LA Times Man
by Kim Farleigh
A LA Times man looked across the plane’s aisle and asked: “What are you going to be doing there?”
The journalist had curious eyes and a hooked nose. He leant forward, like an inquisitive eagle, curiosity crumbling in the face of construction silence.
The heat had hit the construction employee as if he had put on a pelt suit. He crossed over a defensive leg and removed a report and a felt pen from his brown, leather briefcase. He splashed green over white paper. Tasks were alluring. His hairline and sideboards were square. He glowed with polished splendour. His brown, leather belt matched his brown, leather shoes, his eyes reddish in his reddish face.
The journalist looked out a window at the simmering earth.
To the two NGO workers, a man and a woman beside each other on either side of the aisle, the construction employee resembled “a hungover frog.” At the top of the cabin-entry stairs, the NGO man had turned and had waved to an empty desert. A “crowd” had gathered to witness his departure, his friend’s giggling engulfed by desert silence.
Shaved-headed security specialists were staring out the plane’s windows, khakis tight against their branch biceps, their necks thicker than normal arms, heads like bronze busts on their wide shoulders.
The female NGO worker had told her compatriot: “The brawn-brain ratio looks enormous.”
“You’re jealous because your arms aren’t that thick,” her associate had replied.
The CNN journalist on the double back seat had blonde hair that looked hewn from satin and silk – like a manicured beret with a split down one side. His black, mica eyes stared at the pilot who was glancing around, tapping his fingertips in patient wait, the passengers still settling into their seats.
Black-and-white striped epaulettes sat on the pilot’s shoulders. Dimples, like happy hoops, bracketed his wide mouth. His irises shone like stained-glass windows of amusement. The passengers sat facing him. Single seats lined the narrow plane’s fuselage. Everybody was sitting apart in the narrow plane.
“A little manoeuvre may have to be done over Baghdad,” the pilot said. “But don’t worry.”
He fought off laughter, before adding: “This is perfectly normal.”
Radiating lines covered his grinning face, as if he was looking into a wind tunnel, the sea-blue in his eyes blazing like a conflagration of wit.
“G-forces never hurt anyone’s face,” he continued. “Look at me: still gorgeous after all these years.”
His opening hands expressed irrefutable logic.
The construction-industry employee’s forced smile disappeared when he realised that the LA Times journalist was looking at him and smiling. The construction employee looked back at his report.
“Enjoy the flight,” the pilot said.
If you can, he thought.
A chuckle escaped from the happy asylum of his thoughts as he went back into the cockpit, the instrument panel alight. Green florescence shining upon black. The propellers started spinning. Cloud reflections filled the chrome propeller tips. The desert, rushing past, blurred at the horizon.
The plane’s shadow rushed over the yellow desert, dried-up-riverbed lashes suggesting that heat had inculcated itself into the land. Vehicles, like metallic beetles, glinted upon the asphalt strip that thinned near the earth’s edge.
The security employees were staring out the windows, their mouths cleaved open by the tortuous luxury of boredom, distances now clear, heat haze not visible from above.
Most of the passengers were reading, their heads down, eyes still with concentration. The engines hushed.
A security specialist puffed his cheeks out; arching his back, he blew out. His companions smiled. One said: “Only an hour to go.”
The passengers were absorbed by reports, newspapers, and magazines. The pilots’ muffled voices could be heard over the purring engines. The flat, remorseless world below remained unchanged.
“I saw an orange flash,” the co-pilot said, “before his chute opened.”
“Civilian aircraft bother me,” the pilot smiled. “No ejector seats.”
“We’ve been spoilt,” the co-pilot grinned.
Another security specialist blew out while glancing at his watch. The woman NGO worker turned a page of her magazine. She wasn’t surprised that the security specialists were the only people on the plane who weren’t reading. Not exactly intellectual types, she thought. It must be difficult for people like that to kill time. Probably never read a book between them. Her head turned rapidly so that she could lay her eyes quickly on the next page. Her features were set in pleasant contemplation. This happens when the future and the present seem new. She noted things in a notebook. She was wearing an ankle-length, floral-patterned, cotton dress that covered her milky skin. Her red hair turned gold when caught by light, as if illuminating thoughts were firing up her follicles. Archipelago freckles dotted her cheeks’ milky seas.
A security man ground his teeth together. His forehead became lined. His mouth, like a torn hole, grimaced with dull despair. His companions were still staring, without curiosity, out the windows, the distances clear – so clear that nothing seemed new – as clear as danger is to a trained man.
The redhead turned another page as the desert became black earth. Buildings filled the blackness. Metal beetles, flashing like diamonds, glinted upon the blackness.
