The Third Good Thing
I woke up at about seven the next morning and decided to stay up and get most of my packing out of the way. I found clothes to ski in for that day, and other, lighter clothes for the trip home the next morning. The dirty clothes bag was in the suitcase, so I took that out and tossed yesterdays clothes in, then packed all the clothes from the dresser. I’d pack my ski clothes when we got back from skiing and finish the laundry bag in the morning.
I went into the bathroom and got cleaned up. When I came out I tossed my underwear and socks into the dirty clothes bag and got ready for skiing. I hadn’t looked outside before because it was dark, but now that there was early daylight I could see that yesterday’s light snow had persisted through the night. It was still snowing lightly and it was hard to judge the depth, but it sure looked like six inches or so of new powder out there.
I said out loud, “Wow! Look at that new snow,” and Tom slept on. I left him to it and hefted the huge sack that I found outside the door with my name on it when I came upstairs the night before. I set it on the bed and pulled the top open, finding it to be crammed full of other sacks, large and small. I looked in a few big ones, and they were full of what had to be Alpaca things, and I loved the fine feel of the wool. I didn’t pull anything out though, else I’d have to put everything back. I was feeling through, looking for something small that might contain a rune, and I realized I didn’t know how big a rune should be, or what one should feel like. They were letters of an ancient alphabet, I thought, and didn’t know what a letter of the alphabet should feel like. I was ready to give up when my hand closed on what felt like a rounded cube.
I pulled it out in its heavy plastic bag with the name of a jeweler on it, and it was indeed a jewelry box that I held. The box was nice by itself: a deep, dark red with a brass hinge and a velvety feel to it. I knew Lisa would love it as soon as I opened the box. It was a pendant about a half inch in diameter on a chain and clearly wrought by someone with a fine hand. Lisa didn’t wear a lot of jewelry; she didn’t own much. The things she did have were all small and delicate, and usually silver. Surely this rune was silver and lapis-lazuli. The love symbol, if that’s what it was meant to be, was odd. It looked like a pitchfork half stuck in the ground with a ring around the handle. If you know French, you might think someone became angry with the word ‘moi’ and slammed it into a wall.
I put it in the box after looking at the sales slip in the bag. If I got the conversion right, it cost about seventy-five dollars, so not enough to raise eyebrows, and probably perfect for my girlfriend at our age. I couldn’t buy her anything more expensive if I wanted to, and she’d probably have to give it back if I did. A little silver and lapis pendant from Chile? Nobody would object.
I opened the little box again looked at the rune for another minute, liking how it changed with the light, and put it back in the box, which I put in the bag. I found an empty pocket in my suitcase for it so I wouldn’t wonder where it was, and turned to wake Tom. He was flat on his back with his eyes looking blankly at the ceiling. I gave his shoulder a shove and said, “Come on, man. It’s our last day, and there’s new snow.
He didn’t budge, so I gave his shoulder another shove, and he still didn’t move. I got my face close to his and said, “Tell me you didn’t drop dead. I know you’re not because you were alive a minute ago. I think you were, unless your hand was doing that one last time on automatic.”
The bed started shaking and Tom’s frame, such as it was, started quaking before the laughter came. He lifted his head and said, “For the ten thousandth time, Paul, I do not jerk off!”
I said, “For the twenty-thousandth time, bullshit! You call it what you want, but you do it. Tell me what I saw ten minutes ago.”
Tom’s voice faded when he said, “My underpants got scrunched up, okay? I was trying to get comfortable again.”
I couldn’t help it and asked, “What? It takes two hundred adjustments a minute to get comfortable?”
“Sometimes … oh, go screw yourself. What time is it?”
I said, “It’s after eight. Get ready, and don’t forget to pack. I’ll be downstairs having a yummy breakfast while you figure out your underwear.”
When I was heading to the hall Tom said, “I could say something, but I won’t. Save some food for me.”
I turned around and grinned, “Tell Dana, not me,” and walked out.
Then I thought of Dana and checked their room, but he and Daniel were already gone.
I found them downstairs sipping juice with Lucero and Eddie. They all seemed to be in good spirits and greeted me cheerfully. I poured a juice for myself and sat beside Daniel.
I asked, “Where’s Hector?”
Eddie said, “He’s sleeping in a bit. His mother is ill and he was up late making phone calls.”
I said, “Oh, no! Is it serious?”
Lucero shrugged, “We don’t know yet. She has abdominal pains, and they can come from a lot of things. Hopefully it’s nothing.”
Ovidio walked in then and declared, “I’m hungry. You don’t have food yet?”
He turned his back to pour a glass of juice and Eddie said, “Paco is cooking. He wanted to wait until more of us were here, so sit down. I’ll tell him we’re ready.”
Ovidio sat and smiled broadly, “So, how is everyone today? I see new snow outside, and the sun should come out shortly. I trust that your last day of skiing in Chile will be the best one yet.”
He held out his juice glass and we all toasted his sentiment. Dana grinned as he clinked my glass with his, “Yeah, to the best day yet!”
I laughed, “I’ll drink to that,” just as Tommy came in.
He said, “You’ll drink to anything. Hi, everybody,” and went for a glass of juice.
Before he sat down Hector came in and looked around with a smile that turned into a troubled look almost immediately. “Have you eaten already?”
Dana said, “We’re waiting for you.”
I asked, “How’s your mother?”
Hector said, “I don’t know. She hasn’t seen the doctor yet, but don’t worry. She’s one tough vieja. I was worried last night because I couldn’t get hold of her after she left a message. I finally found her at my cousin’s house, and the cousin thinks it’s indigestion. She’ll call me after she takes Mama to the doctor. It just took a long time.”
Paco came out of the kitchen with a big tray and announced, “American breakfast. I’ll bring the coffee right out.”
We all took our plates and formed a line. Dana was there first, of course. Sadly, that breakfast turned out to be the first disappointing meal of our trip, because Paco clearly wasn’t a cook. There was a dish of Chilean sausages, and the flavor of them wasn’t something I’d taken to at all. There had always been bacon as an alternative, except that morning. The scrambled eggs were in the next dish, and they were a sad mix of overdone chunks and underdone runniness. I headed to the pancakes, which looked good. Even they were rubbery feeling on my fork, but I had to eat something so I picked up a small pile, put a big glob of what I hoped was butter on them, and soaked them in syrup.
I cheered up when I tasted them. Soaked in butter and syrup the pancakes were pretty good, and when I got a big glass of milk everything else was forgotten.
We headed out to the lift shortly after breakfast, and were a bit surprised by the coldest morning of the trip. The thermometer at the bottom of the lift read -15C which is about 5F. We knew our way around well by then, and headed up for a few intermediate runs to get going. We were out of the snow flurries halfway up the first lift, and the morning was crystal clear with light clouds around the higher summits in the distance.
We cut first tracks on a lot of slopes that morning. Due to the cold temperature, the powder was super-light and very fast. It wasn’t deep enough to throw many tricks our way, although Tom fell the wrong way at high speed, and slid head first toward an outcropping of rocks until he managed to get his skis on his downhill side and stop his slide. He tried to seem calm when he got himself back together, but I knew he was shaken. We all were.
When Tom was ready he asked meekly, “Is it time for lunch yet?”
