Fall 2005

Thomas McConnell


Thomas McConnell Thomas McConnell teaches creative writing, literature, and critical theory at the University of South Carolina Upstate. His collection of short fiction, A Picture Book of Hell and Other Landscapes, was published in 2005 by Texas Tech University Press.  He also has an essay in the just-published collection Crossroads: A Southern Culture Annual 2005 (Mercer University Press, 2005).

Each morning and each evening since they'd taken the radio station in the capital the week before, the rebels had proclaimed the capture of the airport too, but she knew that wasn't true because she lived in that quarter of the city and could hear the planes still landing and leaving and as she walked there in the cool of this morning she could see the white belly of one plane nestle into the green pillow of the trees and then disappear behind them. Shifting her weight from one foot to the other and her baby from hip to hip, she waited at the back of the crowd outside the silver fence around the airport until others gathered behind her and pressed her into the decision she'd already made. She ducked elbows and armpits, threaded sweating bellies and breasts and the wet heads of other crying babies until she managed to stand before the silver gate. Her baby had stopped crying when the porridge from the outside world had stopped, because this place was too dangerous. On the other side of the gate three soldiers made a broken triangle standing in the dust, looking up every now and then at the crowd or behind them where the thrum of propellers rounded the curving roofs of hangers. With her eyes she caught the eyes of one of the three, a black gun across his chest blacker even than his eyes, stains under the sleeves of his green shirt nearly as dark.

The good fortune and her surprise was that the price from the soldier's mouth was less than she'd been told yesterday. In fact, the price of the bribe had declined everyday for the week she'd been coming to this gate. Who knows where they'd spend it, but the soldiers seemed eager today to accept anything and so the bribe in the end amounted to even less than she had hidden under the waist of her skirt. One soldier slung his gun and reached for the baby, who still did not cry, and she wrapped and tucked the white blanket firmly before following the first soldier behind a hanger where she lay down in the dust under the shade of a spindly locust. The crowd had grown from the gate along the fence so that now eyes beyond the fence could glance or stare at her lying there, gaze at the soldier kneeling to lie with her; then she turned her head away. She would not kiss though his lips groaned over hers and she would not close her eyes that did not focus on the clouds in the high pale sky or, nearer, on the thin branches waving in the breeze. She followed the soldier back to her baby, tucked in the dirtied blanket again and shooed a fly bigger than her baby's eyelid, blacker than her baby's eye, returned to the bare shade of the tree with the second, then the third, kept her mouth closed against the three of them. For a few moments after the third soldier stood and began to rebuckle his belt, she didn't bother to rise further than to prop on her elbows and breathe in the heat again. He had a wiry black beard that had not roughed her jaws like the stubble of the other two. You'll never get on board, he said, bending for his gun against the tree. She almost nodded because she'd never intended to, then stood herself and fetched her baby close and pulled at the hem of her skirt again with her free arm.

Away from the hanger began the long road toward the plane, and at the end stood another crowd dazzled to a shimmer under the sun. Her feet burned flat but that only made her step quicker, and this crowd was smaller, trying to reach into the door opening darkly in the side of the white plane and there was a breeze here over them all, a relief, and each one in the crowd was talking but no one heard another. She parted her lips and took from under her tongue the wet and folded money to squeeze in the fist that was not around her baby. Then well before them came a scream over the trees and made the crowd all dodge down and then a second scream louder, with gray smoke bellowing at the edge of the lake that lay beyond the fence. The propellers blurred further and the plane began to roll and some in the crowd fell in the stiffened wind but she had never crouched even in the explosions and used the time to overtake the door and begin to jog holding up her baby at the closest face. There's no room, the face said. No more room. She said, Just the baby. Just take my baby boy, but the face closed and said nothing more and there was another scream, which she didn't hear running now, holding up the fist partly opening and fingers that had been holding the face closed came toward the money and she yelled running as fast as she could now, The baby first, and one hand wrenched the baby from her under the arm so that his head rolled out from the blanket and another hand plucked the money and she reached to set the blanket right again and touched only wind, falling now to knees and hands hard on the grit of the runway but her face lifted to see the plane lifting from its perfect shadow on the ground, the plane against the trees and then the blue of the sky and its shadow passing over the fence and over the lake and now over the trees and farther out the white belly turning so slowly in circling back that she wondered for a smiling moment how it could float there, the door beginning to close and she on the point of touching her forehead to the runway in prayer when from that hole in its side came something white that fluttered briefly before flying open like a tiny parachute from a darker object and while the parachute jerked free from the plane suddenly and settled more slowly down to the work of reaching earth the darker object dropping loose from it arched and flailed four small limbs into the blue air that appeared to pale behind this new and darkening creature that plummeted faster and unbelievably faster to splash a sudden white flower in the lake and as suddenly wither back into the water again.



For No Apparent Reason...    

. . . bright and early Monday, well, early anyway, God, being a polyglot, said Fiat lux. Then, blinking, said, Where the hell is that coming from? But when the divine eyes had adjusted, God said, Not half bad. Course it won't burn forever.

(Only three days later, his light being until then strangely under a bushel, did he see the need for a sun. Meanwhile, the first flora had been germinating forth and increasing a whole day before the eye of heaven peeped, and evening and morning had been naturally bestowed from the very beginning. Hm, God said, maybe I really should have thought this through a little more deeply.)

Days two and three, each also had its labor. And day four preternaturally saw the spangling of sun and stars. And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons. . . .

That made God scratch in his beard a bit. Something about those signs. . . . Oh well, it would sort itself out. What was an anachronism to a deity?

Thus the week progressed.

Day five was all taken up with fowl and fishes, so that by the sixth day God said, I better get on the stick or I'm not going to have any weekend at all. Cattle, reptiles, and wild animals, each according to their kind, every creeping thing, were quickened as quickly as possible. So that, at the eleventh hour, huffing and puffing to his deadline, God said, Let us make man in our image to rule the fish in the sea, etc. Be fruitful, etc. And so he panted upon the dust and, voila, humus became human.

On the seventh day, as all know, he ceased from the work he had set himself to do. Jesus, God said, watching the youngsters frolic and gambol, I'm tired as hell. They can wait, and settled in for a nice kip without further instructions. But then Eve and Adam started right in chomping at the bit and made so much racket going about it that God's eyes flashed open and he thundered, What the devil hast thou done now?

Ribbones atremble, Adam and Eve, wagging their fingers, said, Don't blame us. We're here in your own ineffable image to rule over this muckheap, to have dominion over every creeping thing that creepeth, except serpents, etc.

Eff off, said God, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Now get to hell out, and he gave them the digitus infamis. Thus they departed.

God, said God, damn me. If I had known I was going to make such a figgin hash of it, I'd have taken the whole bloody week off.



Thomas McConnell: Fiction
Copyright © 2005 The Cortland Review Issue 30The Cortland Review