Michael Grant Smith ~ Space Junk

An ultra­light air­craft over­shoots the run­way and incin­er­ates my aza­leas. The pilot (a per­son I didn’t know) and my can­dy-col­ored flow­ers per­ish sim­i­lar­ly. Flames glow like movie the­ater “Coming Attractions” pro­ject­ed onto neigh­bor­ing gar­den sheds. The first phone num­ber I dial isn’t 911, but my father’s. His reac­tion is civ­il yet competitive.

So, not even a full-sized air­plane, you say? A dis­card­ed Chinese rock­et boost­er took care of my mole prob­lem last night. Witnesses say the flare turned my back­yard into the Vegas Strip! Blinded Mrs. Oakes next door and her three yap­py dogs. Reentry is a bitch.”

Our con­ver­sa­tion lasts four min­utes, includ­ing lin­ger­ing paus­es and awk­ward silences.

Call your moth­er,” Father says in clos­ing. “She loves your bull­shit, even when she doesn’t buy it.”

You could believe it, too,” I reply, grav­el-voiced, to the dial tone.

I smell courage when­ev­er I sleep; breathe it deeply. If I catch a whiff of any­thing oth­er than sweaty hair on my pil­low, I’ll sure­ly grab the bug-out bag next to my bed and slink down the stairs towards the exit. When you reach the hori­zon and look back, it’s anoth­er horizon.

Lunchdates with my sis­ter and broth­er tend to be rit­u­al­is­tic blood­let­tings rather than socia­ble, so their invi­ta­tion leaves me crampy with dread. I shuf­fle into our agreed-upon meet­ing place, a greasy-spoon din­er. The air is sti­fling and I’m the sole cus­tomer. At the counter loi­ters the entire food-prep staff. They sip cans of cola.

Sit any­where, hon,” the wait­ress yawns.

Why isn’t any­one in the kitchen?” I ask, not mind­ing my own damn business.

One of the cooks dabs at the per­spi­ra­tion on his scalp.

It’s too hot in there, so we got out!”

Dawn and Don, my fra­ter­nal twin sib­lings, arrive togeth­er. When we were kids I named them Thing 1 and Thing 2 — in appear­ance and deeds, their resem­blance to the Dr. Seuss char­ac­ters left an impres­sion, sim­i­lar to what hap­pens when you press your thumbs into a slice of fresh-baked bread.

No red jump­suits for Dawn and Don. They now wear reg­u­lar adult cloth­ing: under­sized T‑shirts, frayed den­im vests, leather pants, those black-and-white Adidas slides. Strikingly un-iden­ti­cal, my sis­ter and broth­er mir­ror each oth­er more than I look like either of them.

My seed is potent,” Father used to tell me, “yet some­how, we end­ed up with you.”

Dawn’s dilat­ed eyes are inter­stel­lar black holes from which light can­not escape. Her iri­des­cent tress­es? Coils of razor wire. She habit­u­al­ly car­ries a calf­skin mes­sen­ger bag; man­i­festos and ulti­ma­tums fer­ment with­in the sued­ed darkness.

Don’s demeanor is of a man who has for­ev­er lost his keys or is about to. Slow on the uptake and quick to mis­read facts, he sub­sists on a diet of vit­a­min sup­ple­ments and false assump­tions. He is a bea­con of nope.

Let’s set­tle Father’s estate,” Dawn says to me through raw-liv­er lips. “We divide it equal­ly. A three-way split, TC, whether you want it or not.”

Don wipes sali­va from a cor­ner of his mouth, sniffs imag­i­nary chili. “Resistance is feu­dal,” he offers.

Father is still alive!” I shout. The employ­ees pause their chitchat and stare at me. “An hour ago I talked to him about fate and moles. Aren’t you two get­ting ahead of yourselves?”

Dawn bares her fangs in a smile. Mirth nev­er pass­es through this gate.

Hey, los­er,” she says. “For years you’ve insist­ed he’s dead to you. What’s the dif­fer­ence? And how is his mur­der not justified?”

If I had false, lazy answers to share, I’d be a weath­er fore­cast­er, so I shut up.

The bas­tard owes us, TC,” per­sists Don. “Parents are expect­ed to take care of their chil­dren. I mean…aren’t they?”

Dawn ignores Don for the mil­lion-bil­lionth time.

Father must com­pen­sate us for his bru­tal­i­ty,” she says, her voice oscil­lat­ing. “For his absences. The lousy opin­ions. Those ridicu­lous puns. Decades of cheap hair­cuts, and antipa­thy to den­tal hygiene — ours and his. Should I go on?”

When I was a wee tyke, all I want­ed to do was ride the mow­er. I even­tu­al­ly came of age, was del­e­gat­ed the respon­si­bil­i­ty, and hat­ed it imme­di­ate­ly. The monot­o­ny stu­pe­fied me.

So,” Father would growl, “if you’re going to mow the lawn, Third Child, you’d bet­ter get busy. Grass won’t cut itself, it knows only how to grow.”

Why can’t Dawn or Don do it?”

Maybe you won’t argue so much when I dis­lo­cate your jaw and it’s wired shut. Get out there!”

On the diner’s table­top I trace pat­terns. Even though my arse­nal is puny, I’ll uti­lize what­ev­er I can con­jure. Anxiety is fuel if you under­stand how to burn it.

You folks know what you want?” the wait­ress asks us while she looks out the window.

I do!” says Don. “For starters, when I col­lect my inher­i­tance, I’m gonna buy this place. Re-con­cep­tu­al­ize. Expand. Franchise it. Don’t wor­ry — you’ll still have a job!”

