Planes

A short story by Anders M. Svenning


Previously published in The Furious Gazelle.

(April 27, 2018.)


Not long after the plane lands, Davis Parker finds himself behind the wheel of his aged and misshapen Lincoln Town Car. Road lights coast past, methodical, casting feigning shadows across the dashboard, which has his eyes strained even more so than his jet lag.

It is something he has grown used to, the fatigue. It comes along with his profession; and it has been said by a considerable few—scientists, theorists, and psychologists—that commercial pilots experience shorter life spans as an effect of the detrimental lack of sleep, numbers ranging from as early as one’s mid fifties, the causes of death a disingenuous slew from heart attacks to quiet exits in one’s sleep to death not of the body but of the mind.

All that, though, in the words of Dave Parker’s woman, is mere statistics. Jessie would be curled up in bed, waiting for the morning and her husband’s company with expectations of late night popcorn and candlelit dinners coloring her dreams. “Statistics,” she says, “shouldn’t be regarded as anything more than numbers and false positives. You just can’t trust those numbers, you know?” That is her gift to him. Besides her surprise evening kabobs and the lessening-in-frequency in-shower involvements, that is her gift to him—wisdom and council—given through by the shade of her charm, a gift to her otherwise “dense but heartfelt husband,” unable to separate hype from truth. “It’s all about how you live your life, you know? Munch on fast food on your layovers and you’re going to have a heart attack. It’s that simple.” And it is that simple.

Simple, just like—altitude. Everything is relative. Yet still, the notion of numbers and studies holds-fast in Davis’s mind at inopportune times, thirty thousand feet in the air, listless.

A cup of coffee has been drank just after his landing in Miami, bitter and burnt; but it is something to keep him occupied from passing out standing up or passing out driving, like a narcoleptic. It did not have much taste at all, the coffee; Davis has been up for what is now nearing thirty-six hours, and his senses, he knows, tend to dull when he hits hour twenty-four, if not hour twenty, thanks to countless cups of the stuff and caffeinated sodas. Now, there is only the drive home, then he can shoot headfirst under the sheets for hibernation.

Alignment needs fixing. The car, a 1999 piece of work, color white, with glossy hubcaps, is still chuffing along, a beater, in all respects, enough to get him from the house to the airport and back, dinged, incognito, and grand. The Lincoln feels cheap to Davis after landing such a behemoth of an aircraft. It is a good transition, though, from that preciseness to the ease of home life. Davis stays course northward toward Boca Raton, high-speed vibrations jarring loose attentiveness, shaking him into trance.

Loose fitted clothing, long hours in the sky, nothing more than a dim overhead light, enough to read a book. The drone of four low-humming jet engines, the intimacies of the flight and in effect the ride home. Light sandwiches and orange juice from the cockpit cooler; red, green, and white luminescence on the console before him, countless switches, buttons, gauges and dials, levers, static and radio frequencies.

It used to be a passion, breathing inside the clouds, pulling Cessna’s noses up into a loop, feeling his lips, cheeks, and forehead rescind the direction of the plane, carrying the weight of the centripetal forces, extending the flaps of the small turbo-prop and opening up the window to stick out his hand and scoop the air like ice cream.

It was a childhood dream, flying, and flying never quite lost its exhilaration even as a captain of the seven-fifty- and seven-sixty-seven, especially during take off: a wild ferocity under the sweaty, expectant hand of just as well many pilots before his. And still, flying is not quite the same as the early days, in the small planes, when he knew nothing separated him from the ground but fiberglass and water vapor. Jessie has grounded him, her heart and home-style cooking an endless well of flavor and smells. Davis Parker has speculated how, even through her impeding bangs, she notices the flaws in his evening dress or the spot of tomato sauce on his chin during dinner.

Familiar clusters of trees and road-signs tell Parker he is nearing his exit. Vibrations escalate to fervent jostling at around fifty-five miles per hour, settle back to a comfortable streamline at forty.

The three-way intersection of Grevillea Lane and Shoreline Road is not far off. He would make the left onto Grevillea presently and would strip down to essentials upon climbing the stairs, casting aside the clothing’s mundane representation of the past fourteen days in Germany and flights reaching as far south and east as Dubai, UAE, then crawl into bed for a very much anticipated sleep.

His ear is bitten almost clean off that night. The thing should have burst, the way she has bitten into it. After two cranberry and vodkas each, they are red hot, piping, and her smoky eyes have sent him to the floor. He has found what he needed to catch his second wind—alcohol, women—she has been planning this surprise for days, this swirling ease and rock, sunburst cycles between strength and nurture.

Five hours later, morning is creeping in through the half-slit Venetian blinds; dew clings to the glass. The sunlight is laid like a quilt over Davis and has him dressed to the effect of a grocery store loaf of bread: a striped sun-and-shadow barcode draped over his body. Sleep when you’re dead.

He Swings out his body, shuffles to the master bath, and brushes his teeth in his own sink for the first time in weeks. He can smell the bright fruity Kenyan organic breathing from downstairs, Jess’s favorite, the Kenyan. It is almost too sunny this morning, Davis squinting through the silver sunlight, and walking downstairs.

