devil of a storm is whirling up ahead to the north. You watch it from
middle seat on Flight 459, leaning left to the window across the empty
mammoth cloud is a muddy blue-black, shimmering in the final slice of
sinking in the west. No lights below. Must
be over the Gulf of Alaska. You drop your Guns &
Ammo magazine onto the empty aisle seat to your right. A
little drizzle. I’ve seen worse. You
yawn and stretch your arms. You imagine Wendy in Anchorage. She’s
probably on her way to the airport now,
heading west on Route 1 and on to . . . .
of grinding gears shoots up from the floor, jarring your boots, your
seat. You jerk
forward to grab . . . at anything—an instinct. The squeal
sputters, then fades.
The engines hush down to a soothing hum. It’s
nothing. You exhale, ease.
The flight attendant pulls the cart to your row. Her wiry red hair is
in a spidery clip.
thanks.” You nestle back in the seat while your mind drifts,
floats, dreams of
Jessica waiting back home. You told her you’re off to Vancouver,
mother is ill, her heart again. Well,
it’s true, you think, she is ill. But
Jessica’s too smart for that.
flinch, remembering the fight Jessica launched last night when you told
about this trip and, when both of you were spent with shouting, how she
into bed and turned her back. You joined her, propped up on your elbow,
caressed her orange hair flaring like flames on the pillow.
leaving me,” she whispered. “It’s Wendy again.”
You leaned back on the bed and sighed.
Dammit, you thought, constantly accusing
me! Your stomach
clenched in knots. You wanted to tell Jessica every tender
thing—how you’d be
back soon, how you could start anew, with just her, Jessica . . .
wanted to tell
her you adore her, how small you feel when she’s holding you,
that you can’t
lose her, how, without her, you could die. But you didn’t. You
back. Why? Why?
behind you kicks the seat. Stop kicking
squint to block the overhead lights, and the blame still biting at
you—you the accused,
the tried, the convicted. How could Jessica
pulls the cart close. “Trash?” Some of her frizzy strands
have come loose. You
shake your head.
recall your first sight of her—Jessica—stepping
out from that ruby convertible, her bushy mane of orange and gold
the wind, and you, amazed, itching to get your hands in it. But
that was three years ago. You sigh. So much has
happened since then, and now that
we’re . . .
slams into turbulence. You jolt forward. The seatbelt sign flashes red.
captain’s voice quivers in the crackling air: “Return to
your seats. Return to
your seats.” The plane lurches. The attendant is tossed onto the
fat man’s lap
across the aisle, her spider clip shaking free. She pushes up straight
the cart down the aisle past the curtains. A crack of lightning
sky, an electric lattice ripping across blue-black. The plane surges,
the muddy cloud, shudders. The windows go dark. Bullets of rain pelt
mouth turns dry. You run your stocky fingers over your receding hair,
cover that annoying bald spot. The stubble on the back of your neck
skin tingles like jungle flesh, reminds you of those nights back in
sky drizzling down a crown of vines, soaking bodies bleeding in the
earthy reek of sweat, of moldy boots and dread. The sucking sound of
hot mud. Cold
click of metal bolts in black brush. The grinding whirl of an inky sky
arcs up its nose and levels as if floating. Your stomach rises to your
captain’s voice booms through the intercom: “Stay calm . .
. remain seated . .
.” The static turns to a sizzle and a hissss.
Your forehead turns clammy, drips.
leans into an unplanned dive to the sea. Its hull wavers in a long
the deep. You know the feel—a helicopter dodging fire, the floor
your feet, leaving your rifle, your stomach, to hover like wounded
hauls up again and swerves. You stiffen and press against the back
“You have no heart,” she said last night. No,
you think. I have too much heart—heart
for Jessica . . . heart for Wendy in
Alaska who’s on her way to the airport now. You breathe out.
