Short Stories

I’ve suddenly realized that I have a fear of flying. Sitting in a confined, small space thousands of feet above ground unnerves me. The airport itself unnerves me. What if I’m not sufficiently early and miss the check-in? What if the security line is too long and I miss my flight? The very thought of airports causes a palpitating tremor in my heart. I can’t imagine that to be a good thing. Oh, and also, airports are filled with overpriced processed goods. Who really wants to pay $3.99 for a bag of M&M’s. Airports are almost like fully contained and self sufficient cities, seemingly burgeoning centers of trade with their own economies amid highly diffusive populations. I’m sitting right now on a plane, listening to a voice droning on in Spanish – I feel like Rosetta Stone has some stiff competition. I’m semi-fluent in Spanish just by memorizing the safety announcements; abrohense el cinturon de seguridad! Luckily, this flight isn’t very full. I have a whole row to myself and the captain just interrupted my Spanish lesson to tell me that we are first in line for take-off.

I really love it when the pilot interjects little quips on the intercom. I’ve been on a lot of flights but never heard a pilot stop to ask how I was doing. Those people up front seem very pretentious, almost unapproachable. And… we’re off. With each passing second the Los Angeles heat becomes more of a recurring nightmare than a reality. I see the blue of the pacific below me… I think we’ll end up being more than 20,000 feet above ground; this ain’t so bad.  I wouldn’t wanna be one of those lonely sailboats out on the ocean, a mere white blip in a vast expanse of blue. But isn’t that what you are? Well, yes you have a point. I am a white sailboat. In the earth’s sea I am nothing, which in turn is nothing in the universe. It’s crazy isn’t it, how small you are? How much you are at the mercy of the world around you but aren’t you that small too?

I’ve suddenly realized that I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Sam. I am 32 years old. This plane is a little chilly and I wish I had dressed a little more warmly. You forgot to say where you’re headed. Oh, right. I am off to Washington DC to visit my family. I love that city with all my heart, it feels exuberant and alive – has its own sense of consciousness. Everyone there moves with purpose, their faces intent on getting to the next place. There are smiles and bright minds everywhere. The city itself seems to be sentient in a way. It’s different than New York though, with all those lights and the torrid smell that pervades every inch of the city, you hate New York… I know Martha is from New York but I despise that place. That’s what I just said. This isn’t your story, let me talk.

Anyways, there has been a death in the family, very tragic. My grandfather, Earl Ketchins the third fell prey to some mysterious illness. Everything seemed ok, but one day his heart decided to stop working. He must’ve been in his 70’s or 80’s, I really can’t say. We were never really too sure how old he really was. All I know is that one day his voice suddenly died out in my mind – he was gone. I really miss him. I remember once when I was younger grandpa Earl took me out to the roof of our apartment; “don’t tell your folks,” he said to me softly. It wasn’t cold, and we watched the sun set. It was a brilliant orange-red. I asked him why sometimes the sun set with different colors. He said it was because sometimes the sun got confused, didn’t know who it was, it was everything all at once and so some days its color would be different. There were very few stars that night, I never knew why the stars don’t come out in LA. You didn’t introduce me yet: oh you’re right. This is my brother Ezekiel. He’s younger than me – and don’t forget I’m smarter than you, too. He thinks he’s smarter. Ezekiel hates planes too, isn’t that right? The strain on our environment caused by flying a plane is abhorrent – plus it’s insulting to feel like a slave to an oligopolistic enterprise that feels no shame in robbing hard-working people of their money. Plane tickets are way too expensive. …Well, some things simply can’t be avoided, I seem to recall grandpa Earl saying that or maybe it was me. You know that doesn’t matter right?

