A Short Story by Michael Kenneth Smith
From the bomb-shattered second floor window, Helga could see the gray sedan slowly creeping nearer, its slitted headlights piercing the rain and darkness as it weaved between the debris of fallen buildings. Trembling with fear, she turned to the old couple with her finger to her lips and motioned toward the icebox in the corner of the room. Glancing back toward the street, she saw the car stop in front of her building. The rear doors opened and two Gestapo agents stood staring at the front door of her building with their hands resting on their holstered weapons. One threw a cigarette onto the street. The other appeared to be checking the address. They nodded to each other, approached the door and rapped loudly. The sound was amplified as it came up the narrow hallway steps to the second floor.
Helga went to the icebox and gave it a firm pull, revealing a small door in the wall behind. The icebox had been empty since she moved in as food was extremely scarce and ice was unavailable. She motioned for them to hurry and the agents rapped louder and yelled something she did not hear well enough to understand.
“Offne die Tür! Zu dem Zeitpunkt. Snell!” Open the door. Now!
“Ich komme gleich runter,” she hollered. I’ll be right down.
After the old couple had passed through the door, she pushed the icebox back and ran down the stairs to open the door.
“Zur Seite gehen, fraulein,” step aside, the first one said, and he pushed her aside and climbed the steps two at a time.
“We will find them, fraulein,” the second said with a smirk. “We know they’re here.” Water dripped off the bill of the agent’s cap and his glasses were slightly fogged, but Helga knew those cold, steel eyes. She had seen them before.
Helga heard the floorboards creak as the agent upstairs slowly moved from room to room looking for the hidden Jewish couple. After a few moments, he walked down the steps and shrugged his shoulders to his partner.
“Nobody,” he said tersely and motioned toward the door as if to leave. As he passed Helga, he glanced at her and raised his eyebrows slightly, then the two agents disappeared into the night. Helga listened as their footsteps faded. She heard the car doors slam and the sedan slowly motored away.
Helga went back up the stairs and pulled the icebox away from the wall, telling the couple it was safe to come out. Then she sat on a kitchen chair, took several deep breaths, and tried to calm her nerves. She picked up a cup that had once held hot tea, but even using two hands, she could not hold it steady enough to drink.
Helga Stigler had lived in Bonn all her life. Both she and her husband Fritz were of Prussian descent and while they both believed in a strong Germany, they took exception to Nazi tactics and the oppression of the Jews. Fritz was a tank commander under General Hienz Guderian and was a leader in the blitz of Poland and France. However, when Guderian’s Panzers were transferred to spearhead the new Eastern Front, Fritz was demoted and in the fall of 1942, he was put in charge of a single tank crew, albeit a new Tiger II, which he affectionately referred to as his “konigstiger”. He had been sure his demotion was because of his soft attitude toward the oppression of the Jews and what was termed as the ‘final solution.’ Helga had not heard from Franz for several months and in her heart of hearts, she knew he was dead, or worse yet, imprisoned by the Russians.
When Franz was transferred, Helga realized she could not and would not stand by and ignore what was happening inside the Jewish ghettos of Bonn. She learned of a secret organization that helped sneak Jews out of Germany and back to unoccupied territory. Helga soon left her comfortable home and moved into a second floor, three-room flat inside the old walled section of Bonn where many Jews had been forced to live. She planned to use this apartment as a safe house where Jews could secretly stay. Helga contracted with an old Jewish carpenter who built a false wall that enclosed a very small space where several people could hide undetected. She knew that if she or any of Jews she assisted were ever caught, they would face certain torture and/or a firing squad.
Never planning to be taken alive, Helga obtained a bottle of zyankali pills which contained potassium cyanide in a glass ampule. She also gave an ampule to each of the Jews she hid. But none of this was enough for Helga. The allies were fast approaching and by the stream of men, materiel, and wounded heading back toward Berlin, she knew the war would be over very soon.