Dana said, “It must be time. I’m hungry enough to eat these skis.”
Hector said, “Then you’d have to walk.”
Dana said, “Yes. I meant Paul’s skis, not mine. He likes to walk.”
I didn’t want to get into it, so I said, “I don’t want to spend a lot of time in a restaurant. How about soup and a sandwich at a cafeteria?”
Everyone agreed so we skied down to the mid-mountain lodge, where we had hot soup and cold sandwiches at an indoor picnic table. After lunch we went to play in what had become our favorite part of the resort. This was the interesting mix of advanced and expert trails off the Aguilas chairlift. That’s the chute where I was still unable to see the seventh turn until I actually followed Daniel one day. The upper chutes were as much fun, and trails there intersected all over the place. There was no end of paths down, and every way was as entertaining as any other way, just different.
I was skiing better than I ever even dreamed I would, and looked with delight at descents that would have frightened me off just the year before. I was looking good, too; we all were. That came mostly from Dana, but I’d passed on what I learned about wedeln at Arpa Cats, and that certainly advanced everyone’s image.
La Parva didn’t really have any trails for show-offs, but if they did we would have made our last triumphant run down a cliff beneath a slow-moving chair.
It didn’t matter. We saw ourselves going down the Valle Amarillo trail taking turns in the lead, and it was beautiful – the perfect end to a vacation full of surprises. We knew that Dana could rocket out of sight at will, but he didn’t and we all had some of his form. We’d learned new skills from him, and I’d never forget that. I wouldn’t be afraid of a mountain ever again if I had skis. I’d make it down in no time, with a hoot and a holler instead of a silent scream.
We all laughed when we reached the bottom and turned toward the house, and that laugh said we were all feeling the exact same thing. Despite all the drama it had been one heck of a good vacation.
The cook, who we had yet to even see, much less meet, was back. He or she did us up well with delicious Wiener Schnitzel that had a nice garlicky touch. It came with the expected tomato and onion salad with a choice of oil or mayonnaise, of course, and a silly looking but very tasty mix of the little Andean potatoes with beet chunks.
We also polished off three carafes of a yummy red wine, and even Lucero joined us in our final toast.
After the toast, I said, “Ovidio, we never even met the cook. Can you ask him or her to come out so we can say thank you?”
He called to Paco, who trotted out from the kitchen and seemed surprised by the request, but he smiled, nodded and retreated to the kitchen. He was back in a moment with a tall, handsome woman of about forty. She was smiling, but seemed a bit unsure of why she’d been asked out. Paco introduced her proudly and by her full name, adding with a small grin, “Everybody calls her Mama Margarita.”
Ovidio smiled at her and said, “Our American friends want to thank you for your wonderful cooking, and however they find a way to do that, we will join right in.”
I smiled and said, “Everything has been really delicious. I hope it’s not rude here, but where I come from we like to applaud the chef for a job well done.” I started clapping my hands gently and Dana started a bit more energetically. In another second, Mama Margarita was being applauded and cheered by all of us. She smiled, blushed, looked away, and smiled again, saying, “Gracias,” over and over. Once we stopped and she made her way back to the kitchen I looked at Hector with a question on my face and mouthed, “Tip?” and he nodded
We would have to say goodbye to Ovidio, Lucero, Eddie and Daniel in the morning. That never came up in conversation until we were getting up from the table. Dana said, “Daniel, you should come and visit us in Vermont. Your summer is our winter, so come and ski with us again.”
Daniel smiled happily and turned to Lucero who only raised and lowered his eyebrows. I don’t think that was a denial from Lucero because Daniel still smiled when he told Dana, “I would love to. You tell me when, and we’ll see.”
I said, “It’s early. How about a swim and a sauna?”
Tom grinned, “How about two swims and two saunas?”
Dana said, “How about three … let’s just go.” He looked at Hector, “What time do we have to be up?”
“The helicopter will be here at five, little amigo. I’ll wake you up at three, so maybe you should get to bed soon. It’s up to you. You’ll have plenty of time to sleep on the plane.”
I said, “That’s good advice. Let’s go and get tired enough to sleep.”
Tommy rolled his eyes at my words before he shrugged his shoulders. “I hate to admit it, but I guess that makes sense.”
We hurried down to the spa, turned the sauna on, and decided to swim first. We spent a happy hour in the pool. We did a few laps at first, and then splashed around, but most of the time was spent joking and recollecting the good times we had in Chile. The skiing was first for each of us, of course, along with the mountains and the scenery. I’d seen other big mountain ranges, but aside from a week in Canada’s Coastal Range I hadn’t skied them. There was something about the Andes that’s hard to describe. They offer up some Alpine challenges for sure, but at base level there is something homier and friendlier, like a real welcome mat exists under all the snow by the front door.
With a few exceptions, only one of them really notable, we’d found Chile to be a very welcoming place, full of people who offered comfort, good cheer, nice accommodations, great wine and wonderful food. It was hard to believe that in recent history there had been a brutal, murderous dictatorship, and we were there less than twenty years after their move to real freedom. We could see a lot without a long history lesson. Just in Santiago there were shiny new buildings crowding the landscape, new roads carrying new cars and trucks in every direction, a good transit system and the intrusion, of course, of American junk food. There was hope, I guess, because the McDonalds I saw in Santiago didn’t appear to hold any of the allure of the one I’d seen four years earlier in Moscow, and the Pizza Hut wasn’t drawing much of a crowd either.
Daniel confessed that we were the first Americans he’d ever met, and the way he said it explained his nervousness the first time Lucero introduced him to me as his son. Daniel said, “I had a different picture of Americans. I thought you’d be these high-minded people who want everything your way, demanding order here and perfection there. I didn’t think I’d like you much, but I wanted to ski the cats at Arpa enough to put up with you.” He turned a wan smile to us and said, “I was very wrong, and I apologize. You guys are skiers, and good ones, yet you have a humility and closeness that I feel, and that I respond to.”
I looked at him and asked, “Are you trying to say you like us?”
Daniel smiled easily and said, “Yes, that’s it. I like you. You’re very much like me, I think. We don’t share a language or a culture, but I still think we’re alike. I feel like I’ve known you for a long time, and it’s only a week.”
I looked at Daniel and said, “I think that’s the way it happens. I turned a smile to Tom and pointed at his skinny chest, “That’s exactly what happened with Tom and me. We were just … I don’t know … like automatic friends, and the same with Dana.”
Daniel said, “You and Dana are brothers.”
Dana grinned and said, “We are now, but not always.”
Daniel was confused so I added to it. “We have the same father, but Dana has another father and a different mother than me. A wedding is coming up so it will all be legal. I smirked at Daniel and said, “After that, Dana will have two fathers while I have one, but we’ll share the one, and I think we’ll both have three mothers, or something like that. And bags full of grandparents.” I looked at Dana and said, “Ask Daniel to come to the wedding. Maybe he can figure it out.”
Tommy was beside me snickering on the edge of hysteria. Daniel was staring with a kind of dizzy expression on his face, and Dana started giggling. He put a hand on Daniels’s shoulder and said, “I’ll try to make you a diagram of the family tree … trees … forest. I won’t keep you confused.”
That cracked me up, and Tom. We laughed at Daniel’s expense, and I heard Dana say, “You’ll get an invitation for sure. You have to be there.”
