My Grandfather Used to Know How to Fly

«Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic. —FROM “THE SAYINGS OF MUAD’DIB” BY THE PRINCESS IRULAN»
— Frank Herbert, Dune*

Trust me: I am a physicist. I would never dwell on the story of a man who claimed he was able to fly in his youth and then he forgot how to do it as he grew up. I would never be preoccupied with such a tale if I had not seen the man levitating, in front of my own eyes, on his deathbed, just before exhaling his last breath. The man was my grandfather, and these are selected pages of his diary as a teenager. He was born on August 5, 1920.

January 23, 1935

You will not believe what happened to me today!

It was a sunny but freezing winter afternoon. The meadows were covered with a good fifty centimeters of snow.

I was walking along the river with Whiskey. The river banks were frozen. The ice was thick enough you could walk on it, but the thick layer only extended for about thirty-forty centimeters from the bank. Beyond that, thirty-forty more centimeters of ice, becoming thinner and thinner, gave way to the tumultuously flowing water. Whiskey was walking behind me, wagging his tail.

All of a sudden, a running pheasant came out of a thicket of reeds about ten meters ahead of us. As soon as Whiskey noticed the bird, he started barking and ran toward it.

Now, I was walking on the thick ice and on my right-hand side there were trunks emerging from the frozen snow. Whiskey projected himself right between me and the trunks, hitting my right side with all his might. The blow made me spin around on my left foot and lose my balance. So, I placed my right foot on the thin ice, which immediately cracked under my weight, and I fell face down toward the freezing water.

My instinct made me extend my arms forward and open my hands as to prevent my face from smashing onto a solid surface (as if I were falling onto a solid surface!). And then my hands hit an invisible surface, and I was suspended in midair.

I was floating, my palms bearing my weight about fifty centimeters from the flowing water.

I remained still in that position for who knows how long.

Then I slowly started to push myself up until my arms were stretched.

That was not enough for my body to regain a standing position, but the rest of the movement came spontaneously: I felt like my palms were exerting a force on the invisible surface on which they were resting, pushing the surface away from them. And soon I was standing, back to safety on the thicker layer of ice.

My first thought, although I was in the middle of nowhere, was if anyone could have seen me, and therefore I furtively took a look around in every direction. No one was around of course, except Whiskey, still barking after the pheasant now flying high above his head.

I called his name, and he obediently returned to me. I ruffled the fur on his head and slowly started to walk back home, unsure about what had really happened.

January 24, 1935

I have been trying all day to understand what prevented me from falling in the river yesterday, but I have no clue. And I have been trying even harder to reproduce the phenomenon, but I keep failing.

When I got home from school, I locked myself in my room and started experimenting: I took off my shoes and jumped on the bed. The experiment consisted of standing at the bottom of the mattress facing the pillow and letting me fall face-down onto the bed, stretched my arms forward and open my hands, in order to try and reproduce what had happened the day before as accurately as possible. However, no matter how hard I tried, I always ended up bouncing on the mattress, my face sunk into the pillow.

By “how hard I tried” I mean I attempted to focus on my palms and see if I could feel any invisible surface or even the faintest resistance in the air. I closed my eyes and tried and visualize a force flowing out of my palms, pushing the air away from me or rather the other way around: pushing me away from the air. All my attempts were fruitless though.

I had an idea: maybe it had to do with the water. I thought I could try with the bathtub, but then I said to myself it might require a large amount of water, or a large amount of flowing water. So, I got back in my shoes, grabbed my jacket, ran downstairs, kissed my mom, woke up Whiskey who was dozing by the fireplace, and we started running toward the river.

I know a place where the riverbed is divided in two branches by a small island covered with thickets, and above the narrower of the two branches there is a simple bridge made of planks hovering just about fifty centimeters above the water. That was our destination.

