by Bosley Gravel
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Turned out that the whole crew had been called in, apparently to make some kind of show for the guests. It took him ten minutes to fix the problem, but Marcie wouldn’t let anyone go. Instead they sat around, watching their watches and the daylight through the tiny windows high up on the wall. They sat in the meeting room, waiting for Marcie to join them.
Donna, a slightly overweight database programmer informally announced she’d be taking maternity leave soon.
Jared, perpetually angry, frustrated with what he had been dealt in life, responded with poison: “Women,” he said, “are always using kids as an excuse to get out of doing any real work.”
Donna wasn’t taking any of that. “Raising children is the most important job. We women build society.”
“I wouldn’t be so freaking proud,” Jared replied. “Have you taken a good look at society lately? You women are doing a terrible job, and obviously have been for a long time.”
She was stunned.
Jon, the man of many piercings, spoke up, “That’s not fair. Society is everyone’s responsibility.”
“Hey, she’s the one who wants to give women the credit,” Jared replied.
“I’m pregnant, you jerkwad,” she said, “And what you just said is sexist. I’m going to have you fired.”
He shrugged, “Lady, you can kiss-”
“Shut up,” Virgil said and slammed both his fists down on the table. “Just shut up.”
They all looked at him.
“Just shut up,” Jared responded instantly. Nobody said anything more until Marcie joined them. After rambling on about redundancy and end-user experience she dismissed them. Most of Saturday morning had been spent waiting for her short and shallow speech.
* * *
Paul meet him at “My Brother’s Place,” a pool hall and restaurant. They played pool and drank too much beer. Paul had long curly blond hair. He had neither the grades nor the motivation for college and he worked as a cook at a small mom and pop restaurant.
Paul had been in special-education programs for most of his school days. They believed him to be significantly impaired with learning disabilities, but Virgil had never really quite understood why. Paul was different, but certainly not impaired. He just took things at face value and seemed to have no concern for anything but the basics. His pool game had improved over the years to the point that Virgil only played to keep his hands busy while they talked, he hadn’t won a game against Paul in several years.
They sat and drank more beer once they were done with the pool game.
“How’s the airplane?” Paul asked.
“Good, just finishing up. You should come up and see it.”
“Sure. You going to give me a ride?”
“After I get it certified.”
“Great,” Paul replied.
“How’s work?” Virgil asked.
“Awesome. I got promoted to line cook. I get to make up the plates now.”
Virgil smiled at the enthusiasm.
“Ever think you might want to do more with your life?”
Paul looked embarrassed, “No. Do you think I should?”
“You ever think you might want to do more?” asked Paul.
Virgil felt something in his stomach reacting with the beer. Something seemed to chide him from in his belly, like a small angry animal.
“I don’t know. Listen, I had a dream last night, I was running around using my hands... like an animal...”
Paul raised an eyebrow.
“And when I woke up, my hands were black, and my feet were black.”
Paul drank some more beer. “I had a dream once that my mom was naked and I was getting all excited. Dreams don’t mean much.”
Virgil showed Paul his palms. The stain, it seemed, was worn off. Perhaps they were even pinker than normal.
“It’s gone,” he said quietly.
“See,” Paul said, “Told you. I’ve got a nickel bag. You want to go get high?”
“I can’t,” Virgil said. “They do random drug testing at work. I could lose my job.”
Paul blinked, “Might do you some good.”
“Losing my job?”
“No, I was talking about the pot. But yeah, that might do it too.”
* * *
Paul had his own apartment, a grubby little studio. They got high from a bong in the shape of a naked woman, and once the dope settled into Virgil’s mind he just stared at it.
“You hungry?” Paul asked when the buzz began to wane.
“Yes,” Virgil said, “but I don’t eat meat anymore.”
Paul laughed, “Stinking hippie. I knew it.”
Virgil smiled, “New girlfriend. She’s a vegan.”
“What you won’t do for a piece of tail,” Paul said.
Virgil smiled, and sunk back into the couch and closed his eyes.
“Forget the food. I’m going to crash here tonight, okay?”
* * *
He dreamed that he and his grandfather were walking in fog. It hung in the sky just out of reach; it rolled along the floor obscuring his feet. His grandfather seemed to be grunting while he made some effort to speak. Virgil just shook his head, nearly understanding, but not knowing for sure it was the arrogance of his mind letting him believe he understood. Shortly, they came to something hanging from the ceiling of fog, a vine, Virgil thought at first, but no, it was hairy, long, the size of an index finger.
Here the dream became fraught with noise. A world was above them, a world of animals, specifically monkeys, they hooted and called to each other. Virgil could imagine them hanging from the trees, or perhaps even laying about, picking lice from one another’s fur.
Grandfather was delighted, he pointed up — it made sense now. His grunts were never words — they were the call of the chimps, the language of his ancestors. Grandfather couldn’t wait any more, so he took hold of the rope and he pulled once and the tail drew him up into the sky, leaving Virgil an open wound of loss and fear. He shook his head, fighting the anger, the disappointment. Why wasn’t he allowed to go?
The clouds parted and Grandfather had changed; he hunched over, his back fury, his face turned into a parody of a human being. But what was this in his hands? To big for him to even handle... feathers, wings! Like those of an angel perhaps, Grandfather struggled not to topple back to the mortal world, and down the wings floated with Virgil’s hands already to catch them... the weight was unexpected and suddenly they were oppressing him... and he fought the darkness they had brought. Struggling, he came awake on the couch. A thick Army blanket had been draped over him. Paul’s work no doubt. Virgil fought to catch his breath as the dream quickly destroyed itself in his tired mind.
