Loss In Air

When the doorbell rang, I was eating potato chips and watching c-span. I didn’t think I should answer the door – after all, it was my brother’s house and I wasn’t expecting anyone to come all the way to Brighton to visit me. I opened the door anyway. I guess I was curious but not as curious as Jefferson. He was taller than I and skinny with a pot belly and slightly bowed legs, almost the way you might imagine someone with rickets to be. His straw-straight hair was a mess on top of his head. His hands were jammed into his pockets, even though it was a clear 57 degrees without a hint of wind. I watched as his eyes floated this way and that, two big brown pools with slight red eels slithering over the glassy white globes.
“Hey there,” I said in my friendliest Southern Californian.
“Hey yerself,” he grinned. We stood there for a moment with only the mile high air and the occasional hum of a diesel truck from the frontage road around us. I shuffled, a little uncomfortable.
“How’s it goin’?” My second attempt at perfunctory conversation.
“You live here?” he squinted his eyes at me like he was looking for the Colorado tattoo between my eyes.
“Nope. I live in California.”
“Huh,” he said thoughtfully, as though that explained all of it.
“What can I do for you?”
“Oh,” he kind of stumbled over his next words, “I thought we’d come and uh, you know, uh, say hello.” I looked behind him to see who ‘we’ was. It was just him.
“That’s nice of you.”
“I figgered since y’all er, whoever was new here ya might have some questions.” His voice was thick like there was mucus stuck in his throat and the way he said “I” was exactly half way between Texas and Wyoming. He must have been born and raised in Colorado. There was something else familiar about him, like he could have been one of a hundred boys I’d roamed through creeks and ridden bicycles with when I was a child. The familiarity vanished quickly though. He just stared and stood, every once in a while moving something around in his mouth.
“Well,” I said, “thanks for stopping in. I’ll be sure to tell my brother you were here. What’s your name again?”
“Oh, I’m Jefferson. Me and my wife live over there-” he pointed down the road toward the water tower.
“I’ll tell him you came by, Jefferson.” I started to close the door but he didn’t make any move to walk away and I didn’t know what to do, so I just said, “Goodbye,” as he stepped off of the stoop and walked east toward the water tower.

Later that night I asked my brother if he knew Jefferson, and he said not at all. My brother and his wife had only moved into the house a month before, so they didn’t really know anyone in the neighborhood. It was just they and their dogs and the pinball machines in the basement. In fact, everyday when they went off to work, I’d go out for a smoke and it seemed like no one else really lived there. Sure, Bridge Street was busy with passing cars, but all of the houses they passed felt empty. “I don’t know how you do it.” I was telling him after dinner. “I mean, how do you get anywhere except for driving?”
My brother said, “I like the quiet. I couldn’t live where you live.” He was defiant, but still friendly. He winked at me and smiled, “I know what you’re really worried about, and don’t worry. If we get stuck at the bar we can always take a cab home.”
Which is precisely what we did after a few beers and a few neat scotches. I don’t normally drink scotch, but then again, I don’t normally hang out in the bars of Brighton Colorado singing along to Garth Brooks’ “Thunder Road” with a bunch of guys who drive pick-up trucks, either. When we got out of the cab and my brother paid the driver -he always paid, even when he was down to his last ten dollars- he hurried inside to grab a fresh pack of smokes from the freezer. “One last beer?” he called through the open door. “You know it!” I yelled, a little too loudly for the quiet track.
He was taking a long time and my lungs were impatient, that or they were ready to collapse. This was before the smoking ban that finally swept into Colorado, and I had been taking advantage of not having to leave my seat to go smoke in the cold. I lit up my twentieth cigarette and tapped my foot to the country songs still ringing in my head. My friends down south and I always make fun of ‘new country’ but I had to admit that it was catchy.
I saw his hair before I actually saw his face. Jefferson was creepy. I didn’t understand how I hadn’t seen him before, but there he was walking toward me at two-thirty in the morning.
“Hello?” I decided it would be better to pretend I didn’t recognize him. It’s sort of a trick I learned growing up.
“Hey yerself,” came his voice.
“Oh, hi there.” We were playing the greeting game again.
He stepped onto the lawn, blowing smoke out of the right side of his mouth like a cowboy might. His face was a permanent squint as he said, “Y’all just come back from the bar?”
“A couple.” I answered.
“All right,” he said.
“Um, Jefferson, is there something I could do for you?”
“Oh. I – ya know I’se just wonderin’ somethin’ today after I left.”
“What’s that?”
“Well,” he started sheepishly, “I guess it’s my wife really, but we were wonderin’, are you from Katrina?”
I actually wondered for a second if Katrina was a town in California where he might have had some relatives. Then the water rushed to my eyes and I blinked it back and laughed maniacally. He looked a little hurt, but I didn’t sympathize with him. “It woulda made sense, I guess,” he said.
“What?”
“Nothin’. I guess that’s it.”

