by George Salis
Laura the pregnant accountant was stapling together the corners of two sheets of paper on the 100th floor of the north tower when a deafening burst from below knocked her backward in her chair and, like hawking a loogie, her baby expelled prematurely from her womb, first punching a hole in the crotch of her granny panties, then vaulting the hem of her skirt and landing on her desk, splattering blood and amniotic fluid all over her important documents. While screams and wails from her coworkers filled the cubicles, she could only focus on the murine cries of her too-early baby, and an alarming instinct, a flight response, caused her to chew through the worm shell of her umbilical cord, the taste like al dente calamari. When Laura was free of her organic encumbrance, she stood and reached for the nearest sheet of paper and began to fold an airplane while she hummed a lullaby to calm her baby boy, and she could see in her peripheral vision that he started to relax, shedding less red-stained tears, curiously licking bodily fluids from his tendril lips and smiling a toothless crescent of gums.
She had been a paper airplane expert in high school, engineering eccentric crimps, creases, and folds in order to win every class and regional competition. Even while her planes performed a medley of aerobatic maneuvers with finesse—barrel rolls, hammerheads, inverted spins, infinity swoops, Immelmann turns, inside and outside loops—they always flew the fastest and the farthest. She had been trained by a homeless origami master that lurked by the dumpsters beside her high school, folding cardboard, wrapping paper, packing peanuts, aluminum foil, anything he could find, into innovative plane designs. “Trained” wasn’t exactly the correct word, for if she approached him he would shriek like a bird-raised waif, so she studied the movements of his dexterous fingers and hands with the aid of binoculars, once stealing a delicate fiberglass design that nearly got her neck caught in his infuriated strangle. After all her winnings, she went to the national competition, and when it was her turn she gazed into the crowd and spotted the twitching savant, one eye puckered shut and the other fissured eye all too knowing, and she misstepped as she threw the airplane and it performed a Pugachev Cobra into a bystander’s shaven cranium. After that sudden blunder, she never folded so much as a paper fortune teller.
But the plane she was folding now was different from anything else she had created before. It contained a cockpit. When she was finished, she coughed, breaking her Ritalin focus, aware of the vines of vile smoke tracing her innards. Her son’s vein-lidded eyes blinked with a knowledge of the emergency situation, and he extended an E.T. index finger that shone a little gem of love and hope inside her fearing mind. “Okay, honey. We need to get you out of here. Don’t you worry.” She picked him up, barely a sprouted potato in her palm, and she lumbered across the pulsing breathing floor, through a hedge maze of smoke. She passed coughing coworkers made anonymous by fragments of cloth pressed into their faces as they slouched and stumbled in other directions. In the manner of a laboratory rat, she turned left right right left right, no, right left left right left, or she was simply walking a tightrope like Philippe Petit, until by some miracle she reached a window of pure light where the wind loosely perforated a V-shape in the outside smoke. The multiple fangs of glass around the rectangular perimeter indicated that the window had been shattered. When the tower itself began to cough, reverberating its skeletal structure, she quickly kissed her newborn son on the back of his translucent head, baptizing him with ashen saliva, and then placed him in the captain’s seat.
His extraterrestrial fingers gripped the control wheel and when she put one foot forward and cocked her elbow, holding the paper airplane at the precise center of its gravity, a gaggle of embers fluttered into her face and scorched the cornea of her aiming eye, puckering it shut, and so she was forced to open her other eye wider, baring the entirety of the fissured hemisphere, and as she began to consider calculus and wind velocity, she knew that she already knew it, arc and all, for she had read those equations in the fissured eye of the origami master, yes, he had been at her competition, away from his precious dumpsters, not for revenge but to warn her of this prophecy, this throw that mattered more than anything else because the broiling air would have to bear her son safely to earth, and much hinged on this precarious takeoff. As the savant shrieked the calculations over and over in her mind, she ejected her forearm, flicked her wrist, and let open the pinch of her fingertips, after which she covered her eyes in anomalous prayer. Piloting the paper airplane, the preemie surfed upon a wave of sulfuric smoke, nosedived through a wind-churned funnel, performed an aileron roll through the bent legs of a falling man. . .
Image: Steve Johnson via pexels.com. Find him on Instagram @artbystevej.
I’d like to thank The Sunlight Press for being bold enough to publish my story. Most publishers would shy away from such a story because of its (relatively) dense/complex execution, let alone the sensitive subject matter.
I love the image you decided to put with it. It’s somewhat abstract and the textures are evocative.
For the readers: If you’ve enjoyed “Flight Response,” I also have another longer 9/11 story titled “The Second Skein.” It was published by Black Dandy with a hauntingly beautiful illustration by Lance Jackson. Click here for more info (you can read it online for free): https://georgesalis.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/the-second-skein/