Even Greenland

by Barry Hannah

Barry Hannah, 1942 – 2010.

Reprinted from Captain Maximus, Stories.  Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.

I was sitting radar. Actually doing nothing.

We had been up to seventy-five thousand to give the afternoon some jazz. I guess we were still in Mexico, coming into Mirimar eventually in the F-14. It doesn’t much matter after you’ve seen the curvature of the earth. For a while, nothing much matters at all. We’d had three sunsets already. I guess it’s what you’d call really living the day.

But then, “John,” said I, “this plane’s on fire.”

“I know it,” he said.

John was sort of short and angry about it.

“You thought of last-minute things any?” said I.

“Yeah. I ran out of a couple of things already. But they were cold, like. They didn’t catch the moment. Bad writing,” said John.

“You had the advantage. You’ve been knowing,” said I.

“Yeah. I was going to get a leap on you. I was going to smoke you. Everything you said, it wasn’t going to be good enough,” said he.

“But it’s not like that,” said I. “Is it?”

The wings were turning red. I guess you’d call it red. It was a shade against dark blue that was mystical flamingo, very spaceylike, like living blood. Was the plane bleeding?

“You have a good time in Peru?” said I.

“Not really,” said John. “I got something to tell you. I haven’t had a ‘good time’ in a long time. There’s something between me and a good time since, I don’t know, since I was was twenty-eight or like that. I’ve seen a lot, but you know I haven’t quite seen it. Like somebody’s seen it already. It wasn’t fresh. There were eyes that used it up some.”

“Even high in Mérida?” said I.

“Even,” said John.

“Even Greenland?” said I.

John said, “Yes. Even Greenland. It’s fresh, but it’s not fresh. There are footsteps in the snow.”

“Maybe,” said I, “you think about in Mississippi when it snows, when you’re a kid. And you’re the first up and there’s been nobody in the snow, no footsteps.”

“Shut up,” said John.

“Look, are we getting into a fight here at the moment of death? We going to mix it up with the plane’s on fire?”

“Shut up! Shut up!” Said John. Yelled John.

“What’s wrong?” said I.

He wouldn’t say anything. He wouldn’t budge at the controls. We might burn but we were going to hold level. We weren’t seeking the earth at all.

“What is it, John?” said I.

John said, “You son of a bitch, that was mine—that snow in Mississippi. Now it’s all shot to shit.”

The paper from his kneepad was flying all over the cockpit, and I could see his hand flapping up and down with the pencil in it, angry.

“It was mine, mine, you rotten cocksucker! You see what I mean?”

The little pages hung up on the top, and you could see the big moon just past them.

“Eject! Save your ass!” said John.

But I said, “What about you, John?”

John said, “I’m staying. Just let me have that one, will you?”

“But you can’t,” said I.

But he did.

Celeste and I visit the burn on the blond sand under one of those black romantic worthless mountains five miles or so out from Mirimar base.
I am a lieutenant commander in the reserve now. But to be frank, it shakes me a bit even to run a Skyhawk up to Malibu and back.

Celeste and I squat in the sand and say nothing as we look at the burn. They got all the metal away.

I don’t know what Celeste is saying or thinking, I am aso absorbed myself and paralyzed.

I know I am looking at John’s damned triumph.