Jess is already in her solid yellow sundress, floats across the tile floor into her husband’s arms when he emerges. “Coffee’s up, Dave. Welcome home!” She pecks him a kiss and floats back toward the kitchen table. “I took the liberty of making you some toast. I’ve already had breakfast.” The beige grout glows from between the tiles underneath Davis’s feet. The entire room is glowing, the blue morning light, the walls around him suggesting a definitive break from the outside world and the inside world. The house is fluorescent—the alcohol, maybe, from last night, he thinks. The sex? Davis pours himself a coffee and has a seat across his wife, the steam still rising from the mug, and the two are quiet for a moment, feeling the pressure and vibrations lingering from the previous night.

“How’ve you been,” Davis asks. “You seem happy, to say the least.”

“How couldn’t I be?” she replies. “I’ve been sleeping like a baby recently. I don’t know why. Oh, and Beth and I went to the ocean the other night to watch the meteor shower.” Davis raises his eyebrows from behind his coffee. “It was beautiful, but I’m sure you see meteors all the time.”

“We see some.”

“We saw a bunch. And the wine. It makes them have some kind of meaning, you know? Like they really are wishes.”

“How is Lillian?”

“She’s doing well,” says Jess.

“Where is she anyway, sleeping?”

“Sleeping upstairs still.”

“I’ll be right back.” Davis lifts his weight from his seat, coffee in hand, and returns to the bedroom.

Somewhere deep down in the luggage lies a large chocolate candy bar wrapped in a white wrapper, in between two magazines he has snagged from an airport kiosk. Rummaging through the suitcase, brazen sunlight crystallizing the bedroom, he retrieves the chocolate bar and strides, thoughtful, through the upstairs hallway, past the bathroom on the left side and past the tapestry on the right, into his daughter’s room.

The yellow walls soften him, and he lulls the eight-year-old child, Lillian, who is maintaining, it seems, her deep meditative state. Lillian, with puffy cheeks and stringy hair, is sleeping on her side with her arm curled into the other and with her legs, he knows, crossed at the ankles. She has been photographed with her ankles crossed three months before her original birthday, vis a vis a sonogram, and she still sleeps the same way at the age of eight years old.

Davis uses his toes to carry him across the room to the side of Lillian’s bed and there he stays for a moment as she breathes. Breathing in and out, her eyes flutter open, and her lungs fill with air.

“Hey, Bird,” says Davis, his eyes stringent but warm. The chocolate bar rises from behind the bedside, where it has been hidden and where Davis is crouching. Lillian, still in her post-morning state, is anticipating this treasure, for she knows beforehand her father would be home on this morning, and, as her vision came to focus, seeing the chocolate, she sprouts, yelling, “Oh my God! It’s the biggest chocolate bar I’ve ever seen. Dad, is it for me?”

Davis hums, “Is it for you?” Hums again. “This three pound piece of candy from the chocolate center of the world, is it for you? Hmm, well, it can be yours only if—hmm—only if you count to—a baker’s dozen.”

She begins counting, reciting slow the numbers, to the number twelve.

“And?” Davis says. “And?”

“Dad, please!”

“Okay, Bird, say ‘thirteen’ and it’s yours.”

“Mom went to the meteor shower. I didn’t go though.”

“No problem, Bird, there will be another one in a couple months.”

Lillian says, “Thirteen.”

“That’s a girl. Go ahead and have a piece of chocolate then clean your teeth. I’ll meet you downstairs in five.”

“Thanks, Daddy.” Lillian bounces up and goes to her desk to open the candy bar while Davis returns to the master bedroom to unpack.

The bedroom, as far as he could tell, has not changed since they have moved into the house, the two small Germanic tapestries on the wall above their bed, an armchair in the corner. The clothes have begun to unpack themselves, the shirts forming a stack on Davis’s left, pants stacked beside the shirts, the shoes and toiletries taking their usual spots alongside the edge of the bag where they would stay until next week when he would have to leave again, on another trip.

One addition they have made to the room since the closing is the mirror opposite their bed. A large crystal, bordered by worn blue-painted wood, takes up nice space on the wall. Davis Parker, walking across his room out the door to meet his child and wife downstairs, catches his eye inside it, and is encountered by strange sense of jamais vu, upon seeing his reflection.

When the pilot, Davis Parker, his wife and his daughter arrive at the zoo later that day they find something that can not be found elsewhere, even in the walls of their home or in the nuts of a chocolate bar. They observe the animals in their habitat. The trees are not indigenous, the rocks are not as real as they should be, the water the animals drink from a tap, but otherwise it is the same. The animals know no different. Davis Parker himself can see little difference. All places remind him of the same place.

Lillian, in her great innocence in the world, has been adopted, is not the direct branch from the parents—Davis and Jessie—and the two, Davis and Jessie, decide on keeping the secret well stored in their hearts. They have made the decision months before Lillian’s birth and have the opportunity to see the sonogram. The only people who know Lil is adopted were the two, and that is as confining as keeping the secret locked within their own, though one has never shared the thought with the other.

Lillian knocks on the glass dividing the viewing area from Nairobi, Kenya. A caracal stares bug eyed back at her. The lynx-like cat has triangular tipped ears with black fur and twists its tail as Lillian knocks. It then moves, walks down the path a few feet to where the trail continues up the wall, and the cat laps up water from a cistern with a small sign above it that reads, Leave Water On.

