Gonna Fly Like an Eagle

A short story inspired by recent events.

“Boy! How many times do I gotta tell you to get away from the goddamned aircraft!”

“I ain’t touchin’ it. I’m just lookin’ at it,” the boy yelled back as he kicked at a dirt clod. “Besides,” he muttered, “it’s not an aircraft, it’s just a big stupid balloon.”

“What d’you say?”

“Nothing.” The boy spit on the ground.

“You better not be talking trash about that project, boy. You know what that aircraft means, don’t you.”

“Yeah, I know … it means freedom.”

“That’s right and don’t you forget it. That aircraft you’re messin’ with is our ticket out of this shithole,” the father said as he finished his beer and tossed the can on a growing pile. He scratched his ankle where the electronic monitor had rubbed a spot raw.

The screen door slammed as the father went into the kitchen to get another beer. The boy found a stick in the brown grass and poked the side of the balloon with it. He watched the silvery surface ripple and poked it again. “Stupid balloon.”

The boy’s older brother charged into the yard and skidded his bike to a stop in a spray of dirt. He picked up a rock and chucked it at the boy. “Hey doofus! Dad’s gonna kick your ass if he sees you messing with the craft.”

“Shut your face, dickweed,” the boy yelled back, already knowing it was a mistake. “I ain’t doing nothing that’s any of your business,” he shouted as he ran toward his hiding place in the garage. He tripped on a tangled garden hose and stumbled. His brother grabbed the back of his shirt, wrestled him to the ground and pushed his face into the dirt while twisting one arm behind his back.

“I’ll tell you what my business is, you stupid asswipe,” the older boy said as he got up and kicked his brother in the ribs. Before he could kick him again, their father came out of the house with a cold beer.

“Leave the boy alone,” he yelled. “And if either of the two of you touch that thing again, you’re gonna be as sorry as you ever been.”

The older boy sped off on his bike, popping a wheelie on his way down the driveway. The father was glad to see him go. He always told himself that he loved both his boys, but he was having a hard time seeing what the point of the older one was. The younger boy still had some spunk. He was a dreamer.

The father settled into his folding camp chair with a grunt, fitted his beer can into the cup-holder and started reading the new issue of Popular Science. He liked being an inventor a whole lot more than working at the filling station. If only he could make just one great invention before his unemployment ran out ... but ever since the hovercraft project caught fire and singed his eyebrows right off, he was finding it difficult to finish things. Now that the balloon was almost ready to launch, he could feel his interest starting to wane.

His third wife was evermore giving him a hard time about his failed projects. “They oughta do one of those reality TV shows about you,” she’d said that morning. “They could call it ‘The Biggest Loser’.”

“They already got a show with that name,” he said. “It’s about fat people and I ain’t that, so why don’t you just shut your mouth, because that’s what’s fat around here.” He smiled at his quick comeback.

“Okay then, smartass,” she said. “If you’re so sure that’s the case, maybe my mouth is too fat to cook you breakfast anymore.”

“That don’t make no sense,” he said. “What’s that got to do with anything anyways?”

He was ready to argue the point, but she’d already grabbed her car keys off the counter and slammed her way out to the driveway. As the Kia’s tires squealed down the street, he was rooting around the refrigerator looking for something to eat. He found a baggie with two turkey franks in it and, after rinsing them under the kitchen tap, dipped them, one after the other, in a jar of mayonnaise and ate them cold.

Now, a few hours later, he was hungry again. “Hey! I need a little help here,” he called, hoping he could get the boy to fetch him something. The only sound was somebody’s leaf blower and his neighbor’s dog yapping. “Boy! Where the hell did you get to?”

He heaved himself out of the camp chair, tipping it over and spilling his beer. “Goddammit all to hell,” he said as he watched the beer soak into the dry ground. He looked around to see if anyone had witnessed his clumsy move, but the yard was empty.

Back in the kitchen, he found a can of Pringles tucked behind a sack of flour. He ate the chips in stacks of three and washed them down with a fresh beer. The television on the counter was on with the sound turned down. For a minute he watched Oprah jumping around excited about something, but by the time he got the volume turned up it was a commercial and he'd missed the story. “Shit, they should have me on Oprah. Now that would be fascinating,” he thought as he wiped the orange powder from his fingers.

The shaft of afternoon sunlight beaming through the window flickered briefly as if a cloud had passed by. The father glanced up from the television and saw a quick flash of silver. Only a moment passed before he realized what he had just witnessed.

“Jesus H. Christ,” he shouted as he banged the screen door open and ran into the yard. The 22-foot diameter helium-filled weather-balloon he had constructed out of mylar, duct tape and some old paneling from the basement was already 25 feet up in the air and rising rapidly into the bright October sky. The lengths of clothesline that had tethered it to his old Ranchero were dangling out of his reach. He watched it float away, the sun glinting from the mirrored surface.

The older boy wheeled back into the yard. “I told him to quit his messing around,” he shouted into the sky. “I knew somethin’ bad was gonna happen. It’s not my fault. I didn’t do nothing. It’s the brat’s fault.” He was pleading now, and starting to cry.

“What the hell are you talking about?” the father asked.

“He was messin’ with the tie-downs. Then he said he was gonna climb inside and fly away from here and never come back.”

The father didn’t answer. He just watched the silver craft as it became smaller and started drifting toward the south. He thought about calling for help, but who do you call when your giant balloon is drifting away with your offspring inside?

Then he thought about that storybook he’d read to the boy. It was one of those ancient stories about a father who built a set of wings out of feathers and beeswax and gave them to his boy. What was it he told that boy? Keep flying toward the sun? Yeah, that was it.

“Keep flying toward the sun, boy,” he said as he watched the balloon float out of sight. "Just like your old man, keep flying toward the sun."

Cue Soundtrack: Guitarist (and part-time pirate) Yngwie Malmsteen performs his soaring composition, “Icarus Dream Fanfare,” with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra.

Image: “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Bruegel the elder (ca. 1558).


LicketyGlitz said...

I like your version of events a lot more than the friend squealing the pre-meditated plot line to the press.

MightyToyCannon said...

How much do you want to bet that the Balloon family ends up getting a book deal out of this, even after it's proven to be a hoax? If so, I hope it ends up in bookstore remainder bins, right next to Sarah Palin's autobiography.

~Christopher said...

I heartily encourage you to keep the stories coming.

Stephen said...

Brilliant! & I love the Breugel reference.

Make it a screenplay & lets cast the shithead- Tom Sizemore as the dad & Sean Young as the mother, but who for the kid?

Jessica said...

I think an opera, with that soundtrack...