When we got there, I started simulating the conditions of the previous day by lying on my belly on the planks up to my shoulders, with my arms and head sticking out on the water. I extended my arms toward the current and opened my hands, fingers stretched. I focused on my palms and pushed them down in the hope of finding some resistance at last, but all I could feel was the cold winter air and some splashes of freezing water.

January 28, 1935

I have just checked the clock downstairs: it is something past three in the morning.

I was dreaming of flying, of floating high above the river in a sunny winter afternoon, lying on my belly, my arms wide open like a pair of wings, my legs stretched behind me.

My face and my hands were freezing, but I was so excited I could not care less. My eyes were crying, not sure if because of the air or because of the joy.

I was looking down at the meadows covered with snow, whose bounds are marked by rows of mulberry trees, scattered with poplar fields, whose wood is used to make paper, orderly standing in straight lines, looking like a checkerboard when seen from above.

I reached the bridge connecting my town to the neighbor one and I heard Whiskey barking at me: he was standing on his hind legs with his front paws resting on the rail.

I glided in circles to lower my altitude, and changed my course: I left the river and started following the road from the bridge toward home.

Whiskey started running joyfully below me, barking from time to time.

I was hovering about ten meters above the road.

That is when I woke up. And I felt cold. However, unlike in my dream, my whole body was cold, not only my face and hands. As I slowly emerged from my sleep, I realized that my bedsheets were gone: I was lying on my side, with nothing but my nightgown to protect me from the cold of my bedroom in a winter night.

It took a few more instants for my conscience to wake up enough and realize that my bed was gone too: below me was the void. My head was not resting on my pillow. My body was not lying on the mattress. My nightgown was hanging from my legs into the void. And I still felt something sustaining each and every square centimeter of my skin from below.

I panicked.

I do not think I cried, but I gasped and started moving in an agitated and convulsive manner as if had been thrown into the open water and I could not swim.

The result was instantaneous: whatever was supporting me disappeared at once, and I fell into the void. It felt like falling forever, until my body bounced on the mattress, and my head sank into my pillow.

And I did not awake from a dream in which I had been dreaming a dream. I was already perfectly awake and well aware of what had just happened to me: I had woken up while levitating one good meter above my mattress.

February 25, 1935

Once again, I have just woken up in the middle of the night while dreaming of flying.

And just like the last time, I woke up to find myself suspended in midair.

Unlike the last time, though, tonight I did not panic.

I was lying on my left side, facing the window. I had left the shades open and the night sky was clear. Half a moon was pouring its light into my room. I could see my bed about one meter below me: my pillow, my bedsheets, everything in its place. The view was comforting. I said to myself that in the worst-case scenario I would have fallen onto the mattress. So I managed to remain calm and still.

I focused on the down-facing side of my body, trying to figure out what it was resting on, what was sustaining it. I could actually feel some kind of surface under my head, shoulder, hip, thigh, and any other body part of mine that would have otherwise fallen down. It was as if I could feel a resistance preventing me from being pulled by gravity.

I timidly dared to move an arm running my hand along the invisible surface that I was assuming was supporting my weight. My palm could feel it while running along it.

The surface was not necessarily flat: if I moved my hand as along dunes, I could feel the resistance seconding my movements up and down. That explained how the surface adapted to the shape of my body. It fitted me perfectly.

I gained confidence, and I tried and change my position: I cautiously shifted my weight from my left side to my back, and found myself staring at the ceiling, still feeling the invisible surface, automatically refitted to my back as a mattress, sustaining my weight.

While turning my gaze from the window to the ceiling, I realized that, during the rotation, some of my body parts had been sustained by the surface, but some others had traversed the surface, or, from a different point of view, multiple surfaces had been sustaining various body parts at various points in time.

Based on this reasoning, I came to the conclusion that this surface (or surfaces) responds to my feeling: no matter what I feel like, the surface will fit to my body and support it.

That is when I attempted to let the surface obey to my feeling so I could glide down to my bed. And as I started “feeling” it, it just happened (I will try to explain this better): my body slowly descended until its weight was borne by my bed. I got so excited I cried.

