upon spotting the falling man.
He landed beside the barn just a short distance from where we stood. I released my mother’s apron and ran to the man as his parachute fluttered to the ground.
"Emma! Emma! Come back!"
I heard my mother calling to me, but I did not listen – I had to get a closer look at the fallen man.
He lay on his back in the deep mud. He was wearing the same kinds of clothes the men in the nearby village wore. I wanted to ask him what it was like to be sky, but his eyes were closed and he appeared to be sleeping. I walked around his motionless body, searching the mud for his wings. Mother knelt down beside him, muddying her apron as she did so. She touched his neck with her long, slender fingers.
“I can’t find his wings,” I said.
My mother paid no attention to me and called for my older brother. A moment later, Thomas emerged from the barn. Upon seeing the fallen man, his face twisted into a deep frown and his fingers curled into white-knuckled fists.
“Help me carry him to the house, Tom,” mother said.
Thomas remained where he stood for a long time, staring at my mother kneeling beside the man. Finally, he trudged into the mud and helped carry the man into the house. With considerable difficulty, they took him into my parents’ room on the second floor and placed him on the bed. Thomas’s face went red and his eyes became narrow slits.
“We need to inform the authorities immediately,” he grumbled.
“We’ll discuss it later,” mother said quietly.
“What is there to discuss? He’s a spy.”
Thomas stomped out of the room mumbling something I could not make out.
I stood by mother’s side as she tended to the man’s injuries. I wanted very much to speak to him and ask him if he knew Icarus, but his eyes remained closed. I contented myself by simply looking at him. He had a square face and cinnamon hair. Thomas had called him a spy. I did not know what kind of spy the man was or what his being a spy could have to do with him falling from the sky.
“Is he a spy, mum?” I asked mother as she wiped mud from the man’s face.
She paused and nodded her head tensely. “Yes. I’m afraid he very well could be.”
“Why did he fall from the sky?”
“I’m not certain. It has to do with the war.”
“He’s part of the war? Like father is?”
“Yes. I suppose so.”
I wanted to ask more questions, but mother put her finger to her lips, ushered me out of the room, and closed the door behind me. I spent the rest of the day thumbing through the myth book and staring at the picture of Icarus falling into the sea after the sun had melted his wings. It was a sad picture. The farmer ploughing the field in the foreground was completely oblivious to the sea swallowing Icarus in the background. I thought the fallen man was fortunate to have landed on our farm in the countryside rather than in the sea.
Mother did not emerge from the room until it was time for dinner. I asked to see the fallen man, but she would have none of it. Once mother had prepared dinner, she called Tom who had spent the entire day outside even though he usually finished his chores by noon. We sat down and ate quietly. Dinner was strange that evening. We sat at the table like strangers.
“We should tell the authorities,” Thomas said finally, puncturing the silence. Mother did not reply. She continued eating, keeping her gaze firmly fixed on the plate before her. I noticed her hands were trembling as she held her knife and fork. “He’s a German, mum! They caught one just like him three weeks ago near York. A spy, that’s what that one was. And that’s what this is one, too!”
“He regained consciousness a few hours ago,” mother said, her voice barely above a whisper. “He told me he wasn’t a spy. He said he was escaping from the war.”
Thomas scoffed. “In English, no doubt? What did you expect he would tell you? He’s the enemy. We’ll raise suspicions if we keep him here without informing the authorities. Others likely saw him fall. They’re probably looking for him now. And here you are playing nurse!”
“That’s enough, Tom!” mother shouted.
Thomas was taken aback. He snorted in disgust and dropped his fork onto his plate. The room fell silent again. I could not understand what had upset my brother so much.
“Mum said the fallen man and father are alike,” I said suddenly in an effort to ease the tension in the room.
“What?” Thomas cried. He stood up suddenly, knocking over his chair as he did so. “How could you say that?”
His shouting hurt my ears. I reached under my chair and grabbed the myth book as he continued ranting at my mother. “I think the man is like this,” I said showing him the picture of Icarus once I had found it in the book. Thomas snatched the book from my hands and dropped it on the floor.
“You know nothing, Emma” he sneered.
“Think of your dad, Tom,” mother said quietly. “What if he were injured and needed help? I don’t want to hand him over if he truly is escaping.”
“This is absurd!” Thomas spat in anger. He walked toward the door. “I’m sleeping in the barn as long as he’s here!” He opened the door. “You’d better keep the bedroom locked,” he said ominously before slamming the door behind him. Mother stared at the table before her while I picked up the myth book and hugged it to my chest.
Mother took some food and water into the bedroom and returned a few minutes later to help me clear the table. We retired to the parlour after we had finished the washing up. She built a nice fire in the fireplace, which always made the room feel soft and warm, even softer and warmer than the chapel we went to on Sundays. Thomas remained outside. I wished he would come inside and read me the story of Icarus. Mother sat in her chair crocheting and listening to the war reports on the radio. I found the announcer’s voice irritating – it was like a droning machine; like the airplanes I occasionally heard flying overhead in the middle of the night.
“Why is Tom cross at you, mum?” I asked after mother had turned off the radio.
“Because I am helping the man,” she replied.
“But it’s good to help others, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but Thomas doesn’t think it’s a good idea to help this man,” my mother explained.
“It’s complicated, love,” my mother said gently.