Daniel asked, laughing, “When will this take place?”
I said, “We’ll have to let you know. It won’t be long, but there’s no date yet.”
We wired down in the sauna, and thankfully our talk didn’t become philosophical or anything, just more of the same, with a lot of questions for Daniel about his life, school and all that. He told us that while Catholicism played a large part in his life and education, he and his friends were becoming more and more dubious about the teachings of the Church. They felt that they got more truth from their history lessons, where they learned about things like the Papal crusades that put the Church in a different light than it liked to shine on itself. Also, as in other countries, there was scandal that stretched the length of the country about sexual abuse of children by priests.
Tom was the only non-Catholic there, although as an Episcopalian he may as well have been. He made the point that, “We … well not we exactly, but the church in the very conservative state across the river from us elevated a gay priest to Bishop. That tore the church into segments worldwide, but he’s still the bishop of the people who elected him. I think it’s a new world for religion, whichever one it is. I think good can come from religion if people put their beliefs into practice and do good, but religion has become evil again, like it’s the dark ages coming around for a second try. I don’t like the things I hear. Everything is hate, hate, hate. Is that religion? I hope the hell not, because it sounds like the religion of Hitler and Stalin; not Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha.”
I grinned. Tommy’s performance was eloquent and to the point, but totally out of place during our last waking moments in Chile. I said, as cheerfully as I could manage, “Lots of good points there, Tom. I’m sure we’ll take them all to heart. I have a question.”
I think Tom knew what was coming. He looked at me warily and said, “Ask away.”
With my most serious ‘you’re my best friend on this whole planet’ look on my face, I asked, “Do you get a boner when you spiel off like that? I know I do sometimes.”
Tommy sputtered, “You … you asshole,” while Dana burst out laughing and Daniel looked confused again. “You think I was ‘spieling off’ when I was trying to give …” He started snickering and it turned into a giggle, if you can call Tom’s snorts and wheezes a giggle. “I … never mind!”
I said, “Sorry, I was just curious. Carry on.”
Daniel had apparently figured things out, and he and Dana got into a whispered conversation punctuated with giggles. Tom tried to glare at me, but he lost it too, and nothing was serious anymore. That’s the best way for things to be, and I felt like I was on top of my game for the first time in ages.
+ + + + + + + +
Hector’s call at three in the morning was very not welcome, but after my initial denial I snapped to. All I had to do was bring my dirty clothes bag and go downstairs, get in a helicopter followed by an airplane, and I could sleep my way back home.
I made my way groggily to the bathroom, turned the shower on and stood under it when the temperature felt right. The gentle rain shower damn near put me back to sleep on my feet, and when I realized that I looked for the way to turn the rain into a high-pressure downpour. After turning the water from freezing to boiling a few times, I got the pressure up. I was already awake from the scalds on my frostbite, and the driving rain brought me all the way into the present.
I couldn’t do anything after I dried off, because my shave kit was in the suitcase I’d put outside before going to bed. I didn’t even have a comb, so I soaked my hair again to let it dry au naturel and see what that looked like.
When I opened the door, Tommy was standing there like a statue. I swear he was asleep on his feet because I had to say ‘I’m done in here’ three times before he heard it and moved enough to let me out.
Downstairs, with my laundry bag over my shoulder, I looked for a place to put it. I didn’t see any other bags, so I put it near the front door and went to the dining room. It was set for breakfast and coffee was ready on the sideboard, along with juice and rolls. I filled a mug with coffee and started wandering around. The coffee was good, making me even more awake. When I got to the main entrance to the house, the exterior lights were on because it was still pretty much the middle of the night. I was just starting to wonder where everyone was when Eddie stumbled in.
I said, “Hi.”
Eddie grumbled, “You don’t have to yell. Oh, God, where did you find that coffee?”
“In the dining room,” I said.
Eddie winced, “Why are you screaming like that? Oh, shit. I have to sit down now. Can you bring me a cup? I’ll pay you.”
“Black?” I asked.
Eddie sat on a little stool and leaned back against the wall. “Black, brown, I don’t care. Just hurry.”
Hector had told me that Eddie was off duty the night before, but not that he was a drinker. I didn’t care. I got his coffee and brought it back, winning his eternal gratitude. He’d sucked down a good bit of wine the night before, and he must have found the owner’s stash. He asked, “Did you ever taste Johnny Walker Blue before?”
“No,” I admitted. “What is it? Some kind of grape juice?”
“Aah ha ha ha! Grape juice, that’s a good one. Johnnie makes scotch, some of the best, and the blue is the best of the best if you ask me.”
I said nervously, “I thought scotch was kind of brown.”
Eddie laughed and said, “You’re a funny kid. Of course scotch is brown. I’d call it the color of honey, not really brown.”
“You had a lot of it?”
“Oh yeah. We opened a fifth. Young Paco had a few shots and I did in about half the bottle. Ooh-oo that’s good stuff. Drunk like skunk, but here I am at three am, no headache, no hangover, no nothing, and ready for a day’s work.”
I said “That’s nice. Do you know where everyone is? We’re supposed to eat and get on a helicopter.”
Eddie said, “Yes, you are. One more sip of coffee and I’ll go have a look.”
He took his sip of coffee and stood up. I asked, “Aren’t you off duty?”
Eddie said, “That never happens,” and headed up the stairs.
I followed him up and went to the room I shared with Tom. He was clean and dressed, but sound asleep sideways across the bed. I gave his foot a firm kick and said, “Stop messing around. I’m going to eat now whether you’re there or not. I kicked his foot again for good measure and went across the hall. Things weren’t a lot better there. Daniel was dressed, but only half awake. Dana was in a praying position, with his knees on the floor, his elbows on the side of the bed, and his snoring face flat atop the bedspread.
His butt was there, so I kicked it. No reaction, so I kind of straddled him and started on his ribs. “The plane’s here, Dana. If you’re not on it you have to find you own way home.” I gave him a shake, “Dana? Are you in there?”
His left hand moved as if it was trying to swat away whatever was pestering him. I grabbed his wrist with just my fingertips and squeezed. Dana’s whole body convulsed and he sputtered, “What’s that?” I put a finger in his right ear and he squirmed. He slapped at his ear and I got my hand out of there just before he hit, and I slapped it again for him.
“Ow! What do you want?”
I said, “You have to get up, Dana, and I mean move it. Everyone’s ready but you.”
He groaned and said, “Oh, alright. I’ll get up if you get off me.”
I stood up and backed away. Dana had trouble, as if he didn’t really know what position he was in. I finally grabbed him under his arms and yanked him upright. I said, “There. Can you manage by yourself now?”
He turned and looked dumbly at me. I asked, “Why are you so tired? We all did the same things last night.”
Dana shrugged, and I asked, “Do you have everything ready? Where are your clothes?”
He looked down at himself as if he thought he was wearing them, then thought for a minute and said, “Dresser.”
I said, “Good. I’ll bring them in the bathroom for you. Now get going.”