Riding Amtrak, back when working and when the family is living in Virginia, he keeps photos in his wallet, one of Lillian, one of Lillian and Jessie, one of all three of them. The wallet has shrunk over time.

What used to be a leather brick, is now a white sliver with a screen, which shows the high definition pictures of his family, and Boeing seven-fifty- and seven-sixty-sevens, as well as photos of great meals and the past year’s Halloween—the carving of the Jack-o-lantern, the costume party—which is Davis’s fondest memory between then and now. Davis dresses as bloody monster and Jessie dresses in a black leotard and is wearing black wings that cling weightless to her back. The two have dressed Lillian as a turboprop biplane, the four wings sticking out on either side like extra limbs.

The costume party is to take place at an acquaintance’s home, one’s home who has been introduced to the Parkers through a man, Charles Osberg, who is also a pilot. Osberg, with his chivalric tone and brown wavy hair, has found a wife, has decided to slow down, to take his time, make money, and create a family, get a better job, travel the world, see the onion tops of the Taj Mahal, the decrepit stones of the Great Wall, the configured steps up the Andes, which the Incas have seeded. Osberg, on Halloween, has announced he has accomplished most of these benchmarks.

“Yet to have kids though,” Charles Osberg says. The ground rumbles and vibrates along with the party guests—the children, the adults, the witches, ghosts, and mummies. Apple bobbing is underway and there is still four bags of apples stashed in the corner away from the bucket. “Yet to have kids,” Osberg says again. “Hey, it’s not like they’re some kind of rare commodity. Too many of them homeless around the world. You should have seen what it was like in Bombay. Ghettos stretching miles. These people run across the runway, Dave, you should see it. They run across the runway when the plane’s coming in. Ghetto’s right next to the airport. God knows what they’re looking for.”

“Good food, good times.”

“Hey, say that again. Lillian’s behind you.”

“Lillian, come over here!” shouts Davis. The girl taxies backwards out of the crowd surrounding the punch bowl. The wings have grown clumsy, bumping into tables and people. “Lillian, you remember Mr. Osberg, right?”

“Mr. Osberg? I think so. Yeah, Mr. Osberg!”

“How are you, Lillian? I’ve been seeing you fly around this party all night. Looks like your having a blast. You’re a lucky girl, Lillian, having this guy as your father.” Lillian nods; the party hums. “You know what? Yes, you even have his eyes.”

“Okay, Charlie,” Davis chuffs.

“No, really. You have his eyes, and because of that I know you’ll be as good a person as him. I can see these things, Lillian”

“Thanks, Charlie. She’s a good girl.”

“Seriously, just don’t forget who brought you into this world, Lillian. Because if you do, there’s no point to this life. You have know where you’ve been and where you’re going. Me? Kuala Lumpur next month.” He laughs.

“Kuala Lumpur, huh?” Davis asks. Where you’ve been, where you’re going. “Never been there.” The party begins buzzing in his ear, like a mosquito. “Maybe one day, huh, Lillian? Maybe you’re on your way to Kuala Lumpur.” The dripping of the punch bowl, the wet faces bobbing for apples. “Never say never, huh, Bird?” No point.

Davis starts noticing the painted-on moles and the green skins of witches with more intensity. He can no longer differentiate who is beneath the rolls and rolls of toilet paper. Dracula’s lips are covered in red blood and he is biting into the neck of a woman, who is laughing. The Joan of Arc leans against the wall in her gnarled armor, looking intoxicated. Jessie is over by the stereo, talking with another patron. A long while has passed since the early days, but the times are moving, moving; she is doing well.

He has not told Charles yet that he is getting transferred to the Miami hub, onto being captain of the seven-forty-seven. Virginia has been a good rush. At long last the planes, the largest planes in the world, are in his palms, at his fingertips. He flies the gargantuan machines into air, feels the heaviness, the lift of the aircraft, lifting him into the skies, where he sees the extensive curvature of the earth, the stenciled coasts and wispy waters of the earth, where he glides across the clouds crocheted at the top of the world, and he thinks, after long, hard work and dedication, With all the going bad on in that world down there, it is really not so bad at all, not so bad at all, all the way up here.

A long, pallid silo juts from between his knuckles. He sits back a moment looking at the Florida starlight. It is a clear night; he has never seen so many stars from his home. It is as if he could pluck one from the sky and pop it into his mouth and taste; they are so vivid.

Humidity low, temperature moderate, visibility ideal, turbines imploding, he feels however facetious. Jessie has almost let it slip. The woman has taken a highway up into dreamland and has almost let it slip. Lillian would have been a mess.

He can understand though. Options are not abundant. Back when they pick her up from the hospital options are not abundant. They have no choice but to adopt; it seems it is not meant to be, them having their own children—Lillian, though, in all senses, in most senses, is their child.

Years of timing and ovulation cycles, countless organic and synthesized supplements, stretching, experimentation, love and hope cannot deem him father of his own child. And he has redoubtable desire. He wishes to see his wife bear a child, he wishes to see her belly grow, he wishes to hold his own child and feel that incomprehensible connection, that connection knowing this child is a part of him, that this child has his blood inside, has his mind and tendencies, his color, his depth and chromosomes and his parents’ chromosomes and their parents’ chromosomes.

And Jessie has almost let it slip. What is the point? If the child knows, the magic is gone. Belief is a strong emotion, but what happens if she is to know? Would he be less a father? The thought tolls like a bell. It has grown redoubtable. She has almost told Lillian she is adopted.