Near 4:00 in the afternoon, Helga went to her bedroom, changed into a simple skirt and blouse, powdered her nose and left the flat. It would take her exactly thirty minutes to arrive at her destination, and she knew the route well. Once there, she used her own key, unlocked the back door and went upstairs to the bedroom. She looked out the front window at the River Rhein flowing muddy brown, swollen by the heavy rains. Two major bridges lay in the water destroyed by allied bombing. She took off her clothes and, after neatly folding them, laid them on his dresser. She crawled into bed and waited.
After Helga had moved into her flat in the ghetto, she started to frequent several popular bars in the downtown area of Bonn, where soldiers and officers were often seen. She was forty-two years old, trim and still very attractive which meant she never paid for a drink, and her offers were numerous. But she was particular. She wanted something. Something that only a Gestapo officer could offer.
She finally met Hauptsturmfuhrer Metzler, a single, wealthy, Gestapo captain, who thought the war was just another adventure. He was several years younger than Helga, overweight, and always wet from perspiration. He liked to control anyone who would let him, and even though she hated his kind to her core, Helga made sure he thought he controlled her.
After several dates with the captain, Helga knew that he was perfect for what she had in mind. He wanted regular sex and she wanted somebody with the power to look the other way. Twice a week, she would come to his flat and in return, he would use his authority to allow her activities with the Jews to go unnoticed.
“Helga? Are you here?” the captain called as he entered the front door. He went straight to the bedroom to check. “Ah, yes. There you are, Honig,” he said relieved. He came to the bed and kissed her. He drew the covers back and saw she was naked. “Ah, perfect. Its been a long day,” he said sighing. “I’ve been thinking of you for some time.”
Helga watched him undress—and she began to build her wall. The wall that would enable her to isolate herself from him and the things she let him do. She had to separate her mind from her body. She would go through the motions, but her mind would not follow. Rather it would dwell on the goal line while her body pushed forward.
He was a terrible lover and that was a good thing. When he had taken off his clothes, he slowly pulled back the covers again and gazed at her. He was ready almost instantly. He lay on top of her. His forehead was beaded with sweat and his body smelled like dirty laundry. Helga closed her eyes. Her wall protected her and it was all over in a few minutes. He rolled over and she got up and started to dress.
“Stay for a drink?” He asked.
“No. I must go, but could I make you one?”
“Sure. Will I see you Thursday?” He asked. Then, he added, “I am being transferred back to Berlin. Soon, you will be free of us. Won’t that make you happy?”
She stopped in her tracks. “Berlin? Who will take your place?”
“What! You’re not worried about me?” He asked sarcastically. “I could easily capture the two Jews you are hiding, then ship you with them to Dachau.”
She watched him through the mirror as she brushed back her hair. “Yes, you could, but then I wouldn’t be here on Thursday,” she said.
He got up and went into the bathroom. As he passed her, she reached for his bottle of Scotch and poured some into a glass. She looked toward the bathroom as she took one of the ampules from her purse. He was just out of sight…she squeezed the ampule hard, breaking the glass, and the yellowish fluid dripped into the Scotch.
From the bathroom he said again, “See you on Thursday?”
“Yes, captain,” she said, wiping the glass chards off on her skirt. Then she went down the stairs and out the back door.
Walking back to her flat, the impenetrable wall she had constructed started to crumble as she thought about the Scotch. She forced the sense of violation away and by the time she arrived at her apartment, she felt human again. She also felt a sense of triumph. Thinking again about the Scotch, she smiled.
That night, her contact with the escape group visited. He left a Jewess and two young children and took the two elderly Jews away to the next safe house. She wished them good luck and they thanked her. She watched as the contact escorted them across the street and down an alley. The hope that they would survive was all the thanks she needed.
The two children cowered behind their mother as Helga explained where they would hide when the Gestapo arrived.