PS It is not thinking, not willing, not wishing; it is just feeling it, and then it happens. It happens as if I were doing it. As if I had always been able to do it, like raising an arm or clenching a fist. These are things no one has ever thought us how to do; and we do not have to think about or will to or wish to do; we just do so when we feel. From now on I will call it “feeling” in inverted commas.

February 28, 1935

My goal today has been to prove my ability to defy gravity.

I know it sounds bold, but, if you think about it, unless I am schizophrenic, what did I do when I woke up a couple of nights ago, and one month ago, and when Whiskey pushed me into the river? I disobeyed the law of gravity.

So, I needed a place where no one would see me experimenting and where, in case I were indeed able to levitate and should accidentally fall, I would not hurt myself.

I thought of the pool created by the dam at the river, where all the irrigation canals depart toward the orchards. The place is surrounded by thick poplar fields. The water in the pool is about a couple of meters deep. I did not have any intention to fall into the water anyway: although one might say springtime is in the air, the temperature of the water must be barely above zero degrees Celsius. And I was not going to try and reach altitudes greater than a few meters maximum either. By the way, the fact that I wished to reach greater altitudes was the reason why I did not experiment in my room in the first place.

It was a sunny afternoon. The temperature was higher than what you would expect from a late winter day. No wind was blowing at all. I rode my bike until I reached the beginning of the bridge connecting my town to the neighbor one, Whiskey trotting on my side. We left the road and crawled down to the river bank. I hid my bike in a thicket of reeds, and we walked upstream until we reached the dam.

I double checked that no one was in sight, and then I lied down with my back on the sandy beach created by the river on this side of the pool. My friends and I in summer often come here to swim: unlike swimming in the river where currents might drag you underwater and make you hit a rock, here it is perfectly safe.

First experiment: I “felt” I levitated and immediately an invisible surface pushed my body up from the sand. My body was soon hovering about twenty-something centimeters above the ground. And again I got so excited, but this time I managed not to cry. I had so much more to do. As I changed my “feeling”, I started descending and I softly landed on the sand.

Second experiment: reproducing something similar to what happened when I was about to fall in the river. I “felt” my body being pulled up to a standing position, the invisible surface pivoting around my heels. It worked all right: in a few seconds I was standing on my feet, looking at the lines of poplar trees mirroring in the pool.

Third experiment: succeeding in what I failed to reproduce the day after I almost fell in the river. I “felt” my body slowly falling face-down toward the shore while the invisible surface was pivoting this time around the tips of my feet. When my face was about twenty-something centimeters from the water, so close I could smell its dampness, I held still.

Fourth experiment: raising my feet too. At this point the tips of my feet were still resting on the sand. I “felt” them raising until my body was lying horizontally. Then I “felt” my feet lower down again until they touched the ground, and I finally “felt” my body pivoting around the tips of my feet backward until I was standing again.

The next step was taking experiments three and four to the next level: I was going to repeat the whole sequence (slowly falling face-down, rising my feet from the ground and back) introducing a gain of altitude before getting back to my feet. That is why I needed the pool.

So, I walked on the dam until I reached about its center. I turned to face the pool. The river behind me resumed its flow less than three meters below the surface of the water in front of me. I was scared: If my ability to defy gravity should have abandoned me then, I would have ended up taking the coldest bath I had ever taken.

Oh, come on! I had just succeeded on the beach! I closed my eyes and “felt” the slow fall. I became more and more conscious of the dampness getting closer to my face. Then I “felt” my feet leave the solid ground and the dampness was getting farther and farther away.

I opened my eyes.

The pool was the size of a rabbit hole, the river was just a curvy grayish line traced by the shaky brush of a painter dividing patches of various shades of browns and greens. I could see at least three neighbor towns in addition to mine. How long had I kept my eyes closed? How fast had I traveled?

I panicked.

And I instantly started to fall down.