Dana seemed to be coming to. He nodded and headed toward the bathroom. I went to his dresser, and at least he’d had it together when he got things ready the night before. There was a change of underwear and socks, a pair of jeans, belt, shirt, sweater and an autumn-weight jacket. His sneakers were on the floor, and his bag for dirty clothes was in the second drawer, while his wallet, cell phone, and pocket comb were on top of the dresser. I put the jacket and sweater on the foot of his bed with the wallet, phone and comb on top, and brought the rest into the bathroom.
Dana was on the toilet and I blushed a little, put the things on the vanity and said, “Here. The rest is on your bed. I’ll be downstairs.”
Dana mumbled his thanks, and I backed out. Daniel had gone, so I went across the hall to double-check that Tom and I hadn’t forgotten anything. Tom wasn’t there, and a quick look around told me that we hadn’t left anything behind, so I went downstairs.
The breakfast was set up as a buffet in the dining room. Tom, Hector and Eddie were eating while Daniel fixed a plate for himself. Lucero and Ovidio weren’t there. I looked along the buffet to see what there was and started with a bowl of cut up fruit. The only things I could identify were cantaloupe, banana and pineapple. The things I thought were watermelon and mango were something else, but the combination was wonderful and brought my appetite on full tilt. I went back for warm rolls, scrambled eggs, grilled ham and a large glass of orange juice.
I sat down and got into my breakfast. I was half done when Dana came in grinning. “It smells so good in here. Oh, it’s a buffet, too. Yay.”
Hector smiled and shook his head. He had the bulk of two Danas, but I don’t think he ate half as much. True to form, when Dana came to the table he had a roll clenched in his teeth, a bowl of fruit in one hand, and a plate heaped high with food in the other. Even Daniel was used to Dana’s appetite and nobody said anything, although I was silently wagering that Dana would be back for seconds before I finished what was on my plate.
When I saw that Hector was done I asked, “Where are Ovidio and Lucero? Aren’t they going to eat?”
Hector said, “They left just before you came in. They have a lot to do and not too much time.”
I was a bit skeptical, but didn’t question Hector. I thought they had to get in the car and bring our bags to the airport, but I guess they had to have all kinds of plans to see that we got off safely. They wouldn’t want to get this far and have something go wrong during our last hour or so under their watch.
As much as I would have loved to stay another day, another week or another month, I knew we were leaving. That made me itchy to get going, but Dana was back at the buffet table and he was freaking humming. I fixed a coffee and sat down with it, drumming my fingernails on the table. After a minute I sensed eyes on me, and looked to find Hector and Eddie staring at me. The corners of Hector’s mouth turned up ever so slightly, and seeing that made me laugh, and Hector laughed, Eddie joined in, followed by Daniel and Tom.
Dana grumbled, his mouth full, “What’s so funny?”
I started tapping all ten fingernails as fast as I could, and everyone followed my lead. Dana snickered, “Okay, I get it. Just let me finish and we can go.”
Hector’s phone rang and he walked away when he answered it. It was a short call, and he said, “Our ride is about fifteen minutes out. If you need the bathroom, go now. We’ll meet in the family breakfast room. Do you all know where that is?”
“Is that where the espresso machine is?” I asked.
Eddie said, “That’s the place,” as he stood up. “I’m going there now.”
Tom asked, “Where is it?”
I said, “I’ll show you. Come on, Dana, eat up.”
He said, “I’m done,” and took a bite of bacon. “Done.” He stood up and pulled his jacket on, and went back to the buffet table to fill his pockets with buns. He picked up another piece of bacon to chew on and we left. There was a little bathroom right off the breakfast room, and we lined up there. When we got to the room I asked Hector, “Where do we get this helicopter?”
He pointed at the window. It was still night, and I asked, “Where?”
“Just watch. This should be something.”
It was something for sure. A few minutes later that courtyard was swathed in artificial daylight and there was a lit landing pad in the middle of it. Paco was off to the right side, his arms straight up with orange lights in each hand. The sound from the helicopter barely made it inside, but as it descended straight out of the sky it kicked up a private blizzard before it slowed dramatically and sat down like it weighed nothing at all. The snow started to descend and in a minute we could see that we had another pretty fancy ride. I don’t know helicopters, but this one was mostly white with dark red graphics and huge windows. Hector said, “Listen. There are four seats in back and the co-pilot seat in front. Tom, do you want shotgun?”
Poor Tom looked mortified, “Me? Oh no, I don’t think so. I’ll sit in back if that’s okay.”
I said, “Let Daniel sit there if he wants to. I guess I have to hold Tommy’s hand.”
Daniel may have been nervous too, but he was eager, so that was settled. Hector said, “Good. As soon as the lights on this side of the house go out, we’ll hurry out and all get in from the side we’re looking at. Daniel, you’ll have to get in front from the other side. Each seat will have a helmet on it. Put that on, then sit and buckle up. This craft has three-point belts just like in a car. Is everyone ready?”
We all said we were. Hector said, “When the lights go out I’ll go and open the doors. You run out and get in. Save me a door seat in the back. The rotors will be spinning up before I get in, and when I close that door we’ll be gone. If anyone thinks they might get airsick, there’s a little pocket with airsick bags on the front of the seat, right between your knees.”
The lights on the house side went out suddenly, leaving brilliant lights shining from the roof onto the mountain. If any trouble was up there, they were blind, at least temporarily. Hector ran out and opened doors, and we ran and jumped in, leaving the rear-facing door seat for Hector. It took no time at all to pull the helmets on and buckle ourselves in, probably no more than twenty seconds from when we bolted from the house. As soon as Hector pulled the back door closed, the helicopter lifted off, and I had to smile at Tom. He was right across from me in panic mode. It seemed that every sensation of movement or change in movement set his worry meter up a notch, and we hadn’t yet cleared the roof of the house. When we did that, the nose of the helicopter dropped and we went forward as if the plane was being yanked by a giant bungee cord.
The pilot’s voice suddenly came through the embedded speakers in our helmets. His English was fine, but accented with something other than Spanish. “Good morning, friends. My name is An Chen.” His name explained his accent.
“I’ve been instructed to fly a diversionary route to the Santiago airport this morning. As soon as we clear the Western slope we’ll head south for about thirty kilometers, and turn west to the sea. When we reach the coast we’ll turn north to a point where we can turn southeast to Santiago airport and be just one of any number of small craft coming in from the islands. Unfortunately we’ll be in the dark, but the sun will be coming up as we head back to Santiago. If the weather forecast is accurate you will see a spectacular sunrise over the Andes. I’m turning south now, so if you look to the right you will see Santiago coming alive.” He added, “Um, I should note that if you’re in a rear-facing seat you’ll see Santiago on your other right.”
Hector’s voice came through next. “Guys, there is a little flip-down microphone in front of your nose and your armrest has two buttons. P is for Pilot, and I is for intercom. To talk to each other, press the I button and everyone will hear you except the pilot. Please don’t bother the pilot, and don’t hold the button down when you’re not talking.”
I tried it out, flipping the microphone down and pushing the button. “Can everyone hear me?”
Dana and Hector both said they could. I said, “Tommy?”
opposite me, and he was nodding while he maintained an iron grip on the
armrests. I said into the intercom, “Tommy doesn’t want to push the button right
now. You okay up there, Daniel?”
There was no response from him either, and we had no view of him. Hector looked concerned, and I saw him press the button to talk to the pilot. In a moment, Daniel’s voice came through. “Oh. Can anyone hear me now?”
