Take Flight, Father

I keep seeing airplanes. They screech overhead, scratching across clear blue skies. All kinds of lights twinkle on their wings. I’ll be walking down the street to check my mail and then hear a shrill piercing noise thousands of feet above me, zooming across the sky. The ground trembles under my feet or maybe it’s me who’s trembling as I sort through letters and bills, afraid that I might find a postcard from my father explaining why he steered the 747 into Virginia wilderness. When I walk down the street, I’ve usually had coffee. I’ve had three coffees and I know that my neighbors are staring at me. It’s like that with the airplanes too. I feel like everyone sitting in rows 1ABC through 40DEF are peering down their windows and looking at the top of my head. They can see through my thinning hair to my flaking scalp. When I’m walking down the street to check my mail with my coffee in hand, they can see the thick caramel of my coffee ripple in the mug. The rim of the mug is chipped and maybe they all want me to cut my lip on the rim. That’s fair. But my lips know where the mug is chipped, so my lips know to avoid the part of the mug that’s chipped like an earthworm that knows to crawl around the crack in the sidewalk. I look up at the airplanes some- times and strain my neck trying to follow the trajectory of the planes until they disappear. I wonder who’s on those airplanes. Grandmothers, sons, sisters-in-law, husbands, mistresses, shop girls, bank tellers, my father, bus drivers, strippers, schoolteachers, doctors, cocktail waitresses, ex-cons, drug dealers, cancer patients; I wonder if I stare up hard enough and if they stare down hard enough if the steely determination of our stares will meet halfway in the stratosphere and we’ll both realize it’s okay that they’re about to die or that they’re dead or that they had forfeited their right to continue living the moment they boarded the airplane. I leave half-drunk cups of coffee around the house and days later, I remember to collect them and sometimes when I lift one cup up to my nose to sniff it, a plane flies by overhead and the other cups rattle. Sometimes I’ll even sip the days-old coffee and they’ll be ice-cold. This is how the coffee must taste after the planes have reached wherever they’re going. I wonder if when I’m sipping this particular cup of days-old coffee, glacial in my mouth, there’s a stranger with the same genetic affinity towards baldness in a plane flying overhead. I wonder if after wiping the sweat of his palms on his hands and swallowing his last gulp, he makes peace with God, my stepmother and each of the hundred plus passengers as he lets them all fall and burn. I wonder if his heart is quiet as he rescues them.