The stars are keeping Davis’s mind taught. Sleeping inside is Lillian in his bed. Jessie is flitting in and out of the bedroom. Davis’s hand is trembling.

His coughing is too loud to be subtle. He takes another drag off the cigarette. Grown on a field out west, this is medicinal, and that makes all the difference. He has his permit to smoke this stuff however shunned it may be for pilots. It is an infrequent habit, smoking, and will be out of the system in less than a week, back, ready, sure for work.

He coughs, rancid, inhaling, and returns his wrist to the armrest. Spicy smoke is filling his sinuses. Already he can feel his body warming, blood collecting in his eyes, home seeming a softer tone. Now, instead of vividness, the world around him is different, though still the same place. He feels some sort of togetherness with the trees, the railing, the grass, that big ball of cheese in the sky, this seat beneath him, its mesh holding him. He can feel himself rising. Toke. Gray smoke filling his lungs and turning him into vapor. He can feel the space around him as a dome, not the trees far away, but the space around him, his personal space; he can feel himself, all within arms reach. 300 degrees North-North-West, incline of 30 degrees, is Jessie, pink and solid.

The bus stop just short of Maslow Rx. was the first time. Another couple of minutes and they would have been running, trying to catch up with Bus D and end up walking, having a cup of coffee at Lyle’s, where they would have their second date, lose their heads, skip town, and go to Mexico for the weekend; but instead they remain tied, shackled, ball and chain, squeezed into two seats on the bus after a quick conversation, and exchanged phone numbers and kisses, and more words, “I’ll have you tomorrow,” croaked into his ear. The prospect of figuring out how to get her to fix her lips would be a true accomplishment; the fragments of bad times and the fuzz of the good in between them keeps them at bounds. The more the merrier, and the less the more you will have to keep at it, making love, a child, or a midnight snack.

Nothing more can enter his skull but more smoke, and the all-superior notion that this time is his. The two girls inside, and the night itself, will keep him rolling on. Aurora Borealis may as well reach as far south as the state of Florida, U.S. of A. on this night, and his little girl, just inside, is sleepy enough to miss if it were visible; she may as well be the one dreaming it up. Penny-copper hair and graphite eyebrows woven into cream skin, woven into the smoke; those small, little nostrils she uses to breathe; her bright voice, bright, much too bright to be kept clotted inside that furry mane.

Psychologists say no two people see the world the same way. Davis wonders just how that chocolate bar tasted to his little girl; did she enjoy the dark chocolate more, or the nuts? He feels pressure at the top of his head—it happens when he smokes this stuff and tonight he needs it—a beam into the skies past the moon and astral dusts, navigating through the planets and constellations, the rings of Saturn too ill-fit for any woman’s finger he has known; he is driven forward, seeing his oblong self blow out of the Milky Way galaxy; the vanilla swirl he knows and loves is shrinking. Home. Does not know where he has been going, where his family is. Past the boundless expanse he slows.

He is tranquil, suspended, floating in space, with nothing surrounding him. All there is to know, here, a wide space available to breathe, and it is his, this incredible airiness, this incomprehensible reality. And he feels that familiar sensation—home. He turns an outward eye further away, but can see blackness, blackness in all directions. There is no difference no matter which way he looks. The blackness can go on forever. Before the day starts, he almost feels the charged weight of the world descending on him, the cushion of his bed and sheets, and it is gone just as he wakes, unattainable.

Days in the sky, and the world is the same, the whole world, a simple jump away. He takes one final toke, and is burned by the filter’s heat; it has been smoked down so close. Not just the opening of the glass door jounces him, but his daughter’s sigh as well from inside, and he rises, flicks the non-existent cigarette over the balcony rail, and returns into his bedroom.

The pink and blue checked coverlet, wrapped around little Lillian like a roll, the little pink piglets of her toes poking from the open ends. He, nonsensical, accepts that this is his, this is what he made his life up to be, a caricature of locales around the world, as if the little tokens he brought home capture the outlandish reality of their respective birthplaces.

“Lets get her to bed.”

Davis flinches, having forgot he is not alone, that Jess is there. “I’ll get her.” The smoke clings to his shirt. “Little girl, are you ready to go to your own bed? Lil?” A nod of her head and extended arms tells Davis and his apparition of a wife that she is quite ready for bed.

“Good, Lil, come on.” Quick and purposeful steps draw the two closer to the girl’s yellow walled room. Davis is quick in putting her to bed, so she does not get too roused and wake them up at three A.M. “Good night, Lillian. I’ll see you tomorrow. Pleasant dreams—”

“How was she?”

“Out like a light.”

“Fantastic. Are you tired?”

“Not quite,” Davis says, crawling under the covers. The bed is still warm where Lillian has been sleeping.

“You know you are a good father.”

“She almost found out tonight that I’m not her father at all, thanks to you.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You would have if I didn’t shove that sugar cookie in your mouth. What were you thinking?”

“She has to find out someday,” says Jess. “Just—”

“Just let it happen naturally.”

“That’s how I do things. Naturally,” says Jess, her nails caressing Davis’s arm. “It wouldn’t have been so bad.”

“Not so bad for you.”