My brother was kicking one of the miniscule pebbles from its place among the other rocks and chain smoking. The cold snap seemed to pass and now it was only brisk. Our part of the earth was starting to tilt toward the sun. The stars were starting to disappear. “Maybe he just didn’t know.”
“Clearly, Pete, he doesn’t know.”

“Don’t get mad, I’m just saying, he doesn’t know better, he’s an old Colorado hick and he’s ignorant. Who cares?”
“He’s not that old.” “What?” My brother had a way saying what the same way you might say, You’re an imbecile.
“You said he was an old hick, and he’s not that old. He’s probably our age.” “That doesn’t mean anything.” He chugged his Bud Light and pulled another one out of his coat pocket.

“It does. People our age shouldn’t be so stupid.”
“Maybe he doesn’t have a TV.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Television allows people to see things they wouldn’t ordinarily see.”
“What, like black people?”
“Maybe.”
“Pretty smart for a soon to be Doctor.”
My brother sank his beer. “I study rocks, not people,” and burped loud enough for Jefferson and his wife to hear. “Go to sleep. We’re going to Denver in the morning.”
“It is the morning.”
“Stop it.”

A few observations:

lying in the bed, no window coverings, lots of open land, dead grass ’cause of the snow. On the perimeters are big trucks, big brand new houses. Out of the top left hand corner of the window, the flag ripples in the wind. I sat below that flag last night. It must have been twenty degrees, but I was determined to smoke that last cigarette; cool my nerves before going to bed. I heard it, but truthfully, out in the plains it’s hard to tell where a noise is coming from. I kept staring at the big polished rocks on the border between my brother’s house and the neighbors’ and I imagined that there was a creek running over them. That’s what my ears told me was happening and I was so drunk that I started to believe it. I stood up and grunted – my brother does that too- and I stumbled toward the rocks to see the rushing water and that’s when I looked up and saw the flag whipping in the wind. no window coverings in the entire house, however there are security systems. No big city, no crime

the dogs bark at everything, there are so many pillows it’s almost like lying on a big fluffy mattress.

my brother will drink a half a case a night, if he wants to; in a whole day he may drink an entire case.

don’t forget in the distance there are trains and there are coyotes and you are in the middle of a brave new world.

and there are the times we broke windows in the alley with rocks
and the time before when we weren’t allowed to go near the alley
the breaking into peoples’ homes
the lighting everything on fire.

Jefferson, again at the front door. His eyes peer at my face fascinated. I want to be offended, but it’s impossible to ignore the boyish cheeks and the crooked, tobacco stained grin. He asks, again, if my brother is at home and I have to tell him, again, that he’s at work.
“What does he do?”
“He lectures at the university. Geology. He studies the earth; rocks, minerals, dirt.”
“He ever tell you what these rocks are called?” he asks, bending to run his fingers along them.
“Well, technically it’s gravel.”
“I know that much, Miss,” he grinned again.
“I mean, gravel comes from all sorts of places. It’s an aggregate.” I had heard that somewhere.
“Right.” He kicked the stuff around a little and massaged his neck awkwardly. “How long you gonna be around here?”
“Are you trying to get rid of me, Jefferson?”
“Nah. Just wonderin’.”
“I fly home in a week.”
“I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Oh-” There is also waiting on the runway, watching the big metal birds roll slowly, one behind the other and the other. When suddenly the captain thrusts the bird forward and your eyes are glued on the window – it never gets old, watching the boring buildings zoom by and suddenly your feet aren’t on the earth anymore and you’re in sitting position, but it doesn’t matter much what position you’re in, you’re in the air. In the air; angled up toward the clouds or the smog, and you can’t help thinking of every cheesy song that has to do with love and being high; -er than a kite; as the sky; on you; Edging toward the skyway, you can feel it, first in your feet, then your belly and finally your head; you’re getting lighter and lighter. at some point you become heavier again, the pressure from the cabin and the gravity trying desperately to bring you back down to earth, but now you’re not in control any more. There’s nothing you can do about it. You’re flying. A fumnambulist is a tight rope walker.

