A COPCAR PULLED up next to me as I stood at the crosswalk of the empty intersection, on an empty summer night. I heard the static of dispatch through the car’s open window. The cop turned his head toward me and said hi. I nodded deeply, hands digging my pockets deeper, waiting for the little white man made of light to appear. I slapped the slack skin of my face and looked toward unyielding red lights. The cop smacked his gum. The cop said: “I suppose if I weren’t here, you’d just cross now, wouldn’cha?” I spat the heat of night out of my mouth and nodded. Then he said: “It’s a good thing I’m here.”
THE OTHER PLANE
FLIGHT 147 TO TOKULA lands and the Captain squeaks a mild touchdown over the PA. We rupture our air-licked silence with celebratory hoo-hahs! huzzahs and attaboys. First we hug each other. Then we paint our modest pilot with champagne. You’d be surprised how often these things crash now. Even more surprised how often they get stuck up in the lonely atmosphere.
I remember a trip to the Old Country on the occasion of shared birthday with my Grandfather. Before we’d exchanged ponnas and token cards, a wing ripped the skin of our fuselage, filling the cozy cabin with angry vortices of stray paper, plastic knives, and loose clothing. We plummeted hard. Our fall was broken by the green water below; some of us swam away with broken bones. We were all quite happy. Happier were the occupants of the other plane.
THE CAPTAIN’S MOUTH
I HAVE CRASHED THE PLANE, and walking along the beach, I find nothing to use for fire, except my glasses, which are horribly bent. And along this lagoon I find the body of an old Thai captain, stirring with fish swimming in and out of him. Can I be this far from home?!—No. Because I am aware of this despair. And because I am aware to get home all I have to do is think of city streets in my neighborhood and soon I will turn and find a house with a light on and turn again Turning. And surprise my family--Until then I will steal fish out of the dead Thai captain’s mouth.
THINGS WERE SO GOOD, I sold everything and floated with a wad of cash; at first thin as a packet of developed photos then thick and annoying as a brick.
I counted dollars as days, spent liberally then wisely, and whatever homeless man or toothless woman asked for spare change always got an unnecessary wad of single dollar bills. I think, I wanted to see how far I could go, on my own volition with money earned from simplification. If the devil is in the details, then God sleeps in simplification. And love, I burned through that too--raced it so far around the world it began to chase me and I had to run faster. I wanted the noise of the world to flood my empty ears and for it be the soundtrack of my life. To eat worldly secrets and project an image of God in my brain. I wanted speed, I wanted to see the speed I and a wad of money could travel and where I would have face reality and stop. I wanted to go. Until, after seeing Marrakesh, Damascus, London, and New Delhi, I ended up in Weeboken, New Jersey, looking at my last dollar bill, contemplating a phone call or a candy bar.
MY DOCTOR COMPLAINS about the movies I make. “Where’s the realism,” he asks, finger deep into a prostrate exam. “All I see anymore,” he says “are big breasts, guns, and exploding buildings. How can you support a system that breeds nothing but unrealistic ideals, sexist positions, and spawns copycat violence in our nation’s schools, I mean,” he continues, “life is so much more than that, so much more special, more painful, dull, different that the views you construct and project for big bucks.” And during this rant he continues to climb higher in my intestines, losing himself in me. “Goddamn,” he says, “the stuff I see today is worst than when I was in The War.”
TWO ASTRONAUTS OCCUPY THE NAVIGATOR CAPSULE, while a third is already in a cryo-sleep chamber. They tap buttons and put the ship in auto-mode. They haven’t spoke to each other since leaving the heliosphere.
One settles, his button work completed. The other hurriedly finishes on the control panel. A wheeze creaks through the ship, now safely on track.
One pulls out a video sheet, paused on the dour expression of a beautiful young woman.
He fingers the play icon, but doesn’t fully press the button. The other tries to ignore this act.
They retire to the mess hall, no bigger than a ready-shed. One cooks for the other. They still do not speak.
Eating in silence, they can’t help but recognize one in the other. The half-beards. The puckered neck fat. They can’t help but recognize the other in themselves. How one is a little more handsome the other, how the other has better (and more) hair. One has a rocking scar across his fingers, the other with plump healthy hands.
Looking at a bay of screens, they give the ship’s signals a final once over, recording stats in their oversized clipboards. Finally one speaks.
“This is a long trip. We might as well fix this.”
The other flings the video sheet at the one. “It’s my wife, you prick.”
“I’m sorry. She shouldn’t have sent that.”
“She doesn’t know if we are going to make it back.”
“What do you want to do then?”
The two astronauts eat another meal in silence. The other cooks for the one. They wait professionally for the toilet to become available. They even zip each other out of their flight suits.
Opening their cryo-sleep chambers they realize the problem: one could set the timer for earlier than the other. This one, or the other, could kill or preemptively kill his adversary. The killer could blame it on space madness to the third.
They climb in to their sleep chambers. They give it a 1-2-3, setting the dial on three. After twice leaving their chambers early they realize the solution, the only way they can ensure the other doesn’t wake before the one. They both climb into a single chamber and set the timer.
The third astronaut’s chamber slowly opens. As she thaws, she finishes the yawn started years ago. In the distance, around the corridor, coffee is made automatically. The third astronaut steps out and stretches. She passes by the other sleep chambers and does a doubletake. There are the two astronauts wedged into the same capsule, in an angry embrace. She lets out a Russian chuckle and thinks to herself, “So that’s what all the tension was about.”
Having resigned to kill each other if and when they get back to Earth, the two astronauts go through the motions of their mission. Their Russian companion, oblivious to the situation, is giddy as they perform tests, eat space food, and monitor plants.
Looking out the observation window, they see the swirl of a cold Jupiter. The Russian ecstatic. The one finally feeling guilty. The other—even in the astonishingly beautiful bowels of space--angry at the wife he may never see again.
About the Writer
Chance Dibben is a writer, performer. and photographer living in Lawrence, KS. His writing
and poems have appeared in the The Pitch, Squawk Back, Kiosk, as well as others.