My limbs instinctively stretched out in the attempt to slow down my free fall. My eyes started crying because of the air and my vision became blurred; however, I could see the dark circle I knew corresponded to the pool becoming larger and larger, which meant closer and closer, and I was well aware that those about two meters of water were far from close to being enough to save me from falling from such a height. Besides, I was not even sure I was going to fall into the pool because my lack of composure was making me move around from the pool’s perpendicular.

For an instant I thought of my parents learning of the body of their youngest son found smashed at the bottom of a one-meter-deep hole in the middle of a field of barley.

I had to pull myself together.

I closed my eyes and I focused on my “feeling” in order to summon an invisible surface that would not instantaneously stop me from falling – otherwise it would be like getting acquainted with the field of barley – but it would rather accompany my fall and progressively slow it down until a stop that had to occur before any acquaintance.

I opened my eyes just in time to see the tops of the poplar trees populating a field on the other side of the river, not where the beach, and my bike, and my town were, but that did not matter, as soon as I was still in one piece.

I “felt” to descend to the ground, I retrieved my bike from the thicket where I found Whiskey anxiously waiting for me, and we went home.

I guess for some time I will not attempt to defy gravity anymore.

April 11, 1935

Today I have achieved a major accomplishment: I have not just hovered or levitated above my perpendicular, moving up and down.

I will always remember this day as the day I learned to fly.

The idea sparked while watching my elder brother flying his handmade kite: it was a moderately windy day and the diamond-shaped red wing was zigzagging in the clear sky.

I compared it to the invisible surface that allows me to levitate, with one major difference though: the kite relies on the air as the medium it leverages as means of support, while my surface clearly relies on something else, which lies way beyond my comprehension.

Despite this difference, I thought that maybe my surface as well could exert pressures onto its medium similar (but in the opposed direction) to the forces exerted by the wind onto the kite, and therefore not only move up and down, but virtually in any direction.

All of a sudden, I said bye to my brother, who gave me a startled look, jumped on my bike and left in the direction of the pool, followed as usual by the loyal Whiskey.

I felt confident, I felt I was in control of an invisible kite. I did not even think about the temperature of the water.

I reached the pool and walked across the sand until my last step touched the shore, then I slightly bent forward and my body started rising and, at the same time, advancing over the water, my right leg in the act of taking one more step. My trajectory traced an arch above the pool and I landed on my right foot on the opposite side of the water, as if I had covered the distance across the pool in one giant step.

Whiskey was barking at me from the beach, protesting for having been abandoned, so I got back to him sliding twenty-something centimeters above the water, lying on my belly, my arms wide open like a pair of wings, my legs stretched behind me. When I had almost reached him, I let my trajectory rise perpendicularly to the ground and I soon found myself high above the treetops. I thought: the higher the less likely to be spotted. While climbing I looked in the direction of my home and I could see my brother’s kite. Soon it was lower than me. I reached about the same altitude I had reached during my experiments when I freaked out, but today I was in control. Today I was flying.

My descent consisted of circling around the trajectory that had taken me up, progressively losing altitude, one circle at a time, floating like a plane, slightly inclined toward the center of the cylinder along whose wall I was circling down.

April 22, 1935

Today I went flying along the river downstream. I left Whiskey home because I did not know how far and how fast I would go. The weather was ideal for a flight: it was a sunny springtime afternoon and a warm breeze was filling the air with the perfumes of the blooming trees. I had plans to fly low above the water to minimize the risk of being spotted.

I do not want the world to see me because people are not ready. The average human being is ignorant, narrow-minded, and superstitious. I do not want to know what they would say or do if they caught me flying. And even if I were caught by the most advanced and open-minded team of scientists, I would hate to become their subject of study.

So there I was, gently following the bends of the river becoming larger and larger, far past the bridge connecting my town to the neighbor one, and past at least three more bridges, gliding about one meter above the flow of the current becoming less and less impetuous.