“Dave, stay quiet. Quiet your mind. Pretend you’re in an airplane.” Davis senses a change in air pressure. “Pretend we’re in an airplane together. Does it get cold in the cockpit?”

“Sometimes.”

“Pretend we’re in a cockpit,” says Jess. “Pretend we’re the only ones in the cockpit.”

“Not hard to do.”

“Pretend I’m the airplane. Take me somewhere, Dave,” caressing his chest. “Take me somewhere,” pinching his nipple.

Vessels dilated, influx at one-hundred percent, the descent is definite. Tweaking one side, she raises his shirt and traces clouds into his chest. “Pretend we’re over the Antarctic,” bending and nibbling each nipple. And descending.

“How about Africa,” Davis says. “I’ve never been to Africa.”

“Africa is nice.”

The teeming wilderness, the bush, the animals, the jungle cats. God knows what goes on in Africa, must be a great place, a heathen place, hot. Virile. She tickles his sack. The place is full of life. Green, green. Yellow grass. Hot pink skies. The bed is burning. And his eyes are dilating further. This woman is a lion. He has never been to Africa. Or to many places in the southern hemisphere, for that matter. The bed is hotter than the Serengeti—wildlife is sprouting, children are shouting, lions are roaring—the wildlife of Africa is at his fingertips, her hair tangled, and it seems for just a second, home, this exotic climate. This is as close as he will get. This moment, before it all slips away.

A coy itching on his back springs his attention. He squirms to itch it and she laughs, down in the brush, hunting.

Bringing back the arch to her hips, the glow from the hallway light lights up her lower torso, its two little dimples, its full moon, a Goddess. He tickles her ear; she has on earrings he has not seen. Jess mounts him and just before melting, he thinks he is sleeping in a stranger’s bed, one who is working his undeniable black magick from where nothing comes. He wants to find an herb that makes him potent in bed, rather than in mind. Pins and needles and he will soon be fast asleep, under the nuances of the other parents, Lillian’s biological parents, the ones he wanted to be. He cannot wrap his head around the thought, who were they? But maybe it would come tomorrow, what he is looking for—life, truth—maybe it would come sometime in the night, like a visit from a stork, or a spirit. Maybe it would come to him. The one truth, though, reigns clear to him, the truth being: he has fathered this lie.

The lurid darkness is disturbed by a knock, not metallic or wooden, but of glass. A snarl, raising the hairs on his arms and neck, is heard, followed by the star struck vibration of purring. He is seeing through his closed eyelids.

The Knock! Knock! of the moment is halted by the citrine and amethyst glare of a jungle beast—a lion—who is staring back at him, with the innate intellect of felines. The beast is power. He is helpless, he notices, just before taking a knee, naked. The jungle cat snarls and shows for a glimpse his teeth.

The vision opens to a boundless expanse, an interior notion of gargantuan borders, his knees brushing against the fronds and savanna grass and sound—the locusts, thousands of them—flying upwards into the cirrostratus clouds, the crest of consciousness, of Africa. The wind takes his attention to the west, where the ball of incredulous fire flames, the Sun warming his skin and emblazoning the beast’s eyes, the warmth inviting the pilot into the bosom of mother Africa. He is here.

The lion strafes across his periphery. His phantasmagoric coat and iridescent eyes anchor him, keeping him from soaring toward the light. And he turns south toward the lion and hears again the Knock! Knock! which seems to be coming from the top of his skull, this knocking, the choking fallacy of tears, heat, sun, and sparks. His mind is riveted, ever-changed in this infinite moment. “Wake up,” calls the knock, blurred by a higher frequency. The dichotomy of earth and air are finding each other. And the words, “Wake up,” the knocks, the tears, the omni-flowing shards and jewels pouring now from the beast’s glare, push Davis Parker toward nostalgia; he is out of step, not meant to witness the regal matter of this place. “Wake up!” He turns, and somewhere in the non-space between he and the distant tree line is a forsaken pane of glass. And the knocking calls—“Wake up! Wake up!”—heard by him, his lasting recognition of this lion.

Planes. That is what they are. He is looking through the planes, looking through the window onto the landscape below, the planes that take him from place to place, which blast the light back off him and into the eye of the sun; he has been kissed.

His vision dims to a gray darkness, this place never to be seen again.

His vision returns, the Sun, draping him in the barcode that never fails to present itself. Jess is awake; she is not in bed, and he can smell again the Kenyan brew downstairs. A quick puree and what was once a bean is now powder. Try grinding beans with your own hands. Impossible! Nevertheless, the smell calls and he is downstairs, his arms around his wife, Lillian playing on her handheld.

“I had a crazy dream last night, dad,” she says.

“A crazy dream?” Davis replies. “A crazy dream. What happened?”

“I was swimming in water and there were fish all around me.”

Davis pats her head, walks to the coffee machine, and then pours himself a cup of Kenyan coffee.

It is the day before his next trip. He will fly out to New York and boast the seven hour commute to nowhere as he lands with grace on the tarmac. But today, the Osbergs are over for dinner. Jess has been working, preparing sauce and potatoes, while Davis is outside grilling the mahi-mahi. The smoke rises into his eyes.