That night the allied bombing lasted for more than four hours, though none came close to Helga’s flat. She could hear the clatter of tanks moving and men shouting. The smell of diesel invaded her nostrils. Her heart beat fast as she dared to hope.
The next morning at daybreak, small arms fire could be heard. She looked out her window but there was nobody. Several hours later she heard the diesels again, and the distinctive sound of more tanks. Then she saw something she had dared not even dream of: It was the first American tank she had ever seen, and then she knew. She knew it was over.
She grabbed the two children and, with their mother, they walked out into the street, waving and joining others in welcoming the U.S. forces. All the while, Helga hoped against hope she would never have to build another wall.
One Kool Day
A Short Story by Michael Kenneth Smith
My school was three miles away. Just walk to Cheshire Road, turn left and keep going. I’d take the short cut, which supposedly lessened the distance by a full mile. I would climb the fence in our back yard—the fence that kept our two mares from being bred by the neighbor’s stallion. Then, once over the fence, I could walk diagonally toward Pritchard’s place, over two more fences, a small creek, and…wha-la, the school play ground.
The problem? I was almost always late. My “short cut” wasn’t so short. Nearly every time, something would happen that made the walk longer. The trip was always pockmarked with detours. A toad jumping across my path. A rabbit scurrying to a shelter in a briar patch. A dung beetle pushing his winter’s dinners down the horse path. A night crawler glistening in the morning dew. Any little thing would help make the journey, oh-so-much longer.
I hated school. Even though every morning I would walk out the back door with strong intentions to arrive on time, my will would blow in the wind like a a thistle seed in a strong gust. It was a constant battle between the fear of being caught and the wonderment of nature.
One brisk, Fall Monday morning, late as usual, I took the “short” route. I crossed our backyard fence and kept my head down as I followed the path. I didn’t want to be distracted because I’d been warned that if I were late to classes one more time, my grade card would show a giant ‘U’ for unsatisfactory. I figured that by keeping my head down, I wouldn’t be so easily distracted. About mid-way between our place and the Pritchard’s I saw a brand new Coke can in the middle of my path. Somebody had discarded it over the weekend. Not to be distracted from my mission, I just kicked the can and continued. The can landed about fifty feet in from of me right on my path. I kicked it again. It flew up in the air and landed about fifty feet in front of me. I kicked it again and this time it skittered off into some tall grass.
I stopped and looked off in the direction of my school. The air was full of wonderful scents. I could smell the dew on the grass, the dung of the horses and the dust from the path. I could hear the burble of the nearby stream, the caws of a crow and the far-away honking of geese starting their day heading south. I could visualize a hungry trout near every rock in the stream, a rabbit behind every clump of grass and a groundhog in every little hole in the earth.
The school bell rang thrice. Ten minutes.
I kicked the can again. It sailed in an arc and landed in the creek and started to bob its way downstream. An idea popped into my head: I would put a message in the can and eventually someone would find it and read it! I found an area where the bank was worn down by horses seeking water, slid down, and retrieved the can. The can contained no water but when I shook it, something rattled inside. A half smoked cigarette. A Kool. I stared at it in wonderment and the smell of the tobacco and menthol permeated my senses. I put the filtered end to my lips and stood up thinking how cool my Kool looked.
Right then, I saw Eddie Miles, the school tattle-tail staring back at me. He ran toward the school house and I reluctantly followed.
Shortly after homeroom, I was called into the principal’s office. She gave me a stern warning about smoking, told me all the horrible things about tobacco, and said that it would stunt my growth. When I told her about the Coke can, she looked at me like I was a consummate liar. I’m sure I must have looked guilty.
Then she told me to go home and change my pants. It wasn’t until that moment I noticed I had sat in a horse pile while sliding down the bank. As I walked down the hall toward the front door, all the kids gave me a wide berth. I could hear, He smokes and He stinks. My life had reached a new low.
