The Build-It-Yourself-Airplane Kit

The morning Colin’s airplane exploded over Rife Island—gold sand, cheap beer, vacationing urbanites in the last wet days of April vacation—his wife Sarah packed her bag.  She bundled their baby into the backseat of the Honda her parents had given her—Colin didn’t want to buy a car—and left a scrawled note next to breakfast on the fold-out kitchen table.  It was easier to blurt these things than to carefully think them through, Sarah decided.  As the sky, threatening rain, burst Colin’s haphazard conglomeration of wood, tar, and steel, Sarah slung the baby over her shoulder, touched his warm forehead with her cold lips and rested his head under her chin, thinking the red in the sky was merely an illusion, the way Sammy’s birth made her think she saw creatures in the ceiling, snakes scratching their way through linoleum.

Water does not look like fire, she told herself, starting the car, burping remorse somewhere between the bagel she’d toasted and the roadmap fluttering on the dashboard.  Colin had never been practical.  The road led her out of stifling sea heat and back to the possibility of the city.

Sarah would not find out her husband was dead until two weeks later, when Janet, the landlord, came to collect the rent.  Sarah always left it on the kitchen table with a neatly-written note.  Now the penmanship was long, scrawled; there was a mold-covered plate of eggs; the bathroom was strewn with clothes, the tangled evidence of a fight.  Janet trotted—she had just played tennis and felt agile—back to the office, where her son, Jeff, sat pretending to study but really tapping instant messages to his friends on the other side of the coast.  “Jeffrey,” she said, folding her arms across her chest; he slunk back into his seat, guarding the screen from her view, “Weren’t you supposed to baby sit that little boy?”

“They never called,” Jeff switched the computer off, a tap of his thumb.  He squinted at her, held his hand up to his forehead, as though her gaze was blinding him.

“Mom?  Can you stop looking at me, please?”

This is what Jeff didn’t tell his mother:  he remembered seeing Colin crouched in the garage, humming the Stones song Sad, Sad, Sad, and hammering away at a hunk of tin.  Jeff had ducked into the dampness of the garage.  His hand splayed a shadow bigger than his body on the slanted wall.  He asked Colin what he was making.  Colin wore a grease-stained wife beater, his thin arms strained with hours of building—the wheel, the wing, the body—and he worked for a few more exhales before he grinned.  “An airplane.” “No fucking way,” Jeff said, because he could curse around Colin, he could even smoke around Colin.  Colin didn’t believe in restrictions, he said age was just a number society pinned on you to try and maintain order.  The way driver’s licenses are given after you pay the DMV for tests and lessons.  The way animals are herded into zoos, the way kids have different menu options, as if they only like chicken fingers and grilled cheese; his kid, he told Jeff, was going to eat caviar.  Complications create jobs, he said, puffing his cigar.  Jobs create revenue, money.  That’s really all it is about.

His teeth were found first.  A fisherman stopped by the salmon-stocked southern coast—thick with bushes of poisonous berries, flowers that looked like lilacs but pricked sharply, dandelions curling from the sand—and found an entire hand, burnt around the fingernails.  When the article ran in the local newspaper, Sarah said she knew the build-your-own-airplane kit had been given to her husband, but thought it was a flight, a fad; “I thought it was a joke,” she said to the reporter.  “You meant it as a joke,” she said Devon, Colin’s best friend, the day the headline ran alongside a picture of her husband, tanned and smiling.  Man builds his own death.  “Didn’t you?” she asked Devon.  “Yes,” he said.  He was kissing her wrist, it was freckled from the sun.  She preferred Hawaii to Rife Island, Devon did too.  She preferred goals to meandering fantasies.  Man builds his own death. Devon read aloud, his voice hoarse from bronchitis.  In the next room the baby wailed.

Sarah slept.  Her hair curled against Devon’s shoulder and he thought of the day he’d wandered into the store, the walls stocked with microscopes, model airplanes, boats that could double as cars.  That was when he’d seen the kit, approximately the length of a pet dog, the cardboard crowded with lists of instructions, materials not included.  Devon thought of how he’d plucked the box off the shelf the second he saw it, and found it surprisingly light, the way dreams are when you examine them from a distance, as though they aren’t yours.  

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