And there they were, sitting on the river bank, a couple of friends chatting while holding their fishing rods. As soon as I completed the turn and came in sight, the one looking in my direction dropped his jaw and raised his right index finger. I did not have the time to think. My instinct had me make a U-turn and accelerate as much as I could. I do not want to know if the other guy made it in time to turn his head and see me too. I hope he did not.

Anyway, today I have sworn to myself this has been the last time I have flown in daylight.

May 2, 1935

Alice has invited me to pay her a visit today. And I wished I could be free to fly to her place, because it would be a hard bicycle ride, up pretty steep roads, unless…

I was climbing up a hill, standing on the pedals, thinking about how easy it would be if I could fly, and then the wheels of the bicycle detached from the pavement.

I had immediately figured it out: I could extend the surface (or surfaces) that allowed me to fly to anything I was touching. This was actually a major insight.

So I completed the rest of the trip flying my bike with its wheels skimming the road and I got to Alice’s place with my shirt as good as new, not one drop of sweat staining it.

Alice introduced me to her mother and sister, who welcomed me warmly, and appreciated the gift I brought them, a basket full of goods from our farm: eggs, cheese, fruits, and vegetables, all very fresh, and a cake just baked by my mom.

Alice and I had talked about music so often at school. In particular, we knew about our common passion for Chopin’s Nocturnes, and we knew we both could play the piano.

I was excited when she asked me if I would play Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 for her – I was especially excited about the “for her” part. So I gladly agreed.

I sat at the piano and she sat on the stool by my side, her body next to mine, the bare skin of her arm touching mine, her thigh lying along mine, doing nothing to prevent our bodies from coming in contact, the other way around I would have said. And I liked that! I mean: I loved that gentle boldness! I could have easily fallen for her, and somehow she looked like she knew it, but she did not want to take advantage of it.

I managed to play the Nocturne without errors, only with a few minor hesitations. As soon as my hands had left the keyboard, she hugged me, kissed my cheek, thanked me very much and started clapping her hands. Her mother and sister joined her applause: they were sitting on the sofa behind us, on the other side of the room. I had not paid attention to that. I wondered what they could have thought about Alice hugging and kissing me, and I told to myself that, based on how much they knew about her compared to how much I knew about her, the episode must have surprised them much less than me. And while applauding Alice stood up and looked at her mother and sister full of pride – I am still not sure I fully grasped the meaning of that gaze.

Alice, her sister, and I spent the rest of the afternoon rotating at the piano, everyone playing their full repertoire.

I was offered a tea with very good homemade biscuits, and I was invited to stay for dinner too, but I kindly declined explaining I had not told my parents I would stay for dinner and I did not want them to worry about me if I had not got back home in time.

Alice’s mother commented saying I was a good boy, and very polite.

June 9, 1935

School is over!

Tonight I have celebrated my successful completion of another school year by trying to fly as high as I can.

Here is the outcome: I do not believe there is a limit to my ability per se, but I found out that the higher you go, the colder it gets, and I reached a point where I could not withstand the freezing temperature anymore and I came back down.

July 7, 1935

Yesterday we finished harvesting barley and wheat. It was a hard work that took us almost one whole month. During this time, I did not see either Alice or any of my friends.

So this afternoon I went to see Alice.

She does not live on a farm. Her family runs a convenience store in town and their home is in the same building as the shop, upstairs and behind it.

Alice was not waiting for me. I entered the store, she was behind the counter, and, as soon as she saw me, called my name out loud, ran to me, threw her arms around my neck, and kissed my left cheek.

I returned her hug, but I froze when I saw her mother and sister, who had been attending the shop, interrupting their tasks to stare at us, startled by Alice’s reaction.

I guess my face must have turned red as a ripe tomato, although both her mother and her sister were smiling, well aware of Alice’s exuberance.

They all welcomed me, her grandmother joined us too, while Alice prepared a tray with lemonade for everyone, which was very refreshing, especially after my bicycle ride under the summer sun, no matter if I had cheated by flying the bike at ground level, the temperature being almost thirty degrees Celsius.