A funny thing happened, though: over the next few weeks everybody forgot about the smell and just remembered the smoking. I was the one who smoked! I was the revered rebel who bucked the system. The older boys sought me out. The girls, while they wouldn’t admit it, thought I was some kind of anti-hero with a mysterious aura. I was never alone. In the school cafeteria, all the seats around me would be quickly occupied.
Of course, I played along. . . enjoying all the attention. I rolled up my white T-shirt sleeves—even though my arms were bony. I persuaded my parents to buy me Levi’s instead of Foremost jeans. I sat in the back row of all my classes.
Later that Fall, I was elected class president. I was actually beginning to believe I was the guy who’s part I’d been playing. People respected me and sought out my opinion and advice. My grades improved—I even made the honor roll.
I will always remember that Coke can and the Kool.
A Civil War Christmas
A Short Story by Michael Kenneth Smith
December 22, 1864
A thin layer of clouds glowed silver and the nearly full moon provided enough light to see the opposing earthworks to the west. Goma vigorously rubbed the scars on his wrists trying to increase circulation. The light wind was from the west and he could smell the last burning embers from dozens of fires. The cool Virginia soil tried to steal what little body heat he had left.
Goma looked back toward his own lines and hoped the replacement pickets would arrive soon. This was Goma‘s first time on picket duty and he didn’t like being alone.
Almost three hundred yards separated the Union and Confederate main lines just outside of Petersburg and because the distance was quite large, both sides had additional sparely manned buffer picket lines that were inside their regular pickets and only about fifty yards apart. No large scale fighting normally occurred during the winter months and both sides dealt with shortages and boredom. The South, with their supply lines under constant siege, suffered from food shortage much more than the North.
“Hey, Yankee, can you hear me?” Goma turned abruptly toward the Rebel line. “Hey, Yankee,” the voice repeated in a heavy southern draw, “You ‘bout ready to give up and go home?”
Goma hesitated. Then he said, “Neva’ happin, Johnny.”
A brief silence. “You a darkie?”
Just then Goma’s replacement crawled into the trench and Goma crawled back to his lines. When he got to his tent, he thought about the voice. Something was very familiar.
Only a few short months ago, Goma was a groom at a plantation near Jonesboro, Georgia. His father’s father had been brought across the ocean and was sold to a farmer near Savanah where Goma was born. When Goma was twenty, he was sold to John McCord, the master of Stately Oaks Plantation near Jonesboro, Georgia. While John McCord was a kind slave master, his son, Elijah, in trying to impress his father, treated Goma and others harshly. Whenever Elijah found the least little fault with Goma’s work, he would frequently yield a whip or lock Goma away.
In early September, 1864, when Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee drove out all the belligerent Confederates, all the slaves were freed. Not knowing what to do, Goma followed Sherman’s army and was shortly inducted into the United States Colored Troops and became part of XXV Corps of the Army of the Potomac under General Edward Hines. The U.S.C.T. troops were extensively deployed in the Siege of Petersburg.
The next morning, Goma sat around the breakfast fire with several of his new friends, all ex-slaves. He suspected the Rebel voice he had heard in the night might be Elijah, his old nemesis.
They asked him how badly he was treated and Goma showed the scars on his back. The discussion became heated.
“We got ourselves the big equalizer,” one said in a heavy accent picking up his rifle, “only one way to settle this.”
“How would we do it?” Another asked. “We can’t just walk over there and shoot him.”
“We could crawl over the next cloudy night. Shit. Nobody would miss the dirty bastard,” the first one said. “What do you think, Goma? You’re the one he treated so bad.”
Goma was quiet for a moment, then said, “You know? The first few times he beat me, I had this rage inside. It kept me going. I hated that man more than I could hate anything.” He waited a moment as if to choose the right words. “But then, after a while, I just started to feel sorry for him.”
“How could you feel sorry for a man who is beating you? That just sounds impossible, Goma. You gotta be crazy,” the first said.
“Yeah, I know it sounds crazy and maybe it is,” Goma said, “but I feel like if we shoot him, we might be worse than him.”
