Flying (fiction) by Jenn Whittaker

model-2425700_1920She’s not the kind of girl to ask for help. She can solve this equation on her own, although the unpredictability of adjusting for windage is throwing her off a bit. She should be able to precisely calculate the arc needed to hit her target. Her long, blonde hair is swept around in front of her face by the winter wind. She sits on her twelfth-story balcony, tiny as it may be, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket. There is nothing above the balcony but sky thanks to the district ordnance that no building can be higher than the U.S. Capitol building.

D.C. has not been kind to her. It’s claustrophobic. The balcony is her only escape, positioned on the inside and in the middle of a squared, u-shaped building. Yet, it feels more like a cage. The black, metal bars are only three feet tall. The balcony is so tiny, in fact, that even slumped in her chair, working on her calculations, she can see the ground below.

Who is she, she wonders sometimes when she peers across the city after lifting her head out of her notebook? It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t even like her name; she might as well not even have one. Does she disappear among the lights to onlookers from the buildings to her left or right? The only thing they have in common is their tiny balconies anyway.

As she stares at the ground through the spaces in the metal bars on the balcony she can see the pool, closed for the winter, surrounded by surprisingly still lush bushes. There is a wrought iron fence that creates the enclosure. Each of those black bars has a pointed tip, as if they’d been cut short from Spartan spears. Hard ground surrounds the outside of the enclosure, but not concrete. Her equation still needs work.

She could eyeball it, but if she misses, she may end up in a soft pile of bushes. That’s just her luck and her greatest fear – survival. She wouldn’t want to end up with a simple flesh wound, or worse, impaling only a limb and then needing to have said limb amputated. How would she explain herself if she survived? She couldn’t. They’d know. They’d all know she tried and failed, and that would be worse than death.

It’s all she can focus on. She stares at her calculus equations and their counterparts of height, weight, and air resistance ratios. How can she be sure, sure enough to take the leap? The leap. How could she forget about the leap? Does she need to take one? Definitely, yes. The iron spears aren’t directly beneath her. But what kind of leap: just a springy step or a swan dive? Perhaps she’ll just crawl over the bars, plant her feet on the inch of cement balcony remaining past her tiny cell and just let go backwards. She discards the thought immediately. She must face outward. She’ll lean forward as if carved into the bow of an old Viking ship. Yes. That’s it. It only saddens her to know that she hasn’t a long, silky, white robe to billow in the wind as she plunges from the sky.

The sky. The sky directly in front of her is a plank of death. It is her electric chair, her gas chamber, her oncoming traffic, her razor blade, her shot gun. It’s her way out. How beautiful it is devoid of all physical substance. The aether of her demise.

There will be no note. There will be no calls or long goodbyes or cries for help. She has left no hints. Her success only depends on her landing. Granted, from twelve stories up, any landing has a high potential for getting the job done, but she’s not one for potential. That’s how she’s ended up here in the first place. She needs a spear through the chest.

Each night as she pines away at the idea of execution, she wonders how long it will take to convince herself that it’s time. Time. That’s the factor in her equation that she couldn’t resolve until now. She has settled on the eve of daybreak. She wants to see the earth moving up to meet her.

***

God damn it. I hate my fucking name. Sure, the cops let me off the D.U.I. charge and escorted me back to my place, lights blazing, but that’s only because of my father’s name. Senator Sol. I haven’t done anything with my own name yet, so “Anthony, you must stop riding my coattails.” I can already hear the words coming out of his mouth before I get the call. It’s not my fault the cops ran my license and plates and realized I’m his son. But the lecture is going to be hell.

I guess I should feel lucky. Anybody else would have to spend the night in the drunk tank with prostitutes and full-fledge alcoholics. Their car would have gone to impound and they’d have a criminal record for the rest of their life. They may even get their license taken from them. But why should I stop drinking? I’m only twenty-three and that’s what twenty-three years olds do. I’m hungry. Got to love the drunk munchies. The sun will be coming up soon and I still have to go to class. Maybe I can still get some sleep. I need to smoke some loud. That’ll settle my nerves.