Once again, my mother had provided me with a basket full of our goodies that were very much appreciated.

While we were sipping our lemonades, I was asked a lot of questions about my family, the harvest, and the like, questions rising from sincere interest, not from nosey curiosity. Therefore, I answered them all with pleasure, providing wealth of details.

After the pleasant chat, Alice asked her mother permission to go for a walk with me, which she agreeably allowed.

So we left the shop and the town behind us and we were soon surrounded by vineyards.

That landscape was so different when compared to the one surrounding my town: flatlands versus hills, meadows versus vineyards, ordered poplar fields versus untamed woods, properties delimited by rows of mulberry trees versus properties cornered by fig trees, orchards irrigated by river water transported in canals versus orchards irrigated by rain water collected in tanks.

As we were walking along a row of vines, I noticed how grapes were already developed, although still far from ripe.

Alice was walking ahead of me telling me how she loved those hills and how she felt free when she was walking among the rows of grapevines, when she could set her thoughts roam free or focus on a specific idea and let it grow or shrink.

At once she took my hand in hers and told me she wanted to show me her favorite spot.

So, suddenly, we were walking hand in hand, and I liked it!

Her favorite spot turned out to be a patch of grass in the shade of a huge fig tree on the top of what it seemed to be the tallest among the hills around her town. From there we could see the river valley, my river! My town, my meadows and poplar fields. I could have seen home if I had taken the time to focus, but Alice pulled my hand down in order to let me lie on the grass on her side in the shade.

There was something special about that place: even though it was in the open, it felt like we had our private space no one was supposed to violate.

Everything happened so fast. I let myself fall down on the grass. She was waiting for my eyes to look into hers. She stopped talking. We got closer. My heart missed one beat. Our lips touched. We indulged on the details, caressing the whole surface of each other’s mouth, touching every bit of skin, our tongues exploring every possible corner.

That was our first kiss.

When our lips detached (after I would not know how long), my eyes searched for hers and found them returning the look, and we were floating in midair. I did not even have the time to curse in my mind and she was already screaming and holding me as close as she could. I held her back and tried to explain her.

– Alice, please, calm down! It is all right!

– Nothing is right! We are flying!

– Yes, we are indeed. I am sorry it happened like this. I lost control. I can actually fly.

– What?! Are you kidding me?

– As you can see, I am not.

– Are you in control of this or not?

– I am. I mean: it happened against my will, but, yes, I am perfectly in control of this.

– What do you mean: it happened against your will?

– I guess our kiss overwhelmed me, but now I am back in control.

– Show me you are in control.

– Only if you promise me you will not scream again.

– I will not scream.

– Ok, then…

And I made us slowly spin, and rise and fall, and finally soflty land on the grass.

That cost me a lot of explanations, of course. I did not mean it to happen. Not like that at least. I explained the need for secrecy and she fully understood.

She was so excited! She could not wait for me to take her flying “for real”, as she called it, and we set the date to my upcoming birthday.

August 5, 1935

Today I am fifteen – happy birthday to me!

It is late night. I have just come back from the best birthday party I have ever had.

The party started at dusk. As soon as it was dark enough for a flying boy to be invisible to any indiscrete eye, I took off from my bedroom window heading toward Alice’s home.

A crescent moon casted a veil of pale brilliance on the world below me, and under that light the disordered masses of the woods, alternating with the ordered rows of the vineyards, looked like big waves for me to surf.

I reached Alice’s town and, looking at it from above as if I had been looking at a map, thanks to the feeble street illumination, I managed to locate her home.

I cautiously descended feet first in the small courtyard overlooked by her bedroom’s window, which was completely open. It was a full height window, without a balcony, only a protective rail. Alice was looking out the window, her elbows resting on the rail.

She stared at me smiling subtly and did not say anything. I returned her gaze and smile in silence. We spent I do not know how long like that.

All at once she climbed over the rail and jumped into the void toward me. I thought she was crazy, and that impulsiveness of hers made me go crazy about her. She threw her arms around my neck and I held her close in my arms. We kissed each other’s neck at about exactly the same time.