* * *
Saturday night at the bar with Shannon...
Good thing strawberry daiquiris were not made of meat, Virgil mused. She was up to her fifth one. Virgil’s head was light, and he felt the familiar creeping pain of a migraine. He hadn’t drunk much, but it didn’t take a whole lot. His body was weak, consuming itself — the toxins, Shannon had said. The music pounded out a repetitive beat that he tried to align with his mind in hopes of fighting the headache.
The toxins perhaps, were also the reason for her behavior out on the dance floor. She had her back side swaying to group of men. As they lined up behind her, each took turns suggesting they might have exactly what she wanted. And was that Jon from the office out there taking his shot at the little vixen? It went on for another moment, before she glided up and down the line, as if making her choice. Her favored suitor approached her, and he began mimicking the act of mating.
“No, no. Not like that. That way is degrading to women.”
To his horror, he was watching himself — again on his hands and toes, galloping like a beast. The crowd on the dance floor split as he charged forward, and then he rose up, pounding the suitor in the face with the bottom of his fist. Blood was spraying up, almost comically, as Virgil beat the man’s face to the rhythm of the drums. The DJ, perhaps sensing the music’s collateral effect, killed the audio system in the room.
The sounds of gasping and cheers seemed to hang in the air, the songs of birds calling one another, the sounds of rain on a river, the sounds of the jungle digesting its refuse and spitting it back up as life... the sounds of insects buzzing, collecting rotting meat, and nectar...
He was soaked blood when he came to his senses. He wasn’t sure how much of it he imagined and how much of it was real. Indeed the suitor lay on the ground, his nose flat against his face, a front tooth cracked in half. And surely, Shannon’s face was not in that mixture of both pride and revulsion? Somebody had turned on the lights. The crowd stood around, already sipping their drinks again and whispering among themselves.
“We were just dancing, what the hell is wrong with you?” Shannon asked.
He looked at his hands, and to each person of the crowd.
“Mad dog,” somebody snickered.
“You’re what’s wrong with me,” Virgil said. “And you. And you, all of you.”
He accused with his hand, bloodied and throbbing. The suitor on the floor moaned a little when Virgil found himself pointing at him. He shook his head in disgust and turned to leave. A bouncer built like a mountain gorilla puffed up his chest.
“You aren’t going anywhere until the cops get here.”
“Like hell,” Virgil said, and pushed the man aside. Apparently it was an insincere threat and he let Virgil pass.
Shannon glanced nervously to the door Virgil had just exited, then to the crowd, and back again.
* * *
He washed the crusted blood from his hands in the bathroom of the hangar and went to work on the Troglodyte.
* * *
He flew low enough to see the Rio Grande river at all times; most of his navigation equipment was not working. The river terminated at the Gulf. He made it that far on a single tank of gas. He knew of a tiny airport there where he could fill up the tank. He hadn’t much money with him and his wallet was empty when he left that port. He had opted for an extra gallon of gas instead of lunch. He followed the coast now into Mexican airspace.
He ran low on gas, and had to touch down at another tiny airport, he traded his watch, jacket, and shoes and they filled up the tank for him. Still he followed the coast for another twelve hours — he hadn’t slept or eaten in twenty-four. He veered west when he thought he’d gone far enough, and watched the land beneath him turn to a beautiful emerald green.
* * *
The fuel gauge was one of the few that actually worked. He wasn’t afraid, as he watched the needle start tapping the peg on the far left, but curious. They hadn’t covered that in flight training. Would the engine just stop? Would he be able to guide the plane down?
He decided to land now, this was as good as place as any. A length of the jungle had been cleared for reasons unknown. The earth was bumpy from rocks or dead foliage he couldn’t know... from here the jungle was nothing but a canopy of green. He shifted the controls and the plane started heading towards the earth. Without much warning the engines cut off, and he was gliding now... He pulled up, the electrical system seemed to be running off the batteries and the fins in the back aligned themselves.
He touched down, the landing gear got caught almost immediately and ripped from the plane’s bottom. The plane started turn to the side now, and a wing ripped off. It spun again, the other wing tore but did not dislodge. He considered the advantage of an empty fuel tank, as the machine now spun wildly over and over — his head cracked against the inside of the cockpit.
* * *
He pulled himself from the wreckage after the initial shock of the crash wore off. He stood up. His left arm was aching, perhaps even broken. He stood, with nothing but a pair of khaki shorts and a torn t-shirt. He pulled the shirt off to mop the blood from his forehead and made a quick sling for his arm.
The jungle was laid out before him. The sight was everything he hoped it would be. The parrots cawed their bitter complaints. The spider monkeys threw fruits at each other. The humid air carried his scent so the insects came to welcome him. The broad leaves of the jungle plants waved, beckoning him. The vines dripped water to the forest floor. A swarm of lizards rushed up a tree trunk, and then froze to consider him for a moment, and raced on. A huge blue butterfly homed in on him, made a kamikaze dive and then suddenly changed its mind and flew up into the jungle canopy.
He looked to the wreck of the Troglodyte, like the shell of some long dead insect. She was useless now. He grinned, emptied his pockets, tossed his keys, wallet and pager into the wreck. Finally dislodging the toxins for once and for all.
He stepped into the humid jungle as it welcomed him back to his home.
Copyright © 2008 by Bosley Gravel