As I walk onto my seventh floor balcony, the day is just starting to wake up. It gets bright so early or maybe it’s just that late. Who cares? I light my blunt, one that I already had on-hand, pre-rolled, inside a cigar box, and out of the corner of my eye I see a girl. She’s just standing on her balcony at the top of the building. As I turn my head to get a better look, I see the look is amazing.

She’s completely naked, free as a bird. She must be on some good shit. It’s not snowing, but the wind has a bitter chill. I can see her hard nipples. I start to get hard myself. I can’t stop staring, but who could? She hasn’t moved a muscle, but she must be shivering. Then, she climbs over her balcony’s railing. I want to yell. I want to cry out for her to stop, but I’m afraid I might startle her and she’ll slip. But then she takes a spring and her body lays out flat, perpendicular to the balcony. Everything slows down.

Her face. I can’t stop looking at her face. Her body is robust in all the right places and poised, but it’s her face that draws my attention. It’s so peaceful. She’s smiling. Her eyes are open and excited. I can see the weight, all her weight, simply lift off her body in that one fluid jump.

I’m jealous. Here she is, brave and carefree. She doesn’t struggle or flail at all. It’s like she’s floating on a quickly sinking cloud, evaporating all around her. Will I ever know that freedom?

I’ve fallen in love. This girl lives in my building, but I’ve never come across her once. How could destiny wait to make our meeting until now? It isn’t fair. Only two seconds with her will have to last a lifetime. All alone, she escapes from her balcony, and, me, I’m standing on mine like a coward. She passes me. Time lights up again.

The crash and whining metal only lasts a blinking moment. By the time I look down, she’s already on the fence, that twists and bends all around her. Now, my glorious maiden lies pierced through the chest, which has surely ripped apart the heart that I now call my own. How intimate; she shared the best moment of her life with only me. It’s enough.

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The Running Man (creative nonfiction) by Jenn Whittaker

soldiers-1002_1920With two wars on, he sat with his head bowed into his new green army issued duffle bag containing his used army camo gear. The travel suitcase his recruiter recommended he bring sat between his legs. He was hot inside the beat up cattle car that carried Drill Sergeants daring the new recruits to lift their heads. The ride took nearly an hour. Finally, the recruits were released from their mobile holding cell outside of a plain, flat, brick building with no discerning qualities. It looked like every other building surrounding it. Platoons sounded off in the distance, marching and barking in perfect cadence. He didn’t know the man next to him, nor did I.

Upon exiting the cattle car, he held his newly acquired gear over his head and ran around the three-thousand square foot, two-story barracks building five times just like all the rest. As his arms and knees began to give way under the pressure of the weight, he was ordered inside. The air-conditioning refreshed his resolve and he stood next to a random bunk, the closest unoccupied one he could find. He bear-hugged his gear, feeling it slip ever so slightly as every muscle in his body strained to keep him upright.

“Drop them on the bunk,” he and his new battle buddies were ordered. Then it was back outside for his first C.A.P.E. – Corrective Action through Physical Exercise. Apparently, he had already messed up. But it wasn’t today. It was when he signed the recruiting papers and took the Oath of Office before being shipped out to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It didn’t take long for him to reveal that he was planning his escape.

That night, after lights out, he snuck down to the female first floor window, which we told him was unlocked, and crept his way out. His suitcase had been placed in a storage locker. All he had on was the light gray matching sweats that everyone referred to as “marshmallows”, unlike the black and grey “high-speeds” that came with making it out of red phase. He moved fast trying to remember the driving pattern he’d memorized in the cattle car. He found a sidewalk and followed it along in the bush until a spotlight temporarily blinded him. An MP swaggered up while another stood behind his half-opened door with a grin on his face as he chewed his gum excessively.

“Where you off to, recruit?” asked the gum chewer with a chuckle.