“You can’t get worse than him, Goma, that man is the worst there is. He’s the bottom of the barrel. He’s the devil himself.”
Slowly, the conversation died down, and the men all started talking about Christmas and how they wished they were away from all the killing, the war. They wanted to get on with their lives even though nobody had any idea what the future would bring after the war.
The next day, Goma was told he would again be on picket duty that night. He had hoped to celebrate Christmas eve with his friends, but he was used to being disappointed, and he accepted it without comment. Most soldiers only thought about three things: Food, shelter and home. Goma had no home except where he slept each night.
The entrenched Union line extended nearly thirteen miles from end to end with well over one hundred thousand soldiers living in ramshackle shelters. Some were tents with the sides built up with dirt to keep the wind out. Others were wooden structures made of logs. Some had stoves inside. The soldiers were given total freedom to build whatever they wished to keep them dry and warm.
Since early morning, wagons loaded with special Christmas food were arriving from the north. Turkeys, chickens, cakes and pies, all ready to eat. Goma and his friends were able to get a whole turkey and a couple pies. After dinner, different groups broke into song, however, as evening approached, Goma reported to the duty officer and prepared to crawl out to the first line of pickets. He carried his Springfield musket, ammunition pouch and a knapsack containing a small apple pie.
At the appointed time, just after dark, he started to crawl to the main picket line. The early night sky was heavy with dark clouds and he could have walked because of the low visibility, but Goma felt safer crawling. The area between the battle siege lines was grassless and he could feel the hard dirt clods through his foraging jacket. By the time he got to the line of picket trenches, the other replacements had already arrived. He was informed he was assigned the outer picket line from around 12:00 midnight to 2:00 am.
The area between the two outer pickets was called ‘no man’s land’, and as the moon peeked through the breaks in the clouds, it looked like the gates of hell. Filled with shell holes, old trench emplacements and scattered battle debris, Goma wound his way to the ditch where he would spend the first hours of Christmas day. After relieving the prior sentry, he settled in, sitting on part of a cannon caisson that had been destroyed earlier. Every few minutes he would peer above the ground toward the enemy lines to verify what he suspected: nothing would happen on Christmas. He started to think about the pie and his mouth watered.
“Hey, Yankee, are you there?” The voice was clear as a bell. The same voice as before. “It’s Christmas, are you Northerners going back north where you belong?”
“No chance of that, Johnnie,” Goma said.
“I remember your voice, you’re a god damned darkie, aren’t ya.”
Goma now knew who the man was. He was Elijah. For some reason, he always used the word ‘darkie’. Like it was his invention or something. Made him feel like he had some control over the English language.
“You bet your sweet ass I’m a darkie, and this darkie knows what a cruel slave master you really are. I’ve got the scars to prove it.”
Elijah said nothing for a few moments. “Goma? Goma?—You’re Goma! What the hell are you doing out here. My God—Goma.” Elijah was silent for a few minutes. In a more measured voice he said, “You still belong to me. You are my property, although you were the laziest god damned slave I ever owned.”
“I’m a free man,” Goma said in a firm voice.
“Free, my ass. I can see that I didn’t whip you near enough. I loved seeing my whip rip open your skin. The blood oozing out. Hearing your sorry ass whimpering. Yep, I should have done more of it. Would’ve made a man out of you.”
Goma just smiled. He always knew that when Elijah bragged about something, it was his way of trying to convince himself he was important. “I hear you Johnnies aren’t getting much to eat. That true? I hear you are near starving.”
“We get plenty to eat,” Elijah said, “I get so full, sometimes I have trouble walking.”
“Good to hear, Johnnie, guess that means you don’t want any of my apple pie.”
“You got apple pie?—apple pie?” Elijah said in disbelief.
“Apples covered with brown sugar and pecans. Yep.”
“I don’t believe it. Not for one minute.”