As we were holding tight, we ascended, spiraling, up high above the town until we were floating higher than any building, including the castle and the bell tower.

She did not show any sign of fear. On the contrary, she was super excited. I briefly explained to her how the invisible surface thing worked and I told her that, as long as she was in contact with me, she would benefit from it, just like me. She seemed to understand the rules of the game easily and soon enough.

She asked me to take her to my favorite place. So I headed for the pool, daring to dream of a night swim with her.

We spent some time flying hand in hand, our arms stretched out like wings; but her favorite position she told me was when I kept my arms wide open and she was hugging me.

We landed on the sandy beach standing on our feet.

The crescent moon’s reflection in the pool’s water gave a touch of magic to the spot.

I did not have the time to enjoy the view and Alice was walking toward the water setting herself free from her clothes with every step. By the time she reached the shore she was bare naked, her pale skin rendered silvery by the light of the moon.

I was petrified. She yelled at me asking what I was waiting for, she exhorted not to be shy, she ordered to join her at once. I complied.

The water was chilling. We kissed. We hugged. The touch of her naked body next to mine overloaded my senses. A part of me was somehow embarrassed by the fact that my penis reacted with a prompt erection. She must have felt my embarrassment because she pulled me toward her until she could feel me against her belly. She was not afraid of experimenting and I was happy to second her.

She spent the whole flight back home holding me tight as if she had been afraid to lose me.

After she jumped over the rail into her bedroom, she immediately turned around, threw her arms around my neck, and kissed me as if it had been our last kiss in forever. I whispered in her ear that I wished that night could never end and she nodded with tears in her eyes.

Suddenly her expression changed to somewhat alarmed: she had forgotten to give me my birthday present, so she told me. She disappeared from my view. I could hear her fumbling. Soon she was back hiding something from me behind her back. She asked me to close my eyes and open my right hand. I did as I was asked and I found myself holding a leather string from which hung a metal heart on which the initials of our names were engraved. She explained that her uncle, a blacksmith, had handcrafted the heart on her request.

I could not believe the life I was living with Alice was the life I would have dreamt of.

August 14, 1935

Today Alice and her sister went to the seaside where they will spend one week or so at their aunt’s. They traveled by bus from their town to mine, and then they left by train from here.

I waited for them at the bus stop at 15:00 and, since they would have to wait more than a couple of hours for their train, I invited them at the farm.

I offered my help with the luggage during the short walk, but they kindly declined. Alice in particular explained that she needed me to have at least one free hand otherwise we could not have walked hand in hand. We all laughed about it, but it was sweet of hers.

My family was very happy to meet the two sisters and so were they.

We drank fresh milk with homemade mint syrup, chatting amiably.

When it was time for them to go, my eldest brother offered his help to carry Alice’s sister’s luggage. Alice and I exchanged a knowing look and smile.

On the way to the station my brother and Alice’s sister walked side by side, followed by the loyal Whiskey; Alice and I closed the line, gossiping about the couple ahead of us.

At the station, waiting for the train, we disappeared behind the corner for the time of a kiss.

Alice promised me she would send me a picture postcard from the seaside.

Then she noticed that I was wearing the necklace she gave me for my birthday; I told her, no matter where we were, she would always be with me; she nodded, tears in her eyes.

September 1, 1935

Today we have started harvesting grapes at my uncle’s farm, which is located in the same municipality where Alice lives, although out of town, and whose vineyards are scattered on the hills around it.

My brothers and I are going to spend the next two to three weeks here helping my uncle and cousins, while my aunt will take care of refilling our bellies every day.

I did not tell Alice: I thought it would be a pleasant surprise for both.

We began with a vineyard laying at the bottom of the hill dominated by the huge fig tree where Alice’s favorite spot was.

The morning was cool and the vines were damp with dew, but, as soon as the sun reached its place in the sky, it felt like the seasons had turned back in time from fall to summer.

