Here is a voice. Here is a man who wants to be more than he is. Here is a story about being stuck and about letting yourself be stuck. Here is writer Matthew Pitt. Here is this weekend’s fiction section, another entry in the struggle to be good. —Matt Salesses, Good Men Project Fiction Editor
Me, LeTroy, and one other friend went in on buying this baby two years ago. 86-seater, decommissioned when its discount airline went belly up. After three decades faithful floating and intra-continental soaring, the jet was chained to a semi, getting towed to a new location, about to be gutted for parts. But the rigging snapped on the trip, thing swerved off-road, and tumbled down this gully. Once that happened, we were able to buy it cheap enough. Only a couple other bidders. There’s not many want a busted jet with a cockpit you can’t see even treetops from.
Thing can’t take us anywhere anymore, but it still gets us plenty of places. You can’t imagine the royal coup this was, presenting for the pleasure of our girls at the time not some slinky dress or night in a casino, but a whole mode of gotdamn transport.
Our current girls like it too. LeTroy and me don’t think these latest girls will last long, but at least they play stewardess. Ones before didn’t. We couldn’t convince those ones to loosen. They kept thinking police would raid our bird. Well okay, say they did: impounded it, welded the hull. Where were they gonna move the fucker?
We stab stale pretzel bits from seat pockets for snacks. Moisten them with beers, light joints to improve the taste. Why do they call the feeling stoned when all you feel after smoking is altitude, like you’re gaining on, and then overshooting, the atmosphere? We aren’t stoned. We are happy and calm and cruising.
Dorie, LeTroy’s new girl, announces she did it once in a plane lavatory; well, one-half times, actually. We commend her—“Mile High Club!”—wondering what’s involved in half a time.
“Before the flight, during a mechanical delay,” she adds. “Strictly pre-boarding.”
LeTroy and me stay quiet, unsure if her remarks are about the flight or the fuck. “Well shit,” Barb (my girl) says, peeling her shirt back. “Can’t let you outdo me.” She strips to undies, pings a thumb against my zipper. “Let’s you and me get some front-seat bucking, pilot.”
I race to the cockpit, grab my hat, flip the still-working intercom. “Folks, this is your captain. Kindly take your seats. I illuminated that fasten seat-belt sign. In a few minutes, me and my girl will be shaking us out some rough old turbulence.”
After, the girls don bikinis, and we splash in the creek. Floating downstream on our backs, hugging seat upholstery. Delivered to our vacation destination.
“So where’s this plane take you?”
“Anywhere we damn well desire. Iceland, Scotland, Peru, Netherlands . . .”
She’s talking about Andre. We don’t talk about Andre.
Dorie won’t stop, though. “The one who’s not with you? I don’t understand why we never bump into him. Or invite him on trips. He paid for the plane, too, right? Rows 1 through, like, 7, are his.”
“Dorie, darn,” Barb says, paddling over. “I think their deal’s terms went bad.” So Dorie finally quiets up, soaks her glistening forehead with creek water. Only now that she’s dropped it, LeTroy and me can’t. We climb out, fetch towels. Eventually the girls follow. You can’t let your rides back to town leave you in a ditch.
Andre was our other partner in the plane escapade. He had a girl, too. But their thing turned crucial. He cleaned up, stopped just clocking at his job—said he’d become a whole new man, but LeTroy and me mumbled no, just the asshole part. Watching a guy who used to be like you go all-of-a-sudden serious looks ridiculous. Andre started saying and doing things for real he used to say and do as jokes.
LeTroy and me shot off his balls when we got high together, but he still yapped: about all the real places we could steer and bank our wings if they really worked. Like he was leader of his own damn heavens.
Andre’s wedding was the last place we really talked to him. He went to Cabo—really went—on his honeymoon. Came back only long enough to buy maps and shovel out shit from the house we shared. In the year since, he’s sent postcards from Bermuda, Guatemala, bunch of places we used to pretend to be . . .
But I told you I didn’t want to tell about this guy. Why didn’t you stop me?
Layover done, hungry as hell, we hop in for our lunch meal. Only we forgot to open the exits and air out our jet: so the shrink-wrapped sandwiches stink of baked mayo. LeTroy says let’s play Air Marshal. We flip a coin, and I win, so he’s gotta play Arab perp. Dorie cranks the speakers for in-flight entertainment, one song piping out on repeat: “It Was a Good Day.”
In this game, I get the shotgun. Double-action, with a cylinder magazine, but a total dud. We found it in a Dumpster after an ammo show; thing’s a useless scab of rust. LeTroy’s armed only with a Spork from our to-go bags. We play several episodes; our girls watch with glee. Dorie times us. How long’s it take to disable LeTroy when we’re six rows apart? Ten? At opposite ends of the cabin?
Then Barb says, “Now let me be an obstacle. You gotta get LeTroy before he cuts Dorie. But I’m in the aisle, stupid tourist digging around the overhead.” Even though I already fucked Barb today I still want to impress her. Racing down the aisle, I vault over a row of seats. It shaves seconds off my time. Only I land in a hole—made from where we ripped out a seat cushion to float down the creek. My ankle drops right in, buckles. I feel it puff like its been snakebit. Injury will lay me out for a week. Worse, I can’t pull myself out. My other foot plunged into the next-door seat crack, and the cushion has closed around me. More I twist and yank, more I sink. And the whole cabin is laughing. “Whoa,” says Dorie. “You just, like, vanished there, marshal, in our hour of need.”
Barb’s in hysterics, too. “So much for being a trusty flotation device. Can’t even hold you up outside of water!”
“Looking at my mirror, not a ‘jacker in sight…” the song’s still going on. I must look like—so not a hero.
Finally, I rip my way out of the seat folds and, before I know, am up the aisle, forearm shivering LeTroy. “Drop the weapon, towelhead. Back off the lady, dig?” Normally I’d slap him; we’d call it over. But this time I wave the shotgun in a hypnotic, tick-tock way, like the snakes known to slither into our luggage bay.
“Come on, baby,” I hear Barb, “don’t point at his face.”
Dorie adds she’s out of harm’s way now, in one of those voices where you can’t control the shiver. He dropped the Spork. Surrendered.
But see, LeTroy is still smiling, even with my barrel kissing his lips. Which tells me the girls aren’t fully in on the rules of our game. “Hear that? You snatched their sympathy, towelhead. Want to go out a martyr? ‘Cause trust me, you’re never flying another mile, or seeing one more foreign cloud, again.”
I tap in the barrel; LeTroy’s mouth parts from the bitter metal taste. “I’m grounded? For life? Then shoot me right now, sugarass. Become my damn judge.”
Aiming at a stringy piece of turkey in his teeth, I prepare to pinch the trigger, as our ladies scream. Why are they screaming? We already said we came by this gun same way we did the plane: only by virtue of its uselessness. No way will my pinching its trigger really unload any stored-up lead. So, relax.