Thirty years he has been flying these planes, along the pathways of the gods and still cooking right here in this spot is his favorite place in the world. This grill, the same old smoke, the same old tears, sweat, and salivation. He sips his beer. Fruity, the ale smacks his lips and he loves it, the air, the frothy bubbles, the buzz. It just keeps going. The fun never stops. It just keeps rolling and rolling, like wheels on a hill with kids inside them. Lillian is in the pool with her floaties, trying to see if she can hold her breath for more than thirty seconds, looking for fish.

The Osbergs will be coming in about thirty minutes from now, them and their two kids, along with their casserole, which Charlie Osberg has leaked to Davis is incredible. Charlie has also confided he is trying to keep everything under his belt, working out of London now, a little too far from the sunshine down here in the South, but it does well for him, he says. A little rain never hurt anyone.

The doorbell rings and Jess answers it in her canary yellow sundress, the same she wears every Saturday evening when they have people over. It is like a tradition. It gives her this glow she likes, and the house mirrors it back. It is a good ultimatum. It makes the visitors feel just right.

She answers with her normal cheer, “Hey, Charlie, Beth, welcome! Come in!” And the date is off—the cheery noise, the kids laughing and screaming, the men huddle after minutes outside, polishing off another one of those cold ones, the ladies swirling their dresses, the sun bright and the sky blue and ivory.

“It’s much too great, being back in the state of Florida,” says Charlie. “I miss it.”

“Gets me every time,” says Davis. “Every time I come back, it gets me, how healthy the air is. It seems full of vitamins, minerals, somehow.”

Charlie’s two boys are chasing Lillian. She has cooties, they say. They are trying to cure her. The mahi-mahi is begging to be eaten. The potatoes are bursting. And underneath it all, the bellies are being thrummed with the anticipation of another child, Beth’s third. “We’re not sure what we’re going to name it. In fact, we’re going to wait to see the gender.”

“Indeed,” says Davis, glad for his friend.

The kids are out, tired, watching T.V. for the last hour before the Osbergs head home, back to the hotel. “It’s Disney tomorrow,” says Charlie. “The kids have never been.”

“Likewise, neither has Lil.” With a farewell kiss, the party disperses. The morning comes, the sun is blistering, the birds are chirping, and eyes are wide.

Davis Parker is walking down the jetway, checks his watch, and sees he is right on time. The plane will leave on schedule and they will be in New York for dinner. But something is missing. Between the drive out here, security, thinking about last night’s meal—the boys, the Osbergs—he notices that the flame is gone. He knows what he needs. He needs the sky.

Luminescence blots out his vision of the world, the dials and switches, the gauges and frequencies. He sees now his life. As they taxi out, out toward where the ground ends and the air begins, he feels electricity, a twinge in his belly, the controls in his palms, the headset over his ears. He hears the words, “You are clear for takeoff.” And he pushes the throttle. One-hundred-and-five tons of steel and cargo gets pushed by the Rolls Royce engines off the ground, at an incline of thirty degrees. He sees the clear image: the blue sky, crowning in through the windshield. It has hit; this is life. A blue sky limitless in the horizon, a child to raise and make one’s own, a clue in life, where it is going, where to turn.

Far down, people are tiny, buildings are bricks, cars are toys. They fall away, too far below to be seen. The incline is too high, the angle too small. He needs to find a way, he thinks, a way to capture this feeling, like a firefly in a jar. Because that is what life is like, a firefly, and we are all just seeing it along, watching it live out its life. Everything he has known is in one glass case, delicate snow falling over the houses below. He is nearing New York. Through the windows, into the blue expanse through which he is flying, he captures a person, a long-faced, a bonafide revolutionary. He descends, lands the plane on the ground. His feet are anchored and he breathes in the cold air of New York. Flurries turn to a heavy snowfall. He is in the north again, but feels home more than ever, a wandering, lustful person, finding everything he has needed—a stratum that is never-ending, one ample and his to nurture.


Anders M. Svenning was born in New York. He started writing with seriousness at the age of nineteen and has now been published in many literary magazines throughout the United States and abroad. Some of the most recent include Good Works Review, The Furious Gazelle, and The Bracelet Charm. He is the author of 50 States Poetry (Pansophic Press), Verdant Grounds, Subtle Boundaries (Adelaide Books), Otus in Betulaceæ (Adelaide Books), Occipital Circus & Other Stories Regarding Phrenology (HellBound Books), and Life After Schizophrenia (Scarlet Leaf Publishing House) and has a forthcoming book titled Affe and the Candle to be released in early 2021 by Adelaide Books. Anders M. Svenning lives in Palm City, Florida.

Bob’s Big Promotion

A short story by Z. M. Darkbloom


The ineffable Sun God Sal, Bringer of Light, Life, Growth, and Sunburn rose every day, and he had done so tirelessly for billions of years. His loyal subjects remained anchored in primordial mud beneath him, dutiful human-apes slouching lowly on two limbs before such an awe-inspiring tapestry of clouds and stars, convinced that the Bringer of Life would not ascend the divine summit of heaven without their offerings and prayers. But how could such simple nether-beasts know that Sal would rise regardless of their groveling? Not that they really considered this—and, if they did, it’s not as though these thoughts would have kept them from sleep or solace. Bob didn’t like to question the ways of the Gods anyhow, or much of anything for that matter—but today he was certain of one thing: Today he was getting that promotion.

