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Three Stories by Robert M. Detman

Ejection Seat
The seat of fire focuses his attention, stamping his feet in hot coals at twenty thousand feet, the spray of misting fuel igniting across the violet range of the light spectrum and the ear popping cessation of cabin pressure, the fuselage disintegrating like a roman candle around him, the maximum g’s, the hair on his arms singeing like cinnamon toast, the loss of control of the stick as the earth turns around in the sky, the honeyglaze of tawny hills becoming portent and collusion, the freshet of air parsed with viscous smoke and the disappointment of a costly fighter peeling away from him, a dismal onion, the capsule exploding away in a vulcanic whoosh, the oddly pretty flames fed by mach and drag, the sudden attainment of separation and twining free fall, looking up into the sky for bearing, somersaulting, and for the briefest flash of memory, imagining his father, younger than himself, reaching up to catch him among the dandelion seeds drifting like little parachute men on a summer afternoon.
When was the last time he let loose, let fly, let himself go, he asks himself, on the verge yet again of his moment. He always feels a little trapped, a bit less capable of dealing with a stranger. He sometimes feels the woman in his life, let’s call her the wife, is a stranger, or he’s estranged himself, just long enough, but he hopes she doesn’t notice. And in the intervals is all this duty he’s signed on for, he’s angling in on it. This, here, he thinks, though he’d rather be writing this in the sky, where many will see it, how many will care? So it’s better that he’s not writing it from the after burn of an F-16. And then there is the matter of having something to say, that it will be memorable or could be, that it will shimmer electronic and carry the weight of maybe twenty years of life lessons, not all of them good. But this alone will sear the retinas of the unwitting, or burn an oval on their faces like a bare sun, which only time will heal.
     But she’ll look at him with inquisitor’s eyes, and even then it’s not as bad as he imagines, and when she asks him if everything is alright he recognizes that, as much as he despises himself for thinking of it, this is his moment.
     He’s built himself into this bubble which presses luxuriantly and safely around his head. In his wide-eyed recognition, he’s skyrocketing through blue ether, how bad can it be? he wonders, because he sees himself and can imagine the most wonderful person he is, he still doesn’t believe it because he has to imagine it. Then he thinks about how we’re all our own little Mercury or Polaris rockets zipping so fast past each other that we can’t even read our registration numbers, these being the equivalent of dogs’ butt sniffing. At least up here he can see something of the big picture, too broad of course to discern fine details, or to consider he has an interlocutor, and too far away to do anything about it, however. And the message at this speed doesn’t make any sense, though certainly he can hope someone will see it from the vantage point of the ground.
Ski Patrol
Here goes the great lover of the ephemeral, of the bullshit sometimes, trying to remember not an hour ago, lost on that hill in blinding snow, freezing, or very nearly so, as the forest about him thinned to fog. On the verge of a terrifying fear, pushing off nonetheless, breezing across a near vertical face beyond the indistinct barrier and caroming unskillfully between serrated trees. The sensation like a cold pin ball, as aerodynamic and carefree–rather, aimless–slipping like an oiled ball bearing, pinged off the husk of trees for fifty yards before dropping into the well of the mother of all Sequoias. But the excitement, for a moment, the sensation of flyover and weightless release, through a narrow chute: is it ever comparable to anything else? Before the snow pack hindered him, gently even, and sucked him in like a wave, he began his reckoning. His twisted ankle sent him off the ice shelf into the house deep snows where a silence unlike anything he’s ever known, reigns. A silence that hurts his ears and humbles him back to thoughts of what he should have done; how he had slighted all those who knew him, in some way. Slighted them such that this is all he can recall in the midst of his awkward angle: his head skewed downward chin to chest, his legs twisted behind and somehow above his head, his poles out of reach (he didn’t use the straps last time because he had fallen so often that he found it was easier to pull himself up after falling if his hands were not twined in the straps. Alas, as he rocketed into his current position, the poles kept going.) To add to the misery, he is exhausted, far off the trail that was poorly marked. Perhaps someone will find him if they, too, get lost, or the ski patrol, if they consider his trajectory. As he lies here and nominates the list of personal failings for most egregious, he imagines someone finding his body next summer, partially concealed in crystallized snowmelt of humped hillocks and sublimating patches shadowed blue and grey with the months, as the giant caterpillar tractor which pushed him deeper into snowpack for the prior three months will have spread his hollow bones in their filigree of skin and tattered fleece outerwear, and the humiliation will yet be his, even as his death will be re-visited upon his quiet white haired father, who will go to his end wondering how his son never lived up to his potential.
Robert M. Detman’s fiction has appeared in The Antioch Review, elimae, Evergreen Review, Santa Monica Review, Word Riot and other journals.