Goma didn’t answer. He waited.
“Apple pie?” Elijah asked again.
Ten minutes later, Goma had made up his mind. He crawled up over the top of his ditch and inched his way toward Elijah’s position. The moon light was obscured by passing clouds. When he got to the hole Elijah was in, Elijah put the barrel end of his musket to Goma’s forehead. “You’re dumber than I ever imagined,” Elijah said, “now you’re gonna die.”
Goma reached into his knapsack and pulled out the pie and handed it to Elijah. Elijah first stared at the pie, then at Goma, his mouth open in wonderment.
“Merry Christmas,” Goma said and he crawled back to his own trench.
American Flyer Christmas
A Short Story by Michael Kenneth Smith
We were on our way to grandmother’s house for Christmas. I always liked going there because there was something under the tree with my name on it. Every time.
We stopped for gas. Dad got out and asked if anybody needed to go. My sister went. Dad washed the windshield. Just before he got back in, he asked again.
Snow was beginning to fall and the world looked like a fairy tale. Ten minutes later I told dad I had to go. He said that he had just asked me and I didn’t go, so why would I have to go now. I said I gotta go. Mom said, I think you better pull over. Dad said he couldn’t have to go when he didn’t have to go ten minutes ago. I said that I really had to go. Mom said to pull over and stop. When the car came to a stop everybody looked at me. I told them I didn’t have to go anymore.
Dad got out and opened my rear door. He told me to get out, then he put the floor mat on my seat and motioned for me to sit on it. He whispered when he was angry and he whispered something I could not hear distinctly, something about Santa not visiting this year. Something like that.
At least our windshield was clean.
When we arrived at grandma’s, everybody went into the house, but I took a little walk. The air was cool and after awhile my pants started to dry a bit and didn’t make a swishing sound when I took a step.
Santa always came the night before at Grandma’s. The presents would be arranged neatly under her tree. I don’t know why but I always weighted powerful people. God was always the most powerful, then Santa Claus. Roy Rogers was next. I had a hard time picking between Roy and Tom Mix, but I figured Roy had two guns while Tom only had one. Then came dad. This created a dilemma. If Santa came last night, would he have known that I was going to have an accident in the car in advance? He knew if I was bad or good, but did he know if I was going to be bad or good?
Without being conspicuous, I tried to see the names on the presents. I walked past the tree several times, but I didn’t see my name. A hollow feeling developed in my stomach.
Grandma announced it was time for dinner. I knew where I was going to sit because somebody had put a towel on the chair. My grandmother’s giblet gravy was the best in the world, but when I put the first spoonful of mashed potatoes and gravy in my mouth, I couldn’t swallow. Maybe I did swallow, but the food would not go down. I glanced back at the tree. Had I missed any of the packages? I tried to be nonchalant as I counted each one. There was my sister, mom, dad, grannie, and her sister, Aunt Maud. With me, that totaled six, but only five boxes were under the tree.
My stomach felt like I had eaten too many green apples.
After dinner, everybody sat around the tree while granny passed out the gifts. It was a tradition for as long as I could remember. She always would say, upon picking up a present, “To such and such, from Santa”. We would then wait for the present to be opened, then make a big fuss, and move on to the next.
She picked up the first and read the tag, “To Hazel (that’s my mom), from Santa.” Mom acted surprised and unwrapped the gift. It was a new General Electric waffle iron. I think dad liked it better than she did, but everybody made a big to-do.
The green apples churned.
“To Kenneth, from Santa.” She gave a present to dad. It was a chain saw blade sharpener. He really needed one.
I looked under the tree. Only three left. I started to sweat.
“To Nancy (that’s my sister), from Santa,” she said. The box was big. It was the newest Barbie Doll. The one that when you tilted it, it said, “Momma.”
Two left. The apples started to come up into my throat.
“To Maudie, from Santa,” she said next and handed her the second to last package. It was a new rolling pin and Aunt Maudie was thrilled.