How amazing this is.

Jefferson said, “Have you ever flown while the sun is going down? The bright red scorch of the sun on the earth’s horizon underneath a maze of city lights and highways and backyards with swimming pools in them…” “Yeah, I have seen that before,” I said it automatically, but it was true. I had seen everything he said.
“It’s the only time I got to take my feet off the ground if you know what I mean,” he grinned and spat a small bit of tobacco to the floor.
“It was nice talkin’ to ya,” he said abruptly and turned and walked away.
I watched him saunter up the street back to his house and when he was out of sight, I mimicked his gait in the three car driveway. I was trying to write how his hair went, thin and wiry and all over the place, like a three year old’s.

My brother was certainly tired of hearing about him. Delilah, Pete’s wife, was struggling with a giant frozen lasagna. We could hear her wrestling with the cellophane. At one point it sounded like she was stabbing the cardboard. I imagined her eyes narrowed like a jackal’s and her tongue furiously wagging from side to side as she battled the giant glacial beast. I looked at my brother over the Denver Post. He was hunched over a stack of papers, oblivious to the carnage in the kitchen. He looked up, slightly nodding toward the kitchen and muttered. “This is her catharsis.”
Over the burnt remains of dinner, Delilah gossiped about co-workers neither I nor my brother knew. She was an accountant at a run down law firm near Elitch Gardens. Every six months the partners would get comped tickets and the whole firm would go ride roller coasters and eat funnel cake together. She had worked for the law firm of B & J, Denver since college and she knew everyone’s business. Tonight she told us about the senior partner’s secretary, how she was getting a divorce because she had slept with the boss. I stared blankly at the vinyl table cloth.
When Delilah seemed to run out of steam my brother announced, “I have my final dissertation argument in June.”
“Babe, that’s great!”
“Yeah Pete. That’s awesome.”
“Does that mean you’ll finally get tenure?”
“Delilah, I keep explaining to you, I’m not even staff. I’m considered visiting until the degree is finished.”
The high vaulted ceilings and chiffon dresses disappeared from Delilah’s jade green eyes, while my brother’s placid blues focused on the limp iceberg salad on his plate. He pushed it around clockwise and then counter, trying to appear thoughtful.  Delilah took a deep breath and smiled slightly, “Either way, that’s great news honey.”
“Thanks.”

The sign of the King Sooper’s was exactly the same as it was when we were little. There was a puke green van in the handicapped space and a wind catcher was hanging from the mirror. The driver slept with his mouth open, the fog on the windows expanding and retracting with his breathing. “Do you remember going to the one in Denver to give away puppies?”
“Yeah!”
“Delilah doesn’t believe we ever did that.”
“Why would you make something like that up?”
“When you figure it out I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to hear it.”
We stood there for a moment. The bright red glare from the sign made the circles under Pete’s eyes seem darker. He looked tired. We got in the car and headed west. The view of the rockies was like a giant photo stretched across the windshield. “When does she leave for Vegas Pete?”
“Tomorrow night. I’m taking her to the airport.”
“You mean her work doesn’t have a giant roller coaster that will come pick her up?” Pete had to smile.
“I don’t understand why you don’t like her.”
“It’s not that I don’t like her, it’s that she’s…she’s…”
“Shallow? Uninteresting? Self Centered?  Fake?”
“Damn Petey.”
“Well?”
“I think she’s waiting for you to get famous.”
“I think she’s tired of waiting.” He lit a smoke and held it. “I’m thinking about going back to California.”
“The Land of the Liberal?”
“Without Delilah.”

As we pulled into the driveway, a pick up truck full of teenagers careened down Bridge street and screeched to a halt. “What was that?” I strained to see a shadow flit across the road.
“Prob’ly a deer.” My coat was tangled in the seat.
“In winter?” I wrenched it free and started to roll up the window.
“Global warming,” my brother smiled, and then, “I think that’s your friend coming.” He flicked his cigarette and rested his hands on the wheel. I turned in the direction of jaunty Jefferson and smiled for a minute. I raised my arm and Pete was already backing out of the driveway.

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2 Responses to “Loss In Air”

  1. a joy to read your writing again melissa. keep it up. u got mad skills and love in that heart of yours.

  2. Yes, I do believe you gave away puppies at the King Sooper.

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