The working day passed fast: basket after basket, we climbed uphill toward the huge fig tree leaving the vineyard behind us stripped of all the grapes.

I heard Alice laughing from the top of the hill.

A summer storm was coming.

I reached the end of the row of vines and halted before stepping onto the patch of grass.

A thunder exploded.

She was lying on the grass with some guy a few years older than us. Their posture was far beyond friendly. She immediately pushed him away from her and stood up, but she could not say anything.

Another thunder roared and rain started pouring down copiously.

I was standing in the rain, my eyes fixed into hers. In an instant I visualized me grabbing them both by an arm, taking them up high in the middle of the raging storm, and then dropping them.

Then I thought he had nothing to do with this.

This was only between me and her, that little slut.

I took off as fast as I had never done before. In a handful of seconds I was above the clouds.

I remained still for who knows how long, hovering above the storm, allowing the sun to dry my clothes and warm up my body. I could feel the thunder infuriating below and inside me.

I cried, flew away, came back, cried again.

I hate her, and I love her, and I hate her, and I love her, but I hate her more. That little slut!


When I was a child, I remember grandpa telling me he used to know how to fly and telling me stories I would later read in his diary, but at that time of course I thought they were not different than other fairy tales.

And I can understand how he could quite easily forget how to do it: World War II started in Europe when he was twenty-one, he fought in it, and he was imprisoned by the Nazis in who-knows-what sick kind of camp of theirs. When the war was over, he came home – and he was one of the lucky ones who came home – weighing less than fifty kilos (being almost one hundred and eighty centimeters tall). It took him almost two years to recover physically and psychologically; he spent most of this time in a hospital, assisted by a lovely nurse who would soon become my grandmother. My mother was born in 1948 and my three aunts in the following years. A survivor, father of four daughters in a Country recovering from World War II: I can imagine his priorities were beyond doubt others than flying.

When he first told me about his diary, he was almost ninety and his physical conditions forced him to spend his days in bed. I visited him as often as possible: as the firstborn of his many grandchildren, I had developed a special relationship with him. He told me where to find the booklet: he had hidden it in a wooden box in his laboratory, among his tools.

On my next visit, as soon as I entered his bedroom, he asked me if I had the diary with me. I gave to him. Despite his body was weak, his mind never lost its sharpness. That day he looked paler than usual and he breathed heavily. In a few minutes he was completely absorbed in his reading to the point that he would gesture you to shut up if you talked to him. So I sat at his bedside and looked at him.

Once he had read through about one half of the diary, I noticed tears running down his cheeks, but he was smiling. Then he was laughing, and crying with joy. And then it happened. His body started levitating, the bedsheets hanging from it. And he continued reading while laughing and crying with joy, producing waves in the bedsheets. I stood, petrified. He was floating at about the height of my line of sight while I was standing. Reading. Laughing. Crying. Flying.

He must have spent ten to fifteen minutes like that, until he completed his reading. Then he slowly descended onto the bed and, as if nothing had occurred, he closed the diary, gave it to me and, looking intensely in my eyes, told me «Thank you. I am tired now».

He closed his eyes never to open them again.

Now, as a physicist, the first theory I can draft is that this man had the ability to move his body within a gravitational field, i.e. he could distort spacetime (within the distortion operated by an existing field) and this distortion could be measured as a force. In such a model his body moved in response to the curvature of spacetime where gravitational force actually existed. I mean: in this model gravity would not be a fictitious force. However, theoretically, this would have required grandpa’s body to possess an almost infinite mass.

This is far beyond my comprehension.

Let me just add one paragraph.

After my grandfather’s funeral, I went home and started reading his diary lying on my favorite couch. Page after page, it brought to my memory the tales that he used to tell me when I was a child. I do not remember how far I was into the booklet, nor how much time had passed since I had begun reading it, but I clearly remember the panic rushing to my head when I realized that I was floating about one meter above the couch.


Fabio Scagliola,