Short Story – He Landed Mad (By Carol Park)
He Landed Mad
He lands with embers smoldering within and feels as senseless as the crazy cow plunging herself into barbed wire again and again at his cattle ranch. He walks the gangway behind the wisp of a woman. During the entire second part of his flight, she sat with her laptop open near him and nothing more than a hello. Once in the crowded lobby he paces ahead and into a corridor lined by shiny bars with tall liquor bottles or specialty deli and coffee shops—all looking more modish than at the time of his mom’s funeral some years back. Only stylish people wait or chat in this return to the Golden state from where he fled.
When he moved fourteen years ago, Annie was at his side, holding their baby. Their two monster suitcases lay in the gut of the plane and they rolled two onboard. Nothing shipped. We’ll buy new stuff there, he said. From second-hand stores in Missoula they bought whatever his wife’s parents hadn’t rounded up for them. In-law gifts included a used pick-up truck for him to use on the ranch. Before Montana he drove trucks, but on asphalt or gravel roads, not pitted ground. He shot a rifle before, but at deer, not a wolf, not part of making a living. After his nerves died down, he loved the work. The problem here and now was no Annie.
He comes to one of those fancy, faux-art windowed booths of the airport lobby. Something they didn’t have back when. Behind the locked glass are fancy jewels. Annie loves to look at these sparkles, but she’s under eight feet of sod. Needles prick his chest, prickles of pain like that time he fell off his horse into one of those needle and thread bushes he’s come to know all too well in Montana.
On a whim he steps into a gift/knick-knack store. A cylindrical container decorated in paisley stands on a shelf. He wants it, but isn’t sure why. He buys the long matches in their pretty container. Maybe because it was Annie’s favorite print.
On he walks to Thrifty Rental car to sign for his red Chevrolet Spark.
He’s curious how the area has changed and drives leisurely around San Jose, a kind of self-tour. It’s too early to check in at the Hyatt where his Gilroy High School reunion will be. The dozen new skyscrapers give him pause, especially the city hall. Its size and splendor a shock and the large concrete plaza and domed atrium like nothing he’s seen before.
A rich dude in a sports car honks and Andy gives the creep the finger.
After he spots the parking rate at his hotel, he’s disgusted. No way would he give a suited moron $39 daily to babysit his car. He finds street parking, and rolls his suitcase inside the brown block Hyatt. The lobby has lime-green arm chairs and large abstract art paintings—rather cold-looking, he thinks. The numbness within is hard and dry and denser than where few weeds grow. Embers flare inside him.
At the counter a black-haired man waits, a gorgeous brunette beside him, both all prettied up. Andy still wears his jeans and flannel. The fellow speaks to his woman—Andy recognizes Joe and says hello. They exchange mandatory remarks, while Joe’s wife speaks with the counter lady. Andy tells the where and what of his home and job. Joe’s lackluster response stinks of pity—he’s delighted in wealth and family. Though living nearby, the couple has taken a room for a night away from bambinos. Done checking in, the wife scarcely returns Andy’s handshake before saying, “Talk to you later.”
When the two leave, he pegs her lie and thinks, the bragging has started. These people care nothing about my ranch, my life—all nothing to them.
He wonders why he bothered to come to this reunion. Memories flood—the fights and high school classmates cursing him out. He always kept his pale face neutral, not letting on how much he understood of their Mexican-Spanish with its variances from his grandparents’ Castilian Spanish.
His room card unlocks his door. He tamps down the urge to lie down on the smooth bed. Nightmares would revisit—Annie’s face vivid, alive. Her saying, “I’m so hot. A fever. Can you drive me to the doctor?” He put her off. The cattle needed to be driven in. But later came too late.
He’s come for comfort. What a mistake. Comfort grows in his Montana home, the work, the land, and the moos of the cows. It used to be found in the shining admiration of his son, but not at age sixteen.
Anger and longing craze him, but he has the long matches. There’s time to visit familiar haunts of open land before food and drinks start at six.
Andy parks beside a field like shredded wheat, where dry summer skies crisp all that’s people don’t water. Perhaps this is where he proposed to Annie.
He takes the matches in hand and steps onto the dirt. He spins his head in all directions. Not a person in this lonely stretch. When he RSVP’d nine months back, he meant to walk trails here with Annie. He heads into the field of brown, grass cut to six-inch stubble. They do this to prevent fires. He scrapes the six-inch match across the rough, black circle at the box’s end. He’ll fire the devastation of his heart.
He holds the tiny flame to the grass till it takes. Then at another patch eight feet away, he lights another. Then another. Back in the car he watches the orange smolder turn to triangles of red. Burn, baby, burn, he urges.
The crimson blazes a foot high. No one in view. None to see him.
A whisper—from Annie? Tears smear his sight at the why, why?
“Because you’re not here.” He drives back to attend the party where he’ll say he’s fine.
Author Bio: Carol Park
Carol Park’s homes range from suburbs, to wilderness, to cultural mazes. While teaching and befriending English learners from far places, she’s learned how little she knows and how precious is the meeting of minds over tea. Through Seattle Pacific University’s MFA degree program she honed her writing.
Her short fiction has appeared within The East Bay Review,Harpoon Review, Shark Reef, Birdland Journal, Indigo and the anthology Irrational Fears. Her work is heard frequently at the Flash Fiction Forum in San Jose. Dragon Theater (RWC), The Peninsula Literary Society, the New Short Fiction series, Confluence, and other stages have also heard her work. Her forthcoming novel, Loosening the Obi, is set in contemporary Japan, her home of six years.