She turned her dark eyes up from her needlework and looked at the photograph of father she kept on the fireplace mantle. My father was a handsome man, and the soldier’s uniform he wore in the photograph made him look even more handsome. I could barely remember my father. I was very little when he left for the war. Mother said he was in Africa. I looked at the photograph, trying to extract some form and feeling from the image, but the man who was my father remained little more to me than a faint, sepia-toned whisper of humanity encased behind a pane of glass.
To my surprise, I noticed my mother had begun to cry. Her dark eyes welled with tears, and she was mouthing words that made no sounds. I suddenly felt strangely out of place – as if my presence had become intrusive. I wanted to approach my mother and embrace her, but I didn’t. Instead, I tucked the myth book under my arm and left the room. The radio announcer’s voice came back on once I was in the hallway. I paused for a moment and noticed the droning, monotone voice had all but drowned out my mother’s soft sobs.
My thoughts drifted to the fallen man. Even though my mother had strictly forbidden me to even consider it, I crept up the stairs to my parents’ room. I could see a thin sliver of light at the bottom of the door. Holding my breath, I turned the doorknob and quietly entered the room. Mother had left a couple of candles burning in the room, and the flickering flames cast a myriad of magical shadows on the walls and ceiling. The fallen man lay in bed, and he watched me step into the room, his eyes wide with a strange blend of curiosity and fear. The look on my face must have reflected something similar. We stared at each other wordlessly for a minute or two before I finally worked up the courage to walk toward the bed. Clutching the myth book firmly in my arms, I stopped by the side of the bed.
“Did you fly too close to the sun?” I asked. The fallen man looked at my blankly. His eyes were deep blue, like the sky on clear days. “Is that why you fell? Because you flew too close to the sun?”
He winced as he attempted to make sense of my words.
“Mother thinks you might be like father, but Thomas doesn’t think so,” I continued. It was then that I noticed the swelling around his ankle, which had turned a deep shade of plum purple. I pointed to another photograph of my father on the nightstand, this one taken on my parents’ wedding day.
“Is that your father?” the man asked quietly. He spoke English well, but he pronounced the words in an odd way.
“Yes. He left for the war and is in Africa now,” I said. Though I still felt a little anxious in his presence, the man seemed gentle and kind. I opened the myth book to the picture of Icarus and handed the book to the fallen man. “Did you fly too close to the sun, too?” I asked pointing at the picture in the myth book. “Icarus was trying to escape an island with his father, but he flew too close to the sun and his wings melted. Is that what happened to you?”
At first, the man did not seem to understand what I was saying, but as he studied the picture before him, a tender smile slowly spread across his face, and he nodded his head in agreement. “Yes,” he said after some time had passed. “Yes. I am like him. I flew too close to the sun.”
“Will you go back to the sky when you are well? If you do, can you take me with you? I like the sky and would love to see it up close,” I said quickly. When I finished speaking, I heard something behind us and turned to see my mother standing in the doorway.
“Come along, Emma,” she said, her voice noticeably nervous.
“You can keep the book,” I said. I left the myth book in the fallen man’s hands and walked back toward the doorway.
“I’m locking the door for the night,” my mother told the man firmly. “Do you need anything before I do?”
The man’s expression turned serious. He shook his head and then said, “What will you do with me?”
Mother opened her mouth to speak, but in the end said nothing. She closed the door and locked it from the outside. Mother put me to bed soon after that. Before I fell asleep, I had visions of flying through the sky, around puffy cotton clouds high above the sea.
Knocking and shouting. The sharp sounds of knocking and shouting woke me. It was still dark outside. An invisible rain faintly pattered against the windowpanes. The knocking and shouting were coming from downstairs. I scrambled out of my bed and down the staircase. Mother was standing in the parlour stone-faced. Thomas and six men in soldier uniforms stood in the room before her.
“Upstairs. First door on the left,” Thomas said to the oldest soldier. He then glared at my mother who kept her eyes fixed on the photograph of my father. “It’s the right thing, mum. You know it is.”
The soldiers marched up the stairs clutching their rifles. Thomas and I ran after them. The soldiers paused before the bedroom door. The oldest soldier held a pistol in his right hand. With his left hand, he turned the key my mother had left in the lock.
“Be ready for anything, lads,” the oldest soldier said. He then threw the door open and allowed the other soldiers to rush inside. I was worried the soldiers wanted to hurt the fallen man or take him away before he could return to the sky, but a sudden hush settled over the house after the soldiers burst into the room. I peered inside to see what was happening. Save for the soldiers, the room was empty. The fallen man was not in the bed. The soldiers searched the room, but they did not find the fallen man. The oldest soldier stopped before the open window and took out his electric torch.
“He must have heard us coming,” he said quickly. “Outside, lads.”
“He couldn’t have made it far,” Thomas said to the oldest soldier.
The soldiers filed out of the room and down the stairs. A moment later, yellow beams of light from the soldiers’ electric torches pierced the darkness outside. Thomas remained in the room with me, staring at the open window in disbelief. I saw the myth book on the nightstand and moved to retrieve it. As I did so, I noticed something on the bed. There, nestled in the sheets, lay two small wings crafted from candle wax, twine, and feathers. I gingerly picked the wings up and displayed them to my brother.
“He’s not a fallen man, anymore,” I said.
Thomas grunted and walked out of the room leaving me alone, my head flooded with visions of Icarus rising up from the sea and soaring back up into the azure depths of the sky.