The plane rose up. The journalists and the NGO workers looked up from their reading material. The aircraft started diving and tilting down at forty-five degrees – spiralling down! Facial expressions got harmonised: eyes enchanted, mouths open, common expressions irrespective of education and intelligence, a unity of experience that wiped boredom’s dryness from tired faces.
The sun flashed in the windows as the plane spiralled, a flashing sun like an ultra-violet atomic clock that ticked on with an objectivity that had disappeared inside the aircraft: the ground spun; faces were pressed against cheekbones by G-forces………..it flashed – a silver bullet – past the right-wing tip, smoke pouring out of its rear, its tip flashing in the sun.
The clefs of the woman NGO worker’s lips unfurled to produce a single ring that encased the cliffs of her teeth: she gasped: “My God!”
A widening, thinning vapour trail sat underneath them, a thinning cellular path like vaporous crocodile skin.
A security specialist said: “Don’t worry. The pilots know how to avoid them. And there’s only time for one.”
His voice’s unexpected softness didn’t stop that alive hollowness from spiralling up her body; up it rose, like a malevolent spirit, swirling, entering her head where it popped like fireworks, wiping out petty considerations, planing self-esteem smooth. She clutched her rattling hands together. She didn’t even know that such a threat existed! Or that her body could create such chemicals! Her sharp eyes were glued to the wing.
The plane levelled out and landed. The passengers’ cheeks were now flat. The desert had seemed too lifeless to contain deadly life – an illusion. The woman’s heart slowed to a throbbing beat of relief.
A US soldier, wearing desert khakis, emerged from the desert background, as if he had broken away from the land. Not an inkling of a clue had suggested that he had been in that wilderness. But he suddenly come into focus, as if the hazy heat, gyrating like a stewing broth above the ground, had given birth to life. His creation from this flailing atmosphere had taken place so unexpectedly that his appearance seemed like magic evolution; one moment not there; then he was.
“Are you okay?” the security specialist asked the woman.
The man’s eyes were kind. Before, he had just been a thick-necked ape.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” she said. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” he replied.
He felt amused for he felt that he hadn’t done anything.
“What are you going to do here?” she asked.
His gentleness was magnified by physical strength. He looked younger than she had imagined. That gentleness looked amazing in that strength. His eyes now possessed a surprising alert kindness.
“We’ll be looking after certain people,” he said.
“You already have,” she replied.
His grin had the pleasantness of a fresh awakening.
The heat reached all parts of their bodies. They could feel it on the tips of their noses, and on their earlobes. It was heat that could touch any place.
The soldier took them across the tarmac and into the arrival lounge, his face punctured by opal slithers of green friendliness. The M-16 he was carrying looked like a strange anomaly under the taffeta-like purity of his face; but his body was covered by white, green and brown patches that made this being of supposed innocence impossible to detect in the desert that stretched ever so slightly upwards to meet the sky’s cobalt light that rose over those specks of humanoid existence, who, in that magnitude, resembled ants in a place where few of their colony were prepared to go.
The woman NGO worker had never felt so small. The desert’s magnitude creates positive smallness.
I now understand, she thought, how monotheism emerged from this landscape.
The construction-industry employee’s smile was now natural as the male NGO worker said: “It was all just perfectly normal.”
Amiability had become a survival mechanism.
“Great job there,” the woman told the pilot.
Her enthusiasm for other people had never been so acute.
The LA Times journalist said: “It missed us by that much.”
The CNN journalist said: “It ruffled my hair!”
The pilot said: “In these circumstances, hair-ruffling is perfectly normal. Just look at Seth.”
Seth was the co-pilot.
“My hair has been so ruffled recently,” Seth said, “that straightening it out would be a waste of time.”
The construction employee told the LA Times journalist: “I’ll speak to my people about the LA Times doing some stories about us, okay?”
“Can you give me your contact details?”
The security specialist was asked by the NGO woman where he was going to be staying.
“The Green Zone,” the security specialist replied.
“Me, too,” she said.
There was a brilliance to his smile that made her response leap out of her mouth as if that comment had been fired out by air-compressed enthusiasm, that smile the device that had flicked open the lid.
“This is my card,” she said. “And if you don’t contact me, soldier, I’ll have you court martialed. That’s an order.”
His face erupted with titillated surprise; he was delighted with her ebullient audacity. Amazing strength emerged from her beautiful physical fragility. He gave her his card.
In the van that picked her up, she and her co-workers saw the security specialists getting into a Jeep.
“Caroline fell in love after the missile attack,” her associate said. “Near death has altered her neurons.”
“That,” Caroline said, with lascivious sincerity, “Is Hunk City, USA. And it’s going to be mine! Mine!! I tell you! Mine!!”
Everyone howled with spasm joy.
“Mine!! Now get us to The Green Zone. And that’s an order!”