Too much heart? Really? Or am I beaten down
to a shriveled core, slashed, ripped and bleeding? Jessica
doesn’t know me. Or
maybe she does and loves me still. She doesn’t deserve this. You
see rows and rows of seasick faces. You
hear it again—no heart, no heart—an echo
in a hollow hull of plastic and steel.
thickens. The wings weave, hurl the plane to the left. You grab the
perfect fit for your brawny hand. Reminds you of the comforting grip of
M-16, of your Marine buddy Mac with his easy laugh, his way with women
the whores in Saigon liked him enough for a little extra) and that last
‘Nam, the night you heard Mac’s crackling voice through
your radio: Tiger . . . Tiger . . . .
repeats: no heart, no heart. Your
pulse throbs in your neck. I do love
Jessica. I’m sure of it. I will tell her. Soon.
hits. The bolt—an eerie blue—jolts the plane and runs its
luminous breaker down
the body from tail to cockpit, now in a deeper dive. The girl behind
screams. The boy beside her heaves, his breath raspy and full.
Somewhere in the
tail section a man sobs.
woman staggers down the aisle, grasping at seatbacks. Her brown eyes
with fear. She slips. Her body is tossed at you. You grab at her to
fall. She clutches at your headrest. Her nails graze your bald spot.
Clipped to her navy blouse is a gold conference name tag:
‘Betsy’. Her tear-drizzled
face is pale against her dark braid and navy headband.
down!” you shout.
flicker, come to life. “Who are you to order me?”
pilot,” you lie.
her around and yank her into the empty aisle seat to your right. She
ahead. She squeezes your hand. Her pink nails dig in. You wrap both
her and shift her close. A crash of lightning pitches the plane.
Father . . . who art . . .” she mumbles. You feel her warm, quick
your neck and remember the day the priest came, the Father.
Your old man was called to the phone and left the room. The
priest sat on the couch, cupped your hand in his and called you
you close and slipped his hand in your pants, breathing hot breath on
neck. You were eight. You wanted to hurt. Or cry. You didn’t. You
never told. Helen’s
face appears, that straw-haired girl in second grade you wanted to
one who smelled like apples. You tried to kiss her during recess. She
were ugly and dumb. You still loved her, but you hated her. Then your
voice slithers up from the soil, all the way through the storm and into
brains. “You idiot,” the old man mutters, again. You feel
him slam your head
against your bedroom wall with his tattoo arm. You were three . . .
five . . . no,
maybe ten . . . who cares how old? Time can travel. Your mind can still
break. Am I really dumb? Dumb? Dumb?
jolts. A torrent of rain slaps at the window. Reminds you of that wet,
near Khe Sanh, how your radio crackled—Tiger!
Tiger!—how your buddy Mac blasted through the airwaves,
choking, how he did,
in fact, mean the real thing—tiger!—not
the Cong, but a real-life black and orange cat. You dashed off the
sucking in the mire, and caught a glimpse in the shards of
legs caught in a low tangle of trees and
vines—“Mac!”—the scent of blood swirling
like a dark eddy—then a flash of orange in a maze of murky green,
and it was
gone. You fired the shot . . . too late. How
could I miss? Dumb! You crouched down, ran your fingers along
made out the gashes in his fatigues, his collar, saw how the beast had
him from behind, sunk in his teeth, and dragged him by the neck across
moonlit muddy path and into the other dark.
stomach clenches. You heave. Mac! Buddy! Why?
trembles, dips. The floor lights flicker, then burn off. Blackness
rolls down the
rows, flooding and sealing every crevice like the closing of a tomb.
The fat man
across the aisle hacks and moans. The plane quickens, curves, bows to
Jessica. Wendy. Mac. You snatch
your jacket, wad it, clutch
crawls onto your lap, conforms to the curve of your arm, shivers. Jessica. You open your jacket and swaddle
her bracing body like a shroud. You cleave to her, your arms a cradle.
bends you both. You flex. You fold. You both grow small. You get a
whiff of her
hair, of vanilla cologne . . . you smell water . . . and salt . . . .
always been here: the deluge, the deep. The sea must part.
to brace. The armrest. The feel of the grip, the M-16. Mac,
wait! This time I won’t miss! The tiger appears, saunters up
the path, orange and black, his belly bloated. He stops, licks a paw,
head. His eyes fix on you, flash—a tawny-green.
the barrel, hook him in the cross-hairs, finger the trigger. Fire . . .
Casey Robb’s careers have included
physical therapy and civil engineering. Her poetry and short fiction
have appeared in The Classical Outlook, Ekphrasis, The Edge City
Comstock Review, The Lyric, The Menda City
Review, Foliate Oak, and Fiction on the Web. Casey is a Texan
who lives in Northern California with her two adopted daughters.