We took turns saying we could, and Daniel said, “My fault. I was looking for a graphic of an ojo, and never thought to look for the letter I.”
Hector and I both laughed. In Spanish, the letter I is pronounced like e in English, as in police. I asked, “How’s the view up there, Daniel?”
“It is really wonderful … amazing!” With some humor in his voice he added, “I can’t look around too much of course, because Chen has me keeping my eye out for surface-to-air missiles.”
I laughed and said, “That sounds important. Don’t tell us if you see one. It might work better as a surprise.”
I saw Tommy quivering opposite me, and thought for a moment that he was having a real panic attack. Then I saw his teeth and realized he was cracking up. I know the difference with him, trust me, and I knew I’d hear his voice any minute.
Tom’s voice was next. “If there are parachutes, I’d like to know.”
Hector said, “You can’t parachute from a little helicopter like this, Tom. The down draft from that rotor would fling you to the ground like a pebble.”
“Like a paint ball,” Dana said..
I suggested, “More like a big baggie full of tomato sauce and meatballs.”
Tom said, “I want to know if there’s a missile coming so I can crap before it’s too late.”
I said, “You wouldn’t have time to change after that.”
“I don’t care. It would be my last contact with the world, and someone would figure out I didn’t care.” He sucked in a breath and said, “Wait, wait! Why isn’t the horizon horizontal anymore?”
Hector said, “We’re turning, Tom. It’s too bad we have a good pilot; a worse one would make you more aware of things like turns.”
After the turn out toward the sea, we could see more. Santiago was lighting up slowly, and we could make out lights ahead from buoys, beacons and ships. There was a meager glimmer from the moon on the water. It was just barely enough to make out the horizon, and I pointed it out to Tommy to make him feel better.
We went up the length of Valparaiso, and the port was brightly lit. Beyond the city, there were just sporadic lights from the ground. We could see the lights from vehicles on roads, an occasional lighted sign, a well-lit parking lot, and not much otherwise until we turned back inland. We came over some hills again, and Santiago was back into view on my right side, though Dana and Hector had the better view from their side.
The pilot’s voice came on and said, “Look ahead folks. We’re going to have a great sunrise for sure.”
I peeked between the seats and I could see a glimmer of red over some of the lower peaks. The pilot said, “I’ll circle around until it breaks the higher mountains. If you have cameras, this is one of the world’s most glorious sights. If you don’t, this bird is equipped with Hi-Def gear. I’ll get some shots even if you don’t.”
I thought, ‘how nice for you,’ though I didn’t voice it, and tried desperately to get my hand into my pocket for my phone. The belt was in the exact wrong place and I couldn’t do it. I pressed the button and said, “Tom! Can you get your phone out? I can’t reach mine.”
He said, “I have it,” and showed it to me.
I sighed my relief, and saw that Dana and Hector both had their phones out. Somebody would get some good shots. I looked down and was surprised to see that we were pretty much over downtown, but much higher up than I thought. When I looked ahead I saw the reason why, and my jaw dropped. The pilot had climbed over all but the highest peaks, and the Andes to the east looked like a vast sea of lava. Every peak was red, tinged with orange and yellow, all as bright as flames, and the sky above wasn’t black, but the darkest blue I’d ever seen. Way in the distance, the sun was just peeking over the horizon, so blindingly yellow that it made me wince.
I felt like cheering, but I laughed instead. This was something I’d love to see again, but on my own someday. We were in a helicopter spiraling upward. I couldn’t yell, “Stop! I want to see this.” No. To see it again I’d have to climb one of those hills, and with enough crap on my back to wait it out and spend all the time I wanted looking. I swore to myself that I would see it again someday, and I hoped Lisa Mongillo would be with me.
We hovered around longer, but didn’t go any higher. Everyone got their pictures, and I’d get copies, but we did have a plane to catch. I pushed the intercom button and asked, “Was that a spectacular end to this trip or what?” and put my arms up in victory.
Dana’s arms shot up beside me, while Tommy said, “Holy cow. That was gorgeous and I’m still in a helicopter and I …”
I don’t know why, but the bottom seemed to fall out right then, just for a few seconds and we settled out.
I asked, “Were you about to say you’re not afraid anymore, Mr. Timek?”
Tom said, “I was about to, but what the hell was that?”
I said, “It’s just a hole in the air, Tom. We have to go back over the Andes you know. The thing spinning over our heads is our wing. If that breaks then go ahead and worry.”
Nobody except the pilot said another word before we were on the ground again, and he only gave us instructions about where to go when we got off the craft.
He gave us time enough to get out of the way, and only lifted off when we were indoors. Our bags were there, both luggage and gifts. We saw Ovidio, Eddie and Lucero by the exit door, all wearing the huge cardboard badges that allowed them to be in that terminal. We went to them in a hurry, and Daniel leapt into Lucero’s arms saying, “Oh, thank you Papa.”
Hector was in earnest conversation with Ovidio right then so I turned to Eddie and asked, “So, what’s the story? Are you an American, a Canadian?”
Eddie looked at me and asked, “Sure you want to know?”
I said, “Not desperately, if it’s private. I’ve heard your Spanish and mine’s as good. I know you’re not from here and kind of wondered. It’s not a big deal.”
Eddie said, “It’s a long story, and it’s complicated. My parents are both Americans. My father was with the Navy in Vietnam, and my mom was a Red Cross nurse. They, um, took off together, into Cambodia at first, then into Laos and then Thailand. Dad was a deserter, Mom a defector. My father made a living as a bull shitter mostly; Mom made a little money nursing and as a midwife. They worked their way down to Malaysia.” Eddie looked me in the eye and asked, “Are you sure you want to hear this?”
I just looked at him, so he went on. “Dad fell in with some guys … a couple of other US deserters, a mercenary from New Zealand, a few from Borneo. I was a little kid and I thought they were all great. They got a power boat and went to sea, and Lordy, when they came back they had money. Dad bought a house in a beach town in Pahang. He was at sea a lot; my Mom and me had a great life, with a cook, a maid and a gardener.”
I said, “That sounds cool. So your father was in shipping?”
Eddie turned a sad leer to me and said, “He was a pirate, Paul. Every freaking dime we ever had was stolen, and my father sank ships with people on them to get it.”
I gulped in surprise and asked, “Are you feeling guilty for that?”
Eddie said, “No. I mean he was dead by the time I was eleven. I was on the receiving end of the goodies, but I was just a kid. When he’d come home, he always had a neat toy for me and a beautiful piece of jewelry for Mom, and a new story about a treacherous passage here or there.” Eddie’s eyes bored into mine, “He was a fucking liar, Paul: a murderer, a crook and a liar. That’s why I do what I do. When something comes in that involves kids, I ask to be put on it. I’ve read histories of the Pirates of the South China Sea, and children were disposed of automatically so their mothers had nobody left to defend.” He got close to my face and said “My father did those things. That’s my history, and my intent is to make better of it.”
I stood straight. “Holy shit!”
Eddie put a big hand on my shoulder and said, “You asked.”
I nodded, “I know, and I said I was sure.” I looked at him and asked, “You ever think about writing a book?”
He bopped my shoulder, “I’m not that literate. I have stories to tell in bars when there’s time.”