“I’m running an errand for my Senior Drill Sergeant.”

“Sure you are,” the other MP plainly stated. “Now, get in the back of the car. What unit are you with?”

“Unit?” Damn.

“Look. We can either make this easy or we can wake people up. Which would you prefer?” the chewer snapped without missing a beat on his gum.

“I don’t know.”

“New, huh? When did you get in?” the politer MP asked.

“Today.” There was no use lying this time around. He’d been nabbed.

The MP grabbed his CB. “Dispatch. We’ve got a woodpecker that just fell out of the nest. Shipment came in today. Direct.”

A female laugh came through the radio. “Already? Let’s see. Got it. 82nd Bravo Chemical Company.”

“Thanks, out,” he said to the dispatcher. “Now you. Lay down in the back seat and don’t sit up. We’re taking baby bird home. I don’t want to see you pass lights out again, got it? This time, I won’t wake up your First Sergeant. I’ll let him read it on the blotter report in the morning.”

With that, the boy laid down in the backseat looking up at the blue plastic roof trying to concentrate on right, right, left, right.

With each failed attempt at escape he updated his map and told 4th platoon all the details of his run-ins with the MPs.

“Aren’t you just making things worse for yourself?” I asked at the back of formation.

“It’s worth it,” he said.

With each new attempt, he was sure to say good-bye to the females before hopping out of the window. With each dawn, he was back in formation. I never knew his real name even though it was sewn to his right breast pocket. None of us did, except maybe the Drill Sergeants. But even they picked up on our nickname for him as “The Running Man”. I never knew why the night watch never reported the window unlocked until the company made it into white phase and got our first weekend pass. What I know now is that we follow the sidewalk straight from our barracks, pass the dining facility, turn left and walk straight out the main gate.

The Running Man is long gone, recycled over and over again to a new company in their first week of red phase. Phases don’t mix. Companies don’t mix. I wondered if he ever made it out – out of the gate, out of basic training or out of the Army. The last I heard, he never stopped running.

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Wake Up Call (flash fiction)

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I can’t wake up. All of my life I’ve been a heavy sleeper.

I hadn’t found an alarm clock that was up to the challenge until my best friend gave me a chicken alarm clock. Its body comprised the clock face surrounded by white plastic, etched feathers. Above that sat the head of the chicken with a yellow beak and that red thing on top of its head. Well, that red thing was the snooze button. In order to turn off the alarm I had to flip a switch on the yellow feet. At the set time, the chicken crowed like a rooster for daybreak. I’d finally found the one. I was eleven.

At nineteen, I found Bill. He is a tortured artist.

Once, he slathered himself in multi-colored, acrylic paint and rammed himself against a wall. The remaining full-body ink blot was like a cloud to us. We’d sit and try to find unique shapes in that splat, like elephants or dolphins. I moved into his loft-style, garage apartment. I brought my chicken clock. Bill was a vegetarian. He always seemed to look at the chicken with contempt. We got into a fight; I brought home a burger; the next day he broke up with me.

After he left, so I could pack, wailing and screaming, I destroyed much of his artwork. During my fit, my chicken clucked away. I threw it against the wall and it shattered into pieces. I immediately realized what I had done.

I don’t break my stuff anymore.

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Axle (fiction)

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The dirty, white van screeched to a halt, just missing her. She couldn’t believe her eyes. The van had been mounted sideways on new axles. Why, she thought. There must be a rational explanation, but no. Out popped a fiery blonde with tangled waves in her hair that fell to her chin, her features pointy but appealing. She got out to inspect her van.

“Here. Put this on,” she said with no introduction as she handed the enchanted girl an eye patch. It wasn’t as small as a pirate’s patch, but a large, black post-surgical patch that came to a soft point in front of her eyeball so that she could still blink behind it.

“It’s the only way to see,” the blonde continued. She was his best friend. She knew it without any words passing between them.

One of the back doors fell open flat, like a tailgate, since it sat sideways, as the blonde popped the handle. The new girl peaked inside.