Mom jumped up and picked up the last package, “To Grannie, from Santa,” she said as she laid the package on Grannie’s lap.
I could tell it was heavy, but I couldn’t see clearly. My eyes filled with water and my chin was quivering so much the whole sofa shook. I didn’t want anybody to see me that way. I just turned and buried my face in the cushions.
“Hmmm. Did we miss somebody?” Grannie said.
I opened my eyes.
“I think Santa left something in the out-kitchen,” she said.
I turned around and wiped my eyes.
“Mikey, go check the out-kitchen, just to be sure,” my mom said.
The out-kitchen was on the other side of the house, and I covered the distance in world record time. I looked around frantically. A large, slender present was leaning up against the water heater. The tag said, “To Mikey, from Santa.”
Dad came in and told me to bring it back to the living room. I opened one end, having no idea what was inside. Printed on the end of the box was the word, “American Flyer.” My spirits soared. I pulled out the whole train set, an engine, four cars and a caboose. Dad enthusiastically helped me get it running. We played with it for hours.
I’ll always remember that day. Dad passed Roy Rogers on my list.
A Short Story by Michael Kenneth Smith
The smell of the airplane fuel permeates my nostrils as it drains from the plane’s tanks onto the grass of the dimly lit airfield. The fuel runs over my hands as I hold the pet cock valve in a depressed position leaving a filmy residue that enters every pore on my exposed skin.
The Kobe earthquake in Japan had just sunk two large freighters in port that carried parts for a major Detroit automaker and only the prompt delivery of those containers would guarantee the production lines would continue uninterrupted. I alone am responsible for those parts. I alone am the single person who is entrusted to keep thousands of men and women working and the production of automobiles continuing.
I will be ruined. Nobody has ever shut down a major assembly line and I will be the first. My business will fail, I will fail and everybody will know it. They will point at me behind my back. I will read it in their faces. My wife will see the failure not understanding.
The weight on my shoulders feels like more than I can possibly lift.
Leaving only a few gallons in the tank, I enter the back door of the plane shining my flashlight onto the instruments. My throat swells with a giant lump. Breathing is hard. I see out but I don’t see. Automatically I go through the starting procedure, first right engine, then the left. The noise of the turbines fills my senses and I can only concentrate on check list procedures.
The night is dark, no moon but the stars are shining. Lights on, taxi out, take off and head east over the ocean, it will be easy, so easy. The immense burden will go away…peace…oh God…peace.
On the end of the runway now, a last scan of the instruments, all okay, power up, release the brakes. A flashing light ahead, some kind of police car, right in front of me now, have to power off, somebody gets out of the car, waves their hand. It’s my wife.
“Mr. Cummings is ready for you now,”the lady behind the desk had said pointing to the conference room door.
The room had twelve large comfortable looking chairs set around an oval table. All the chairs were occupied. Twelve men in dark suits, white shirts and blue ties stared at me. Jonathon Cummings, President of North American Operations sat at the head of the table.
“Hello, Jon,”I said, “Still knocking the cover off the golf ball?”
The men just stared as if I was from outer space. Jon continued to read from a stack of papers in front of him.
Several moments later, a man who was in charge of sourcing said, “What is your plan to get out of this delivery problem.”
I told him that I was doing everything humanly possible, but parts would not be shipped for another two weeks.
“That will shut us down.”
I told him I realized that but the delay was caused by an earthquake, an act of God, out of my control. How could I be held responsible?
“Do you think God should come down here and keep our lines running? Are you saying that you intend to shut us down?”
I did not intend to shut your factories down I told him.
“Sounds like that is what you intend to do,”he answered.
Jon looked up. “You are either in this business or out of this business and it appears you are out. You have forced us to resource. This meeting is over.”