“You should find a writer to follow you around, then. I’d like to hear those stories, and I’m not a ghoul.”
“You could follow me around to the bars yourself.”
I said, “I don’t think so. I’d be passed out before you ever got to chapter two.”
We didn’t get a chance to talk more. Daniel showed up in front of me and smiled nervously, “I want to thank you for this week.”
I said, “I’ll thank you back, then. Let’s leave it alone, okay. Do you think you can come north with us sometime?”
He shrugged, “It’s a lot of money to fly to the US.”
“Listen, Daniel. I want you there, and I’ll buy your ticket. It’s as simple as that.”
Daniel turned a stare to me, and I said, “Look. I’m sixteen. I will be filthy rich until I’m eighteen, then I’ll be broke. Don’t turn your back on a good thing!” I giggled.
Daniel snickered back and said “It is still my father’s decision.”
“I know,” I said. “I’ll talk to him when I say goodbye.” I leaned into Daniel and we hugged, and I said, “I’m really happy that we met. You have all the emails and phone numbers, right?”
“I do. I can email, but I don’t think my phone will go to the US without a huge bill.”
I said, “You’re probably right. Email is good, but if something is really important call me collect!”
Lucero suddenly loomed behind Daniel and said, “Don’t you ever call anyone collect unless you’re on your death bed. Even then, I’ll see that you receive the extreme unction before you go to your maker, so there will be no need for a telephone.”
I snickered and Daniel laughed outright. Lucero grinned and held out his hand. When I took it he put his other hand over it and said, “Paul, I’m happy that you came to Chile. You remind me of the Americans who used to come here, all open to our culture and looking to experience and learn new things. Lately, the past eight or ten years, we’ve had these people I find it hard to describe. They are arrogant, pushy, demanding. They act like our country should bend around their will, and I beg your pardon. Our will has only been openly expressed in the past twenty years.”
I said, “I understand, Lucero, and I apologize. I wasn’t here, but I know the people you’re talking about. They’re me: people whose families have money and privilege, but I hope you won’t think I’m one of them.”
I looked at Lucero and said, “My father made a lot of money and he made it with ideas, with insight into where the world was headed. He didn’t sweat with a heavy tool on his shoulder. If he worked long hours, they were spent in a comfy chair thinking of the next thing. It’s honest money, honestly earned, but it’s not my money, and there’s so much it embarrasses Dad. People are trying to create an upper class in America, but my father isn’t one of them. Hell, he won’t even let me make a hamburger because I squeeze the meat too hard.”
Lucero looked at me like he was trying to figure me out. I said, “Dana invited Daniel to a wedding. Why don’t you come, too? It’s not just you and Daniel is it? You have a wife and …”
Lucero said, “I have two daughters and Daniel.” He looked at me and asked, “Why do you do this, Paul?”
Good question. I said, looking down, “I guess the first answer is because I can, but that’s not the reason I want you there. I would love for you to meet my father and see the man he is, and maybe more importantly the man he isn’t. I would love for you to meet my mother, too. I suppose you’ve been told about her.”
Lucero nodded, and I asked, “What do you think?”
He stood a bit straighter and asked, “What should I think? Are you asking for a judgment?”
I nodded, and Lucero smiled, “I’m not allowed to judge. How is this for you? It must be difficult.”
I said, “At first it was, but when you meet my mother and Ally you’ll know.”
Lucero touched the side of my head and said, “I have to go, young man. If we get an invitation to the wedding, we will strive to be there.”
I grinned, “Thanks, Lucero,” and turned to Ovidio. I grabbed his hand and said, “Thanks, man. This was a wild ride, and beautiful all the way. Well, not always, but it sure was wild.”
Ovidio laughed and held out a blank sheet of paper. “Our company likes to intrude on our clients from time to time and ask them to complete a survey. Would you be willing?”
I said, “Oh, sure. Got a pencil?”
He handed me a pen and I looked at the page, and the other side to make sure I didn’t miss something. It was blank all over, so I put it against a wall and wrote Yes! and signed it Paul Dunn, Brattleboro.
When Hector said we’d cleared customs and the plane was ready, Tom, Dana, Hector and I all ran over for last minute hugs from the people we were leaving, and followed Hector out to the plane.
It was a big one, and I asked, “What’s this?”
“It’s what we could get, Amigo. That little Falcon is in high demand for its range. This is an older plane, but we’ll be back home in three stops.”
“Why three?” I asked.
“Customs,” Hector said. “We have to refuel before we get to the States, and have to stop at a port of entry before you can head on home. We go from here to Colombia to refuel, and on to Miami to clear Customs and Immigration, and then on up to Keene.”
I said, “You’re mother is in Miami. Is she all better now?”
Hector kind of slumped and said, “I don’t think so. She’s better, worse, better, worse again. It doesn’t look good, my friend.”
I said, “Let’s go visit her. Maybe seeing you will cheer her up and help her over whichever hump it is.”
Hector put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I have already asked for some time off, amigo. I haven’t told you because I haven’t heard if it’s approved yet. Your father would have to agree first, and then it will depend on someone being available to take my place and get you home.”
We got on the plane and settled in before I continued talking to Hector. “Why can’t we just fly back to Keene on our own? It sounds silly that we need someone to look over us on a two-hour plane ride.”
Hector said, “The company likes us to stay with our clients end-to-end.”
I asked, “Should I call my father? Can he tell your boss it’s okay if we leave Florida without you?”
Hector smiled, “Trying to get rid of me?”
We were interrupted by a voice on the intercom, the pilot. He introduced the crew, described our route and timing, and told us some things about the plane while the engines spun up. When we started rolling I said, “Getting rid of you is the last thing I want, but you should be able to see your mother without a lot of crap in your way. I know Dad will say for you to stay in Miami as long as you have to.”
While we were taxiing, our Host emerged with offers of various beverages, blankets and pillows. I wasn’t tired right then, but it was five-and-a-half hours to Medellin. I asked for an orange juice thinking coffee would keep me awake later when I’d want to sleep.
When my juice came, I asked if I could use my cell phone in the plane. He said it wasn’t possible, but he would bring me a phone to use when we reached altitude. I settled in sipping my juice, and in a few minutes and a few more words from the pilot, we sped down the runway and into a steep climb. There was no last view of Santiago, which was behind us, and after a few minutes we were flying high over the Andes. Way over: when the pilot said our course was set to Medellin he also said we would cruise at forty-nine thousand feet.
Before long, the cabin attendant came out with a phone, which he connected to a jack on the front of my armrest. He gave me a card with instructions and asked if I needed anything else. I asked for a blanket and pillow when he had a chance.
I looked at Hector and said, “I’m going to call my father.”
Hector smirked and said, “He might not like that very much. Do you know what time it is?”
I shook my head and said, “I think it’s supposed to be Saturday. I’m not even sure of that.”
Hector said, “You got the Saturday part right. It’s just after six thirty in the morning, though.”
“Oh. I guess I can call later.” I sat back and had a sudden inspiration and bounced forward. “Who can we prank? We’re nine miles up in the sky. We have a chance to make the most extreme crank call ever!”
Hector said, “Yes, and the most expensive one ever.”
I said, “Oh yeah! I can kill two birds with one stone. I wonder if Guinness keeps records of the wildest crank calls.”
