“When I was a boy,” Donat said, “I was afraid of falling into the sky. And you? Were you ever afraid of falling into the sky?” I made no reply. The idea was absurd. No one falls into the sky, and surely even as a child I had sense enough not to fear such a thing.
It was May. Donat Bobet and I strolled across the Parc Jeanne-Mance among the university students with book bags on their shoulders, the young mothers pushing strollers, the office workers like me enjoying a midday respite. I saw a man selling ice cream out of a little cart. “Would you care for an ice cream, Donat?”
“I adore ice cream!” he said. “Lamentably, I find that I cannot eat it on an empty stomach.” He rubbed his belly.
Though I had eaten lunch before joining him, I led him to a café where he ordered a sandwich, a salad, and a beer. I paid the bill even before he was obliged to examine his wallet and find it, sadly, empty. We returned to the park. I bought an ice cream for each of us.
“Thank you,” said the poet.
“Well,” I told him, “I must maintain my reputation as a faithful patron of the arts.”
“Patron of the arts,” he repeated, making it sound almost like a question. “Patron of the arts.” He turned suddenly on the path. “And how is it,” he said in an accusatory tone, “that I have never seen you attempt poetry yourself?”
I thought his manner was rather aggressive, especially toward a friend who had just bought him lunch, a friend who had bought him the ice cream that he now shook in my face.
He said, in the manner of an inquisitor, “Have you written poems, yet not shown them to me?”
“My friend,” I said. I gestured helplessly with my own ice cream. “I have shown you no poems because there are none to show. I am no poet, Donat. I haven’t the aptitude.”
He scowled and turned away. I hurried along behind. The poet now ate his ice cream in great bites, as if the confection were the object of his disdain. When he had finished, he still marched through the park without looking back at me. Finally, he turned from the path and started across the grass.
“Where are we going?”
Donat stopped in the middle of a grassy expanse. He lay on his back, stretching his hands out to either side. “Come,” he said. “Lie down.”
I finished my ice cream, then wiped my fingers with my handkerchief. “Is the ground quite dry?” I said. “I have to return to work soon.”
“Patron of the arts,” Donat said. “Patron of the arts.” Then he said, “Monsieur, it is one thing to buy a poet an ice cream. But you will not risk dampness to your business clothes for the sake of art?”
I felt the grass with my hands. I do not know what I would have done if I had concluded that it was too damp. However, the lawn posed no danger to my clothes. I lay down on my back.
“Arms out,” Donat said. “Hold onto the grass.”
I did as he commanded.
“When I was a boy,” Donat said, “I was afraid of falling into the sky. And you? Were you ever afraid of falling into the sky?”
I made no reply. The idea was absurd. No one falls into the sky, and surely even as a child I had sense enough not to fear such a thing.
“Look up,” said Donat.
Lying on my back, there was really nowhere to look but up. Little fat clouds wandered the springtime sky.
“What is gravity, the force that holds you to the earth? A mystery, no? Can you rely on it, this mysterious force?”
“I do rely on it, Donat.”
“Close your eyes, Monsieur. Close your eyes.”
I closed them.
“Consider what it would be like to fall into the sky. All that blue space. The distances between the clouds. A man falling into the sky might fall forever!”
I felt ridiculous. I began to wonder who might be watching us.
“When I was a child,” said Donat Bobet, “I would lie in the grass and imagine myself falling up, up, up into the blue. Into the blue depths of the sky. Into the blue.”
“Donat . . .” I said.
“Hush,” said the poet. He said nothing for the space of a few heartbeats. “Get ready,” he whispered. “Open your eyes!”
When I opened my eyes, I saw above me the blue sky, the little clouds. I saw Donat Bobet, on his knees, watching me.
“The sky,” said Donat. “Falling into the sky!”
I examined the airy deep. I considered the clouds. I considered, not very seriously, the absurd idea of falling up.
Suddenly, my stomach turned, as it does when an elevator descends. I felt the earth lose its grip. I clutched the grass in my fists. Clenched my jaw.
I was dizzy. I tore the grass free in my fists. My head spun.
I turned onto my side to regain my equilibrium. No good. My stomach still twisted.
I sat up.
The world righted itself.
Donat Bobet was laughing. He pulled me to my feet and embraced me. He shook with laughter. “Your face!” he said. “Oh, the terror in your eyes! The terror!”
He kissed me on each cheek. He embraced me again.
I still felt a little dizzy.
The poet took a step back. He made his face stern. “Never!” he said, pointing like an offended schoolmaster at my chest, “Never again say that you have no aptitude for poetry!”