~

He rose with Sal as tradition dictated. Naked, he anointed his body in red and yellow paint, lit incense, and through the cloying smoke he prostrated himself before the Gods as the emberous Father of Light and Life rose to the East. Then Bob strolled naked through his meager apartment to the kitchen. He sat and ate cereal at a small wooden table, reading the newspaper and checking text messages on his phone. Afterward, he showered and shaved and washed off the ceremonial paint, and dressed himself in a new pair of slacks, a white dress shirt, and a garish red and gold tie. This will please Sal, he thought. Before Bob left, he cast bones before his personal altar—the way they landed, what they spoke of, well… praise be unto Them! Success was assured. He smiled and strolled outside to greet this glorious new day, not just a gift from the Gods, but surely a promise.

~

It was a bright, ceremonious fit of a Sacred Monday, mankind gloriously heading back to work after a weekend of rest, golden bars of light beaming down from the heavens with the dawning of morn, the world of animals alive and slithering. The budding elms and maples that lined the city streets waved in the wind amongst the noodling of the telephone wires above Bob’s head, and with the car windows down, he could smell fresh grass clippings and fragrant spring blossoms in the air. Neighbors waved to him as they strolled the sidewalk. Bob waved back, and as he rolled up to the town’s center an earthy odor of rot filled the car. Bob smiled at this—his favorite part of the day—the approach to the roundabout named “Solstice Circle”. Here the Ceremonial City Engineers designed a monument that was unparalleled for hundreds of miles. The nearby settlements and villages looked upon Solstice Circle with jealousy and spite, praying to Lord Vishra, Goddess of Fury and Scorn to smite them down, but alas, the gods shed only their blessings, or so the High Priests told themselves. At the center of the roundabout a massive granite pyramid was erected, with polished onyx blood-letting channels leading symmetrically down in a star-shaped pattern from the great sacrificial stone tablet at the top of the monolith. Through all the seasons the monument to eternity bore fruit.

The winter had been gentle that year, and spring was promising, with great heaps of organs filling the moat that the blood-letting channels oozed into quite generously. The smell was pungent, a bouquet of copper and iron and sweet decay rich in the air, the grounds covered in thick and syrupy blood. The outer edge of the circle was adorned with heads skewered on long wooden spikes, and mounds of bodies were stacked on each side. Bob smiled as he drove around this holy tribute, certain that today was his day. He nodded to the great ziggurat, offering a silent prayer as he passed its mighty circumference, keeping an eye on it in his rear-view mirror, the heads on spikes disappearing behind him on the way to work.

~

Bob arrived at the office ten minutes early but Kenneth was already there before him, dressed in the same garish tie Bob wore. He frowned, but Kenneth smiled.

“Look at Father burn,” Ken said, nodding at Sal. (“Praise be unto Him,” they both uttered.) Bob nodded and looked away, attempting to shrug off Ken’s stupid, friendly chatter.

“Hey, I’ve been reading up on the old ones,” Kenneth said—”can you believe these people used to think the Great Sun God…” (“All praises be unto Him,” they both murmured again) “… was just the eye of some asshole called Ra? How dumb is that?”

“Who’s Ra?” Bob asked. Kenneth shrugged.

“Some old god, some superstition—but just the eye? I mean, c’mon! What kinda god is missing an eye? And what kinda idiots even worship something preposterous like that?” Bob frowned.

“I dunno,” he said as he opened the door to the office.

~

With the last few employees filing into the small brick building, Ashra, High Priestess of the Office spoke over the intercom:

“Sal brings us a new day once more…” (“All praise be unto Him,” the office murmured) “… and to answer His generosity we shall bring Him gifts to slake His fiery hunger, to bid Him rise once more. Let us pray and satiate the Gods of Dawn—Bean, Goddess of Coffee; Bengal, God of Toasted Breads; Birdie, Goddess of Morning Song; and Contraxius, Lord of Business!”

At this, the office prostrated themselves on their plastic floor mats, their rolling chairs offset to one side before their computers, and they offered up their sincerest gratitude and thanks.

“Praise be unto You,” they murmured, bowing towards Sal twenty-seven and a half times, as tradition dictated.

“And Praise be unto us,” Ashra answered through the intercom. “Now let us go out and seek new contracts, bring new glory to the Gods, and if we please Them, then perhaps the great Taco Truck will bless us with a hearty lunch as it often chooses to parketh in our lot.”

“Amen,” the office workers cheered, “Amen!”

Bob set to work, calling more clients, securing more contracts. Kenneth walked to the kitchenette at the back of the office and toasted a bagel. Gloria the intern brewed another pot of coffee, and the office partook.

Praise be to the Gods, Bob thought. Praise be unto Them.

~

At noon the taco truck waited in the parking lot of the office.

So the Gods truly be on our side, Bob thought, a sure omen that his promotion was forthcoming, that he would be guaranteed to dwell forever with Sal on the Plain of Light, a halo of stars to be all his own, infinite wisdom just out of reach from the limitations of this dirty, deathly, physical realm.

He ordered five carne asada tacos, and once he had his plate he strolled towards the Sacred Sun Altar that was surrounded by a small grove of pine trees behind his office. As was custom, he offered a taco before the large, carved stone altar at the center of the tree ring, leaving it there for the immortals among the many previous taco offerings, and he bowed before it. Then he sat down in the dirt at the edge of the grove of trees, too unclean to sit with the Gods themselves, and he ate in silence. When he finished, he entered the office and Ashra’s voice resounded through the intercom. Bob and his fellow employees prostrated themselves on their black plastic floor mat prayer rugs.