Hector said flatly, “You can call and ask. At least it’s daytime in England.”
I looked at Hector admiringly and said, “You are a genius! We’ll prank The Guinness Book of World Records from forty-nine thousand feet and two continents away. I need help with this. I’ll be right back.”
I got up and looked around for Tom. He was closer to the front of the plane looking serene in a single seat that put his head right next to a big window. I ran over and knelt in the aisle. Tom asked, “What’s going on?”
I said, “The best idea ever. I have a phone and it’s too early to call my father.”
Tom looked suspicious and said, “… and?”
“And I wondered if Guinness has a category for crank calls, because we’re nine miles up in the sky and have the chance to make the all-time best crank call ever. Then Hector says I should call Guinness! And get this: we’ll not only have the wildest crank call in history, but it will be the most expensive one, too.”
Tom frowned like he does when he’s thinking, and after a moment he said, “I see a few problems. First, it’s Saturday and we have no idea if Guinness works on Saturdays, but my guess on that would be probably yes. Next, we don’t have a phone number, so you might make the cost of this really epic if you start calling information all around the world. Third, and this is probably important, is how do we prank Guinness and how do we prove it if we think of something? If someone is working today and thinks we’re trying to hose him, he’ll hang up like anybody else.”
I looked at Tom and said, “Spoilsport! Okay, think of somebody we can get to from here.”
Tommy smirked, “I can’t.”
I glared at him, “Can’t what? Can’t eat anymore? Can’t piss? Don’t tell me you can’t think of anything. That never happens.”
Tom sat back and closed his eyes, and a second later his eyebrows did a little bounce and his eyes popped open. “McNaughton!” Tom grinned at me and said, “McSusceptible!”
I laughed, “That’s perfect, and you mean McDeservesit.”
Tom and I both started giggling, and I woke Dana up to help us. Dana was grumpy and dubious at first, but when the idea sank in he was willing. I debated with Tom about when Jim’s cell phone would wake him up, and we agreed that he was usually up fairly early, and we wanted to be the ones to wake him up. I had the instruction card for the phone in my pocket, and the biggest hurdle was passed. It could be used as a speaker phone, and there was a volume control. We needed a script, and Tom and I worked that out. We wanted to come across as a unit with many voices to Jim, so wherever we slipped into ‘we’ mode we rewrote it with ‘I’.
When we had something ready we enlisted Hector and the flight attendant, Brian, who was a twenty-something from New Jersey. We wrote out five copies of the script and practiced reading together until we had it down. Tom would lead once the connection was made, and we’d only start speaking when Tom put his finger on the table in front of our seat. I pulled the instruction card out while Tom found Jim’s cell number on his phone. I dialed all the codes, and carefully entered Jim’s number when Tom read it off.
After a few seconds, the sound of a ringing phone came on, and Tom pushed the volume up.
Tom’s finger touched the table and we read, “Good morning, Jim. Do you have any plans for today?”
“Who’s this? This is a funky connection. It sounds like you’re in a garbage can or something.”
“You know most of me, Jim. I’m your friends.”
A very confused sounding, “Huh?” responded.
“I know you’ve seen my ship, Jim. I am very high right now, but I want you to join me this evening.”
Jim said, “You sound high. Who is this?”
Tom pointed to a paragraph out of order. “I’m not high on medications; I’m high in the sky, waiting for darkness. You can come to me then, and join your friends.”
There was a long pause, “What if I don’t want to?”
“You know you want to, you party animal. My craft has megawatt music, females from every galaxy, intoxicants from throughout the universe. Most of your friends are on board, and we speak with one voice. Keene airport, six p.m.”
I pushed the hang-up button and we all had a great laugh. I looked at Tom and grinned, “Now we can have a nickname for Jim. We’ll call him Spaceman.”
Tom agreed with a smile and said, “I wonder what the heck that call sounded like on McNaughton’s cell phone. I mean, we read really well together but it was still a lot of voices, and the sounds from the plane must have made it seem realistic.”
I snickered, “If you want to know for sure, be at Keene airport, six p.m. I have to call my father.”
Tom said, “I need a nap.”
He went back to his seat, and Hector said, “That was really funny, amigo.”
I said, “Yeah, it was. I wonder if people in Chile make funny calls.”
Hector shrugged, and I took the instruction card for the phone back out and called my father.
It took some trying to get through, and Hector fell asleep. I did get through finally and the news for Hector was all good, but I didn’t wake him up to tell him. I took the pillow and blanket from where Brian had set them, got comfy, and pushed my recline button. To my surprise I kept reclining until I was fully prone, got comfortable and went to sleep. I don’t think a thought or a dream went through my head before I heard Brian saying, “Excuse me, Paul. We’ll be landing soon, and you have to bring your seatback upright.
I sat up, and
the seat suddenly bopped me on the back. Hector had the window, so I closed my
eyes again and we were on the ground and stopped before I opened them. We had
to get off the plane while they refueled it, which probably took half an hour.
I wasn’t counting, but I used the time to see if I had a cell signal. I did,
and I called Lisa.
I was groggy, but she sure wasn’t. “Paul! Oh … tell me you’re alright. Please say you’re okay.”
I said, “I’m a third of the way there. They’re putting gas in the plane. We should be in Miami in about three hours. I don’t know how long customs will take, but … what time is it now?”
Lisa said, “It’s a little before twelve.”
“Good. We have about six hours of flying time left once we get out of here, and there’s customs in Miami. We should be home sometime between six and eight o’clock.”
Lisa said, “I can’t wait. You haven’t called in the last few days, and I’ve been worried sick.”
I had to think about that, and Lisa was right. “Oh, man, I’m really sorry. I’ll make it up to you somehow, I promise. It’s just been so crazy with things changing all the time.”
“I understand. Your whole vacation sounds like it was crazy. Not just crazy, but scary too.” She giggled, “I guess it’s cool. You create your own international incidents.”
“It made the news when your hotel was shot at. It wasn’t the Brattleboro news, but it was on CNN and Fox because they thought it was terrorism when they learned it was Americans being shot at by unknowns. I guess they didn’t learn anything because it wasn’t news a day later.”
I swore under my breath and said, “It was nothing, Lisa, really,” when I meant the exact opposite. I had been so terrified when that shooting started and glass was flying all over the place that I would have pissed my pants or worse if I hadn’t just come from the bathroom. I think that’s my definition of terror, anyhow. I didn’t know what was happening, or why, or who was doing it, but there it was.
I saw Hector gesturing to me and said, “I think we’re leaving, Lisa. I’ll call you from Miami, okay?”
She said, “I’ll wait until then.”
I kept the phone open as I walked to where Hector was waiting. “Lisa, you know I love you.”
After a moment she sighed, “I know, Paul. I’ll be at the airport when you get in.”
I said, “Lisa? Can you do one more thing? I heard there’s a party tonight, and you can get the details from Jim McNaughton. Will you do that? Maybe we can go.”
Lisa said, “Maybe we can party in private.”
I grinned for my own benefit, “That’s even better. I have to get on this plane. I love you.”
+ + + + + + + +
Customs in Miami was no big deal. We’d filled out our papers during the flight, and declared similar amounts for our purchases of souvenirs. We didn’t owe any duties.