“Cool,” was her awkward response.

“Not really,” said the blonde. “We can’t eat at the table.”

The girl bent down a little more to see through the door and, sure enough, a small round table was mounted to what would have been the bottom in any plain, old caravan. No, this one jetted out of the left wall. She could see through the sparse, metal interior straight to the windshield. It looked like the driver and passenger seats had been remounted in a normal position. They sat with the windshield facing out. No, the van was just twisted in the middle, the front wheels mounted on their plain, old, regular axle. It was only the back axle that had been retooled. There was no glass in the skylight that sat on the right side of the van. The glass in the windows on the top and bottom were also missing.

“Sit up front. Hurry! Let’s go!” she commanded.

The girl did as she was told, maybe to get in the blonde’s good graces, but felt instant vertigo as she did. The blonde pushed the gas pedal to the floor and before she knew it, they were swerving back and forth as the velocity held the girl in her seat. She hadn’t bothered with a seat belt. It was a van that had seen a lot of gravity.

The lot they steamed through must have been measured in acres with flat, creamy cement. Only one tree stood off to the left side, somehow immune to the cement ground. Tall grass and whippersnappers demarked the line of sanity on all four sides ending the horizons. There he was watching, holding onto the chain-link fence with his tender hands.

“He’s a pompous academic, you know,” the blonde said flatly as she continued to dodge things only she could see. The eyepatch wasn’t helping the girl at all.

“I know. I kind of like that about him,” the girl stated with no emotion.

He hadn’t been so pompous when she laid almost naked on the four-post bed with a cushy down mattress. She wore nothing but his open robe. Another girl laid there, too, but she had her clothes. How funny, thought the girl.

“Why would you be here? Are you his girlfriend?” she said to the other woman.

The other woman began to explain, but the words coming out of her mouthed turned inside out, going back into her throat. So much so that her words became softer and softer until she was mute. Our enchanted girl felt like an intruder and got up, putting her clothes on, again. Then, he walked through the door to stop her.

Their ages matched perfectly, but his black hair was already riddled with salt. He shook it out and took the girl into his tight, muscular arms and wrapped them around her waist. They stood nose to nose because his grasp had brought her body up against his, making her feel taller. The other girl on the bed was plump and upset. Her black, moldy face crunched up and he shooed her away while never losing eye contact with the girl. He had been a rock climber once, which explained his muscles, before becoming a Ph.D., which came with all the benefits of student sex.

“She’s a graduate,” he protested to the other woman. The other gave up and collected her yellow purse from the ground and exited the wide-open space of the bedroom.

Once the other was gone, they kissed, the girl trying passion, as he remained tight-lipped, sucking. Her face was twirling, almost lost to a black hole. It wasn’t a marvelous kiss, so she tried again. Again, she was met with the same kiss, but he rubbed her close to him with a moan. He was trying passion and that meant the most.

He took her clothes back off and went down on her. Now, the sucking kiss felt right. That explained it. She’d teach him the difference later. But he knew he had Chlamydia and he warned her that they should wait. After consideration, she did. It would clear up soon, she knew, after the season for it.

“So, what does this mean moving forward for our future?” he asked, sincere.

“You mean you want more than this?” the girl felt surprised.

“You’re a graduate and capable,” he said. “Meet me at the festival parade,” he followed up with, not explaining his meaning, but her butterflies knew exactly.

She couldn’t wait but had to. She despised this season.

“I have to go feed my dogs, you understand,” he said as he walked, shuffling the papers beneath his feet. “I can grade later.”

She went to get some coffee out of his pot, waiting for his return, as his two cats, already fed, twirled between her legs, putting on a fluffy show. It was a sign of good times to come. He wanted a future.

With that future upon her, the day of the demolition festival arrived. Now, being vetted by the wonky blonde, she could start to see the derby with her good eye behind the patch. The blonde made it out. With stretching metal creaking, the van tried to keep up.

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