“Let us give thanks,” she said, “to Taquitzo, God of Tacos, let us give thanks to Sal for this unrelenting flood of daylight, let us give praise to Contraxius for another fruitful morning, and may an even more bountiful afternoon be ours, a gift for us to utilize—precious time for us to build upon.” (“Praise be unto the Gods,” the office murmured in turn.)

Bob set to work with a spirituous fervor, like a man possessed, like an animal who was more beast than man.

~

The work hours were almost up, and already Sal’s love and light and warmth waned towards impending night, the fire of the Father giving and taking His brilliance as He saw fit, coming up short in the fall to inspire faith in the weak hearts of men, and rewarding their piety with the bursting forth of light and life in the spring.

Ashra spoke over the intercom once more, completing the day’s triad of holy proclamations. The front of the office all bowed low on their floor mats as she spoke:

“I am pleased to announce, before the highest Gods and us lowliest mortals, that our new promotion has been chosen,”—this is it, Bob thought, this is my moment—”and that promotion, Ashra said, is Kenneth!”

Kenneth blushed there on the ground a few feet away from Bob. The office cheered. Kenneth bowed up and down on his prayer mat, he bit his lips, he smiled and cried out in joy as sobs of glee shuddered through his body.

“I am not worthy, I am not worthy,” he cried. Everyone in the office cheered.

Dammit, Bob thought, not smiling, not cheering. Dammit. On a sacred Monday? She chooses him?

Ashra entered the corridor to the front office, a vibrant floral-patterned dress kissing her ankles as she walked, feet angled on hallowed high heels, face covered in a traditional black silk veil, auburn hair tied back in thick braids. She bowed before Kenneth, who bowed to her from the ground, and she took him by the hand.

“Stand,” she said, and he did.

With Ashra’s two burly, robed attendants in tow, they walked outside, heads held high while the rest of the office worshippers remained bent low before them. Before Kenneth exited the building, he wiped away a tear, and then he turned and winked at Bob. Kenneth exited the building and closed the door behind him. The rest of the workers remained on the ground, eyes pressed down into the plastic of their prayer mats, with only Bob sneaking glances up to the door, cursing his lowly mortal status as they waited for Ashra’s return.

The employees laid there for minutes that spanned on like an eternity to Bob. In his excited frustration, he forgot he had to pee. He squirmed on his mat, curious now if people had to engage in bodily functions on Sal’s Eternal Plain of Light, when his thoughts were interrupted by a clanging of bells as Ashra opened the front door to the office. She gracefully bowed as she entered the building with blood smeared across her face in the shape of a hand print. She held a brass blood bucket in her left hand, and in her right hand was a dipper. Her attendants stood behind her at either side, holding up bowls of smoking incense and brass bells. As the chimes ceased their ringing, Ashra spoke:

“As you depart from us great Sal, let us offer you this blood, these organs, this head, this heart—in the covenant that you shall rise again.” Ashra dipped her spoon into the blood bucket, and she flung it this way and that, adorning the office in Kenneth’s DNA. The employees cheered, every last one of them except Bob, who only burped quietly in disappointment.

The blood splattered all across his co-workers, across the walls, across Bob’s shirt, across his garish tie, and as it splattered into his face, he spat.

“Dammit Kenneth,” Bob murmured to himself. “Always been such a show off.”

~

Ashra finished anointing the office in blood, then walked back to her private chambers, her attendants waiting faithfully outside the door as tradition dictated. She clicked the intercom once more to free the children of the Gods from their work day—she spoke deeply and slowly:

“May Mother Moon guide your sleep tonight, and may the Traffic Gods Stahp and Gho show you a swift, safe and merciful journey home. (“Praise be unto Them,” the office chanted in response.) Ashra then sat down and called upon the Sacrificial Body Movers to come and pick up Kenneth’s pieces to be displayed ornamentally at the revered grounds of Solstice Circle. Then she phoned Michael, owner of the taco truck.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said. “Please come by our office again tomorrow for lunch. Noon is perfect. Thank you.”

She hung up and smiled fervently, staring through the office windows into the distance. Then she dipped her hand in the ceremonial brass bucket, the blood coagulating and cooling between her fingers. Ah, she murmured to herself as she craned her neck, closed her eyes, and wiped another smattering of Kenneth’s blood across her face.

“Praise be unto Them,” she said, “Praise be unto Them.”

~

Bob drove home. He rounded Solstice Circle and as he watched the heads on spikes disappear past eye-shot in his rear-view mirror, he lamented that once more he was not there as sacrifice for all to see. What went wrong? Was he not worthy? Had he not divined the day? Had the bones blessed by Sal himself not read in his favor? No, it wasn’t Sal, it wasn’t the bones. Bob had just read them wrong. No, no, wait. Couldn’t be. It must be the bones. Or maybe it was a hex. A curse. Something or somebody else. However it tumbled out though, he would practice the night rituals and prayers. He would divine the rocks and bones and tarot and tea once more, and surely he would understand. Surely, he would come to know.


Z. M. Darkbloom is a writer living in Southern California, where he enjoys camping, traveling, and musing on the absurdity of humanity’s rich primate heritage.