I fell asleep briefly on the plane and when I awoke a movie was playing on one of the little overhead screens. Movies are the ultimate distraction, an escape from reality. You become so involved in these make-believe characters that you lose sight of what’s real. Nowadays movies try to replicate real life – characters are more identifiable, which makes them more dangerous. One’s penchant to get lost in the drama of make believe is almost overwhelming. How sad it is to see people who think they are something else, someone else. To look at the world through this different lens, to walk, feel, and touch things with a set of extra-sensual impulses…

You’re being boring – shut up!

Maybe if you paid a little more attention to what I was saying. Sorry, Ezekiel likes to ramble. Mom always said he was too smart for his own good, would get this family into trouble one day… Oh, here we go again. I’m going to read something. Tell me a little bit about your life My life. I work at a international trading firm in Genoa. We’re responsible for handling the shipping and importing of things – mostly commercial stuff (TVs) like toys, toasters, and whatnot. I’ve got an apartment in Los Angeles. Do you have a girlfriend? Are you married? I had Jane but she’s not here anymore. Why not? My work, I think. I don’t know. She decided to go. What was she like? She was real pretty, had a soft face, and kind. She was incredibly kind. She put up with me after all, I can be pretty crazy from time to time, a real headcase. Do you love her still? Oh yes, I’m glad she happy, you know, that’s really what I care about. And are you happy. Am I happy. Yes, are you happy? Happy. Yes, I’m very happy. I have my family, that is the most important thing to me. You know my grandpa just died and I will be going to DC to see the rest of my family but my brother and uncle are here in LA. What are their names. Their names. Ezekiel and Sam, like me. Ezekiel is my brother. Do you see your brother often? No not too much, but we talk sometimes. I feel happy just knowing he’s around. We’re going to go to DC together though, it will be the first trip we’ve taken together since we were kids I think.

Where did you two go? It was a circus I think, in a small city on the outskirts of LA. Our parents let us go alone for the first time, I must have been 12 or 13 I think, Ezekiel was only 9 [but he was a lot more mature than his age suggested!]. We took a bus and then walked, there was sand and it was almost like a desert until we saw the great tent and its white/red stripes. The music could be heard even from a distance. We saw lions and a bear, the clowns were especially interesting. I always wanted to see what the real face of a clown looked like, you know, without all the makeup and big red nose – they must be normal people like you and me after all…

What about your uncle? We had dinner last night, we talked about grandpa Earl.

What does he do? Oh he’s retired, he was a police officer though for 30 years, a real good one too.

You know Sam, you really ought to read more. What’s that you’re reading? I’m reading Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals. He talks about morality existing a priori. What’s – a priori means, on its own, in a sense. Kant says there are some things that exist without any prior knowledge or experience, you just know them – like morality, God, and…

Do you ever listen to your brother, Ezekiel, he sounds smart. Oh [laughs] Oh no, I hardly understand anything he says, he’s too brainy for me. I’m more of a regular guy. Do you think I’ll be able to meet him one day? I don’t know I’ll ask him on our trip to DC. When are you two going probably in a few days.

The movie’s almost over. That means our flight is just about halfway. What do you remember about Dad? Not much, but he was a bad man. He hurt mom a lot and you too. Shut the hell up, don’t talk about Dad that way, you were barely even old enough to remember anything. Dad was good in his own way. Oh yea, and where is he now? I.. don’t know, he went away. Just like Jane? Don’t bring her into this, she didn’t do anything to you. Sam. Open your eyes.

Open your eyes Sam, can you tell me a bit about your father? You know, I really hate planes. Tell me about your father Sam. He’s away, he left. Why? Yes can I have some cranberry juice please? No thanks, I’m fine. Ezekiel, you really should have something to drink. I hate planes. Tell me more about this Kant guy. Well basically, he believes that the ultimate source of knowledge and truth derives from our faith. We inherently understand faith to believe in God and what makes us unique is our ability to reason and think. Animals can’t do this. This ability though exists a prior for us; it is a characteristic of who we are. What if God doesn’t exist? He doesn’t – I never said Kant was right, but he put a lot of thought into it. I do believe in some things being possible a prior, but sometimes you can blind yourself to it, create a false world. What kinds of things are you talking about?

