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.
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