The body grounds you; place gives you shape and history.
“Astral Projection” is so much about not being that the idea of physical substance became more important.
Initially, Cassie is assaulted by the world around her—by light, smell, her own weight—and longs to be gone from the body that has betrayed her. I tried to make the story’s physical elements as unsettling and foreign as the baby that occupies her body—the hard plastic chair at the clinic, the Caribbean accent, the white-soled shoes, high school—and situate Cassie in her own secret realm beyond the scope of adults, even most peers, in self-imposed isolation. She absents herself from, and sees herself as opposed to, the physical world. As Cassie drives from Pennsylvania to New York state I wrote the landscape as generic: suburbs, pine trees, soybean fields. She’s unwilling to dwell in it. Astral projection is not a stand in for suicide, but it is a leave-taking of an extreme sort.
As Cassie evolves, I wanted to bring place and physical presence into sharper focus so that the reader touches down when Cassie touches down. I used the actual ground, for one: Cassie’s Aunt Liz “talks” to her dead daughter outside at night lying, literally, in the grass. Cassie digs in the garden, Carl kicks overripe tomatoes lying in the dirt, his truck spits up stones, his footsteps sound in the hall. I opened up Cassie’s senses to create a gradual focus on the non-astral world. When she romanticizes about her new relationship with Carl, it’s through her perception of hayfield, light, the sound of thunder. Weather grows more immediate.
The reality of the physical world becomes unavoidable with Cassie’s birth experience. Cleaving in two was a painful, worldly experience, not an ethereal one, and her subsequent loss is real. It grounds her in her body and her situation.
Post-birth Cassie is not a romantic, wistful outsider, but someone with gravitas who has taken her place in the strata of mothers and children. She views the world more realistically, and I used specific physical details to evoke this: concrete street names, Bruce’s “Pink Cadillac,” the Susquehanna, and Proctor & Gamble trucks.
I see the story as optimistic. What Cassie’s been through is life-changing, possibly tragic, but when she and Gail are flying over the bridge in her mom’s car screaming out the windows, Cassie has in fact done what she wanted to do at the start: her spirit soars.
LESLEY BANNATYNE’s short stories won the Tucson Festival of Books first-place award in fiction and the 2018 Bosque Literary Journal literary fiction prize. Her stories and essays have been published in The Boston Globe, Smithsonian, Christian Science Monitor, and Zone 3; and in the journals Pangyrus, Shooter, and Bosque. As a freelance writer, she’s covered stories ranging from druids in Massachusetts to relief workers in Bolivia. Lesley writes extensively on popular culture, and her most recent creative nonfiction book, Halloween Nation, was short-listed for a Bram Stoker Award.