Thanks, mis­ter. Such a relief. Thought I’d haf­ta sell off my stocks and jew­el­ry. Anything to eat while we wait for the ink to dry?”

Chopped steak, blood rare,” Dawn says, clos­ing her menu. “Add a ham slice and some chick­en wings.”

Don rubs his bel­ly. “I’ll have the shrimp and grits. Hold the shrimp, dou­ble the grits.”

And what about you?” Our serv­er drags her gaze from the out­doors and lays it on top of my head.

Ice water, please.”

All you want is a glass of water?”

I nod, she shrugs.

Got none. Fresh out, I’m ‘fraid. We had some prob­lems today on account of the A/C goin’ ker­flooey and kitchen help passin’ out and all. Then the plumb­ing went kaput.”

Don unfolds a paper nap­kin and posi­tions it on his lap. He removes ten more from the dis­penser and stacks them, ready. Dawn gapes at him in bored disbelief.

The door din­gle-dings. In limps an elder­ly man, mus­cu­lar for his age, his face weath­ered by unkind­ness. He’s behind my sis­ter and broth­er but they note my spasm of recognition.

Hey, hand­some!” grins our wait­ress, meet­ing him at the counter. “What can I do you for today?”

Carryout, Lois,” says Father. “Picking up my straw­ber­ry PB&J with a side of ket­tle chips. I hope your crew trimmed the crust this go-round…”

Lemme know if they messed up, Mitch. I’ll whip ‘em with a wet noodle!”

Is that what you’ll do?” His gig­gle esca­lates to laugh­ter and fin­ish­es as a chok­ing fit. Lois slaps his back and I’d swear she and he both enjoy it.

I’m dying, here!” gasps Father. “Give me some­thing to drink!”

You bet, hon!”

Lois hands him a glass of water. From where? Father gulps it; the con­den­sa­tion drips and over­flow drib­bles off his chin. He plops down the glass — back­wash and ice slosh around. Then he spots us and a sneer bends his wrinkles.

My prog­e­ny! The fruit of my loins! What are you three up to?” He coughs up phlegm, remem­bers not to spit, swal­lows it. “Never mind, I don’t want to know.”

He speaks to all of us but his blood­shot peep­ers lock onto me with the inten­si­ty of a thirsty dog gaz­ing into a toi­let. From nowhere or every­where, with­in me ignites an emer­gency-flare of resolve. I can land this thing. Balance air­speed and lift. Line up the run­way. Pull on the stick and instead of bring­ing the nose up, stall. With the gale of accel­er­a­tion in my ears, yaw side­ways and brace myself to crater a ran­dom flower garden.

Dawn and Don want your mon­ey and prob­a­bly your house,” I blab. “Apparently, we’ll kill you for all of it. This was sup­posed to be a secret meeting.”

Father’s fist flat­tens his lunch bag on the counter. The pur­ple stain seeps into ripped paper, mes­mer­iz­ing me.

Conspiracy!” Father shrieks. “Assassination! Patricide! You lit­tle shits!”

The twins are mute, rigid, flab­ber­gast­ed. A per­ma­nent film of beige schmutz tints the diner’s wall clock; its sec­ond hand runs unmis­tak­ably back­wards three ticks and then stops. I’m unsur­prised by this phe­nom­e­non. I learned ear­ly: time is elas­tic, untrust­wor­thy, and most def­i­nite­ly aligned against you.

My bicy­cle chain snaps and I go head­first over the han­dle­bars, frac­tur­ing my col­lar­bone. I’m absent for four months of fifth grade. I final­ly return to the class­room and Father grounds me for six weeks as pun­ish­ment for hav­ing let my bike become unsafe.

In the mid­dle of my sec­ond senior year of high school, Mother resigns her real estate license and moves to the Canary Islands (of all places on Earth). Forever she’ll refuse to talk to us about her mar­riage to Father and how it end­ed, although she’s unapolo­get­i­cal­ly eager to dish on his sub­se­quent wives.

As one, Dawn and Don scram­ble out of our booth. Dawn waves a pill bot­tle and rat­tles it for extra effect. Her plan was to poi­son Father secret­ly, now she and our broth­er must do it in the open. Don hefts a sug­ar dis­penser, toss­es it from hand to hand, smirks with dum­b­ass con­fi­dence. Father drops into a half-crouch, and with a three-inch pock­et knife he pierces his left index fin­ger­tip. He holds it aloft. The trick­le of crim­son adver­tis­es the knife’s lethal potential.

The twins are sev­en years old, I’m five. Father takes us to a fam­i­ly reunion, where he for­bids us to eat the food or play with our ram­bunc­tious cousins. He tows us from rel­a­tive to rel­a­tive and says to each, “You said Mitch couldn’t do it! See for your­self — three times, here’s the proof!”

I’m a sta­tion­ary human lump inside the din­er, and the clock hands resume mov­ing in their nor­mal direc­tion. Dawn, Don, and Father are gone. Broken glass on the linoleum tiles glit­ters like ice — which the din­er is pur­port­ed­ly out of — inter­min­gled with scat­tered pink car­na­tions of blood-soaked paper nap­kins. The seared land­scape with­out is a par­fait of rose, peach, vio­let, and ash. Identified fly­ing objects thud to the ground. Lois the wait­ress clutch­es the phone, sob­bing, and from out­side ris­es the whine of wind and sirens.


Michael Grant Smith’s writ­ing has appeared or is forth­com­ing in eli­mae, The Airgonaut, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, MoonPark Review, Okay Donkey, trampset, Tiny Molecules, and else­where. Michael resides in Ohio and is nei­ther aero­dy­nam­ic nor buoy­ant. He has trav­eled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. Find more at www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.