Alright, let’s try something else. Tell me about your earliest memory of your mom and dad. She cooked spaghetti. Ezekiel wasn’t born, my Dad had a little beard above his mouth. He told a joke. It was a funny one – we ate the food, Mom is a great cook. Ezekiel, we’re almost there! I can see the city below I think! You idiot, that’s not the city, do you know how many cities there are in the United States? Oh… you’re probably right. Well, I still think we’re almost there. I can’t wait to get off this plane, I hate eating airplane food, I’m hungry. I want to go eat at Zorbas in the city, you’re always talking about that place give it a rest… It’s really good is all.

Open your eyes Sam, this isn’t real. Sam, can you hear me? What, what’d you say? Sorry I must have dozed off, this is pretty comfy. You were telling me about your trip to DC. I love that city. I’m going there for the memorial of my grandpa Earl, he died recently. How? I don’t know. Tell me more about Ezekiel I’d really like to meet him. Who are you?

Flight attendants. Prepare cross-check for landing. We’re starting our initial descent into Washington DC, Dulles airport. Local time is 8:34 pm. Sam, wake up. We’re landing. Oh, I was having a dream. It was hot and I was in a desert, there was sand everywhere, big rolling dunes. I was a camel and my head was buried in the sand. I was just trying to cool off. Inside the sand was cool and welcoming, it said “I will protect you from the evils of the world.” I would never want to be a camel. Sam, do you want me to tell you a dream I had? I was a lion with a great mane. I stood atop a mountain, looking down at a lush green forest, the air was clear. I thought to myself, how beautiful and fragile is the world? I felt the lion’s strength flowing through me, heard the tenor of my vocal chords ripple as my roar was cast down throughout the mountain. Amidst the chaos and turmoil of the world I stood at a greater height, almost imperceptible to lesser beings.

What do you think that dream meant Sam? That dream. Yes, what’d it mean to you? I don’t know, I never think about my dreams. Do you ever think about the meaning of things that happen around you? What does the camel mean? Well see, I’m not too smart with metaphors and stuff. Have you ever talked to your brother about it, asked him? Yea he said some stuff about the weight of the world… uh burying myself in a false somethingorother – I don’t really know. Please observe the no smoking sign until well inside the terminal. I dozed off again, lets go Sam. Get your bags. I got mine. Ok.

What’s with all the questions? Who am I talking to you know who this is Ezekiel? Bingo. It’s nice to finally meet you. Yea well, I had to step in. Why? Why. Why are you asking him all these questions? You seem to have a good understanding of what’s going on here.

That’s right, Doc.

Can you tell me what happened with Sam’s father? He’s happy. That should be all that matters. Why pressure him? Do you realize that you’re not real? Real? What exactly does that mean? I’m talking to you now aren’t I, Doc? What do you know of reality? You spend your days trying to live in the minds of others, you’re just like Sam with your head in the sand. I do. I create. Nothing’s more real than that, Doc. That dream I had, that was only the beginning Doc, I’m beyond being a lion. I’m more real than Sam, he doesn’t get out much anymore but I don’t like dealing with you quacks and your elementary understanding of Freud and Schopenhauer – your vain attempts at self-validation through picking apart the brains of others. No, you’ll never know what it is to think, to exist.

Sam thinks they’re all real. He’s too dumb to see otherwise, I’ve given him all the hints. Why do you try. Can you tell me what it’s like them? What it’s like…

It’s like waking up for the first time. Your eyes open for the first time and you’re covered with filth, but the first thing you do is smile because all the beauty of the world belongs to you. Nothing exists in your mind but what you fashion for yourself. It’s like being god on Earth, you bend life to your will, everything is bright and shining. It’s like… you’re a child all over again, looking out at all the endless possibilities and thinking to yourself, how happy am I to be alive.



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