Hector left us after leading us back to the exit for the plane. He had retrieved his own papers and I carried the briefcase with all our documents. He had been beyond pleased when I told him he could stay in Miami with his mother for as long as he had to. He gave me a bear hug, and I tried to hug him as hard. “I hope your mother is okay. Dad said if you need to get her any special care to call Bernie Sutton. You have his number, right?”
Hector replied, “You can’t know how much I appreciate that. Right now, nobody knows what’s wrong. My sister says she thinks it’s the end of the line, but my niece says it’s indigestion from my sister’s cooking.”
I had to laugh at that, and got a good look at Hector’s sorrowful face. I said, “I’m sorry, but that sounds funny. Bring your mother to a nice hotel where there are a lot of good restaurants around,”
Hector said dismally, “It’s hurricane season.”
I shrugged, “Try New Mexico, then. No hurricanes there.”
Hector gave me the warmest smile that I’d ever seen on a human face, and pulled me to him. “Thank you, Paul. You always see the possibilities. Right now I see one myself. If you don’t hustle yourself out to that plane, it’s very possible they’ll lose their slot in the takeoff queue.”
I took a glance, looked back at Hector and said, “Call me,” and hurried out to the plane.
The flight up to Keene seemed almost like nothing. We went right up the coast, but couldn’t see anything until we reached the New York City area, and it stayed clear from there northward. The drive from New York to Brattleboro always seems endless, but we flew across Long Island Sound, Connecticut and Massachusetts in just over thirty minutes and landed in Keene at six forty. We were just in time for dinner.
The plane nosed its way slowly to a parking spot near the terminal building, and when everything shut down we exited through the forward door. I was first off, and as soon as I stepped into the doorway the doors to the terminal popped open and people ran out. They probably thought a plane so big wouldn’t have us on it. I saw Dad and Elenora first, then Mom and Ally, Tom’s parents, Lisa, Aldo, and by then I was on the pavement getting hugs and saying hi.
Dad looked at me and made me turn around. “You came back with no holes in you?”
“No new ones,” I said, and was pulled into a hug by Elenora. Mom and Ally were next, and Tom was with his parents, while Lisa waited. I held out my hand to shake with Aldo while Lisa and I kissed in a manner that was almost socially acceptable. Other people were tugging me and I whispered, “Let me get through this. We can find a way to be alone.”
I was interrupted by a tugging on my sleeve and a voice saying, “Paul. Pay attention, Paul. Paul!” My father’s voice.
I turned around and he pointed off somewhere. “The plane is leaving. The crew wants to say goodbye to you.” I looked and saw them, so I grabbed Tommy and Dana and we ran over there. I smiled, “Sorry, I was …”
They grinned and the pilot said, “We saw, and we can all understand the distraction. I hope you enjoyed your flight.”
I said, “Any time I can sleep most of the way it’s a great flight.” I asked, “You’re not going back to Santiago are you?”
“Nope, just to Hartford. We have a pickup tomorrow afternoon.”
I shook hands with him and the co-pilot, and then Brian, the attendant. I said, “Thanks for your help this morning.”
He grinned, “That was fun. Do you know how it worked out?”
I shook my head, “Not yet, but I will soon.”
He bopped my shoulder and turned to follow the others onto the plane. It was then that I got an idea of what that plane looked like in the context of the little Keene airport. It looked big in Santiago, Medellin and Miami, but only big compared to the other planes in general aviation, and like a twig among the commercial and freight planes. In Keene it may well have been the biggest thing to ever visit, and it looked absolutely colossal outside the one-story terminal building.
We cleared out when the engines started, but stayed around long enough to watch it ascend. There was no steep climb, it just disappeared gradually, and may well have been landing in Hartford before we got everything and everybody together and escaped the parking lot.
With everyone’s permission, I rode with Lisa in Aldo’s car back to the house, where a picnic dinner was waiting. It was waiting to be cooked, anyhow, and I lugged my things up to my room, where I realized I needed a shower. I’m not a nervous flier at all, but traveling brings tensions whether you’re nervous or not; I’d been in the air since five that morning and I reeked.
I practically leapt out of my clothes, grabbed a robe, and was under the shower a minute later. I soaped up and rinsed off, and I did it again, and it felt really good. I took a comb to my hair quickly, brushed my teeth, and ran back to my room to get dressed. Lisa was sitting there on the side of my bed blushing a bit, but smiling.
I pointed at my closet with both hands and said, “I’ll get dressed now.”
Lisa said, “I can wait.”
I said, “I don’t know if you understand. All I have on is this robe. It’s all I have on.”
“I won’t look if you don’t want me to. I would like to inspect you for injuries.”
I grinned, though I was as nervous as a cat. “Lisa, I bought you some nice souvenirs. One of them is in that suitcase there. Why don’t you find it while I find something to put on?”
Lisa said, “Ooh, something for me?” and before she had the words out of her mouth I was on my way back to the bathroom with clean underwear in hand.
When I got back to the room, Lisa was wearing the little rune pendant and looking at in the mirror. “I love it, Paul. It’s beautiful.”
I stood behind her and put my hands on her shoulders. “It’s a rune, Lisa, a symbol from an ancient language. I think this one is three symbols together, but it forms the love rune. The blue stone is lapis lazuli.” I smiled at her in the mirror, “It looks good on you.”
Lisa leaned back into me and said, “It’s beautiful, Paul. It would look good on anyone.”
I said, “Maybe,” and kissed her behind the ear, “But this one is just for you.”
Lisa said, “Don’t forget, there’s a picnic outside.”
“I know. That’s okay, because we’ll have our day sometime.”
I was suddenly mouth to mouth with Lisa in a passionate kiss, with all defenses down. Unfortunately, my brain got in the way again, sending up every no-no signal in my arsenal. I pushed Lisa’s hand lower on my back, and when we took a breath from the kiss I said, “I think that’s my kidney. Maybe it’s my spleen or an adenoid or something, but please punch it now.”
Lisa tensed, and then fell into me laughing. “You’re good at keeping me honest, Mr. Dunn. I think my inner self is hiding a very bad girl. Let’s go eat.”
I said, “Um, can I meet you there?”
Lisa said, “Nonsense. I’ll help you pick out something to wear. I do this for my brothers, you know.”
So there I was, a mannequin in underpants and a tee shirt while Lisa held first this, then that up to me until she decided what went together. My embarrassment faded into impatience eventually, and I said, “Come on. My clothes are all the same, so what’s taking so long?”
She said, “You’re no fun. Here, put these on and take those socks off. Please don’t tuck your shirt in.” She tossed me a pair of tan shorts and held my sandals out. I smiled at the choice; I wouldn’t be a lord of fashion, but I’d be comfortable.
When we were on our way downstairs I thought to ask, “Did you happen to ask Jim about a party tonight?”
She said, “I did. What’s that about? It made him seem … thoughtful is a good word. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jim think before.”
I kept my laugh inside me and said, “Maybe he’ll show up here.”
Lisa said, “On, there’s no maybe. He’ll be here if he learns there’s free food to be had.”
When we got to the door, I put my arm around Lisa’s waist and we walked outside together, still smiling and looking like the perfect picture of Vermont chastity, even though we’d just had a very near miss.