I open my eyes, a single white light, the ceiling is stark white. I look around, the walls are white, the table is white, my sheets are white. I close my eyes then open again, same white. I feel my arms but they are held down by something. Crossed in front of me, held down, can’t move them. I feel a wave of panic, sweat forms on my forehead, I can’t move. Try my legs, okay, they are not held down, still I feel panic starting to consume me, try to relax, where am I? What is going on, deep breaths, don’t fight it, more deep breaths.
The door opens. A white coat enters, looks at me, is he angry? No, maybe sad. Yes, he’s sad. He approaches, looks at the drip bottle next to me, hadn’t seen that before. Without speaking, he then looks into my eyes, head close to mine, he smokes. He also hasn’t shaved for a few days. He had acne was he was young.
“How are you today?”he asks.
Today? What does he mean by “today”? Sounds like this might not be my first day here. Did I come yesterday? What the hell is going on?
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out but a raspy sound, more sweat, panic again, then I hear this loud piercing scream. My legs fly up into the air, I twist my body, hear another scream, fall hard on the floor.
I open my eyes, same white room, arms are free, female sitting in corner, watching, leaves room. Mr. Whitecoat with smelly breath and scared face comes in.
“Are you okay?”he asks.
Why would I respond to such a stupid question?…
“Are you cold?”
Why the hell would I be cold?
He leaves, returns with a white (what else?) cap and puts it on my head. ”Sometimes when we shave patients heads, they get cold. This should help.”
Shave my head? what the God damn hell is going on here? I jump out of bed, brush scarface aside and run out the door.
“Stop. Come back here, you should be in bed,”I hear from somebody behind me.
I rush down the hall through a door and into a waiting room. My wife stands, looking at me, eyes big, unsure.
I remember, it comes back, the business, the earthquake. Oh, shit, the plane.
The weight comes back, that overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and failure, hits me like a sledgehammer.
The ride home is quiet, only the sounds of the rubber tires on the road.
Finally, I ask my wife, “Do the kids know?”
“Yes, I had to tell them where you were. I tried to explain why.”
“Anybody else know?”
“You know something like this travels fast and everybody is talking about it.”
The weight gets much heavier.
The evening is pregnant. The kids stare at my bald head, unknowing, uncaring? My wife doesn’t know what to say. The food has no taste. I go to the bathroom, throw up, look in the mirror, see a person I don’t know, he used to be handsome and successful, now he’s just a worthless asshole.
This cannot go on.
Try to sleep but cannot. My mind is fixated on what people think. How can I stomach the rejection, the silent shunning, the exclusion. This cannot go on.
I get up, look into the bedside stand drawer, gun missing, go to the garage, no keys in the cars, but the bike is there.
Silently, I ride the bike to the nearby air field. The night is pitch black. The plane is back in its regular parking spot. The back door is open. I feel my way to the front left seat, any second thoughts? I just feel the weight crushing me.
Gotta hurry. They will hear me. No stopping this time, ignition on, fuel pumps, no time to follow procedures, just go.
Right engine spools up, left, taxi out quickly, lights on, throttles full power, all gauges are green…60…70…80…90 pull back on yoke. Plane jumps into the air, set climb at 3000 feet per minute, turn toward ocean, no second thoughts, the fuel lights turn amber.
Level at 6000 over the ocean now. Everything is black, so black, fly by instruments. Look ahead, nothing. Is this what hell looks like? Wait. Wait for fuel to run out.
My hands are wet, the yoke is sticky, the warm moist ocean air fills my nostrils. The weight starts to get lighter.
Left amber light turns red. Shortly right does same. Wait.
The whole instrument panel is red now some blinking warnings, others just bright red.
Left engine starves, starts to wind down, plane yawls hard left, push hard with left foot, stable now, keep wings level.
Right engine starves. Quiet. Eerily quiet. Only the wind, descending now, through 3000 feet…instinctively put gear down. Why?
…2000 feet…1000 feet…black is all I see.
The heavy, unbearable weight goes away. I feel weightless.
A voice:”PULL UP, PULL UP!”