Crash Landing

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by Julie C. Day

This story was originally published in Flashquake (November 2011).

They are trying to patch him back together, the boy who proves something only if he lives. They wrestle away the metal that covers him: a ten foot span of fuselage torn from the rest of the aircraft, the break only two rows forward from the boy’s seat. The sheared remains of the rest of the plane have fallen away. The wings. The cockpit. The hundred or so seats. People with headphones, or glasses, or grandmothers and aunties. All those people strewn across the field, broken pieces, no different than the cushion-backed chair and the tail wing that twisted off the fuselage long before impact, the boy still belted in as the cart of small, plastic cups and ice cubes rain down upon the field.

He was supposed to be at the farm by now. His family had risen early that morning: the dog leashed, Grandma and Momma putting up the mesh barrier, separating the seats from the rear cargo bay of the station wagon. The worn carpet and back window are smudged from a weekly parade of pressed, wet-dog nose and panting, cocker-spaniel breath. The mesh barrier kept Sparky safe, though Momma always pretended it was the other way round, as though the people guiding the car were the ones who needed saving.

Right now, as the men are pulling back the metal, cutting the seatbelt, separating the boy from his box, Sparky is riding in the back of the station wagon, settled on his small tartan blanket. Momma and Grandma sit up front, their eyes facing forward. The Leston airport is about a forty-five minute ride; they’ll need to make good time if they are going to make it to the plane.

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Daddy, Daniel thought as the plane tilted down toward the ground. The flight attendant, with his blue jacket and smiling face, no longer smiling as he tumbled along the center aisle. The cart falls first: cranberry juice and cola and small, white squares that look more like misshapen feathers than paper napkins, fluttering down on the arms, and legs, and heads of all those screaming people.

Daddy, Daniel thought. But Daddy is in the bathroom. He’d been waiting for the refreshment cart to pass, the attendant in the blue jacket carefully moving forward in half-foot increments as he passed out the cups, and bottles, and crinkling bags of pretzels. The world is falling. The drinks move so much faster this new way, cotton sleeves and lightweight jackets sticky with high-fructose corn syrup and carbonation for whole minutes before the nose of the plane hits the ground.

#

This plane trip to Johannesburg is a family trip, planned before Daddy traded the corn fields and the little apricot and peach trees for a concrete patio and a view of the river. They’d sat together, Daniel and Daddy, the ice cream sundae tall and untouched, as Daddy told him everything would be all right. Afterward, Grandma had come to stay. Momma still headed out to work each day. The school bus picked him up and dropped him off just the same. But it was Grandma at the gate each afternoon who seemed to own the truth. The world and all its peach trees tumbling as she held his hand and led him back toward the broken front door.

Daddy? Daniel calls out yet again. The house is dark. Daniel can’t seem to stop, calling to his father as though the sound of his voice will actually bring him back, as though Daniel wasn’t the only one safe behind the mesh barrier, wrapped in his grandma’s worn tartan when the ground hit, as though the rush of clouds and screaming wind outside his window boded something good.

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