Johnny America


Per­fect Day


Don soared ahead of the tan­ger­ine bi-plane, loop-de-looped as the gog­gled pi­lot looked and laughed at the im­promp­tu air show, then salut­ed the avi­a­tor farewell be­fore ac­cel­er­at­ing over the pur­ple moun­tains. As al­ways, the air felt bit­ing across his face, but he’d grown a full beard since his last flight; va­por co­ag­u­lat­ed and crys­tal­ized in­to a thin shell over his new lum­ber­jack curls. He willed him­self su­per­son­ic. He’d scoured the weath­er re­ports and the day’s con­flu­ence of pres­sure zones and vol­canic par­tic­u­lates he­lix­ing slow­ly across the Pa­cif­ic Rim pre­dict­ed par­tic­u­lar­ly fine sun­sets along all miles of the Cal­i­for­nia coast. He touched down gen­tly on the coarse dunes just past High­way 1 and looked out up­on the lop­ping waves, at the ra­di­ant star still poised half an hour above the hori­zon, then scanned the beach for a promis­ing hol­low in which to pitch his evening’s camp. A man­tis scut­tled off the aban­doned half-bun­dle of fire­wood he scooped up along the way. The sun dipped slow­ly be­low the ocean and set the speck­led clouds afire in red and yel­low and the poly­chrome light of a bil­lion ba­by rain­bows re­fract­ed off frozen vol­cano dust. He lit a fire and fell asleep un­der a blan­ket of stars.

Don pulled back the du­vet and looked quizzi­cal­ly at his alarm clock, its num­bers jum­bled. He picked it up and held it to his ear, a conch shell echo­ing a mech­a­nized sea of dead­lines and mi­cro­elec­tron­ic hums. His phone was book­marked be­tween the pages of a bed­side mag­a­zine; he asked it the time and it voiced that he was up an hour ear­ly, rest­ed per­fect­ly and feel­ing elec­tric. He changed in­to his run­ning gear and ran the three miles of his neigh­bor­hood na­ture trail with­out a wheez­ing fit or need­ing to stop and vom­it amongst the dog­wood trees lin­ing the trail. At home, Don checked his phone and dashed off a dozen suc­cinct and use­ful e‑mails to his co-work­ers while halv­ing a grape­fruit and mind­ing it as it caramelized across the win­dow of the oven door. Bet­ter view­ing than the ca­ble morn­ing show he usu­al­ly watched, and bet­ter eat­ing than pick­ing at a choco­late-cranap­ple gra­nola bar.

A tiny arc of light­ing jumped from the polyvinyl sur­face as Don slid across the bus seat to his usu­al win­dow spot. Wedged be­tween seat and win­dow, he found a dog-eared copy of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rain­bow, which he’d been try­ing to read since for­ev­er; it was a white whale of a book he could nev­er man­age to fin­ish. He read the first para­graph for the dozenth, two-dozenth, time and rock­et­ed through the first twen­ty pages by the time the bus round­ed to the stop in front of his of­fice build­ing. He slid his phone from his jack­et pock­et and typed a quick e‑mail. Sub­ject: Out To­day; Mes­sage: Came down with a stom­ach bug —  will check mes­sages in­ter­mit­tent­ly. A per­fect white lie that would sail past all prob­ing ques­tions about the ex­act na­ture of his gas­troin­testi­nal is­sues; no one wants to know. The bus looped its route once an hour; from a bird’s eye, it cir­cled clock­wise ’round City Hall to the old mall out east, down to the Cen­tral Busi­ness dis­trict, then up west past the chichi restau­rants. Don read through morn­ing cof­fee break, over lunch, past af­ter­noon espres­so. Pas­sen­gers came and went, horns were honked, syn­the­sized tones sig­naled ap­proach­ing ticks in the bus’s loop. The cab­in lights warmed on around six. Don closed the cov­er to Rain­bow around eight, just as the bus was ap­proach­ing his neigh­bor­hood stop. He care­ful­ly wedged the book back be­tween the seat and win­dow, con­tent in the knowl­edge that he was the first per­son to ever fin­ish it. 

A glint of light bounced off the pen­ny lay­ing on the con­crete stoop. It was heads up (good luck) so Don pock­et­ed the coin. He voiced on the tele­vi­sion as he walked in­to his apart­ment, then voiced a de­liv­ery or­der for a dou­ble-pep­per­oni piz­za. He poured a glass of wine, scooped the cat up, and co­zied in­to the couch as a new episode of House M.D. fad­ed from black on the flatscreen. Dur­ing the com­mer­cial break, an elec­tron­ic chime and a text mes­sage from Mom: Just think­ing of you, love you, no need to call. Mom & Dad. The spice of pep­per­oni rolled ahead of the am­bling de­liv­ery dri­ver. Don crashed awake with the scream­ing alarm clock, its read­out flash­ing 6:00. He swat­ted it off and pulled the du­vet over his head. The uni­verse was slight­ing him, he knew, as the day world stripped away the flesh of the night. 

Filed under Fiction on February 28th, 2020

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