This story is by Ann Levy and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I’m feeling dirty and sweaty when I get home from work. Unlatching the window, I recognize the saffron in Madame Lopez’s bouillabaisse—inferior to Mama’s, but good. Although it’s only 5 p.m., I’m mad hungry.
Then, in the dimming fall light, I spy a sliver of the Mediterranean Sea bobbing between two low-income housing projects, glistening like a turquoise jewel.
That’s what I need to get for Angie. Turquoise would accent her smooth, olive skin.
Thoughts of touching her make me stir.
Take it easy. Next week’s the wedding. Just a few more days.
The guys would taunt me if they knew—she’s a virgin. They wouldn’t get our values or understand our kind. Romani, Gypsies. Folks think we’re all nomads. But, I own an apartment, and I paid the bride’s price to her father, myself.
I step into the brand new shower. Unlike Mama’s old place, here, the hot water works.
How good is that?
Just when I’m slippery with soap, the doorbell rings.
Rudy and Marco.
What took them so long? They’re supposed to surprise me with a bachelor party, and there’s not much time left.
For days, my travel bag’s been packed and ready next to the door.
“What’s up with the bag?” teases Rudy. “You pregnant or are ya movin’ out?”
“I’m in,” I laugh, raising my arms. “Where’s the gig?”
“You’re supposed to resist,” says Marco, taking a boxing stance and punching my gut. Although Rudy and Marco think they’re tough—and have scars to prove it, I can hold my own in a fight, and they know it.
We box a little until Rudy whistles, “
“Como hermanos,” says Marco, hugging me.
“Like brothers,” I reply.
We head for Marco’s beat-up car.
“Get in the back,” says Marco while throwing my bag in the trunk.
Rudy sits next to me and leans over with a black cloth.
“Are you kidding?” I say, waving the blindfold away.
“Be cool,” says Rudy, laughing.
If this is supposed to be fun, it isn’t. I hate blindfolds. I feel—powerless. And, that’s not my thing. I resign myself.
Whatever. We’ll all get drunk in the end.
I grit my teeth while Marco speeds around town for about a half-hour. Street sounds give no clues to our whereabouts. In Marseille, honking horns and loud voices are commonplace. When we skid to a stop, I feel the tug in my belly, smelling a garage even before untying the blindfold.
“Let’s go, player,” says Marco. “We’re gonnna ball out.”
“Where are we?” I say.
“You’ll find out,” says Marco.
“Tell him,” says Rudy.
“We’re at the airport,” says Marco.
That’s out of bounds. Where’s the referee? I’ve never been on an airplane, and I don’t like heights. It took willpower just to get used to living on the fourth floor.
“I never fly,” I say, trying to appear smooth although sweat’s soaking my shirt.
“You’ll love it,” says Marco who gets off on every conceivable form of aviation.
“Yeah,” says Rudy. “It’s a breeze.”
“Like Autumn Breeze?” I say.
“Yeah, it’s autumn, so what?” says Rudy.
“That’s a song, dipshit,” says Marco.
“Angie plays it on the piano,” I say.
“This kitten’s smitten,” chortles Rudy.
Our tickets read: Porto, Portugal.
Hang in there. Flight time’s two hours. Sleep. Saint Sarah, I wish they’d skipped this bachelor party.
They insist on giving me the window seat.
As though I’ll enjoy looking down?
The plane takes off. The pressure against my chest feels good. Reassuring, like when Papa used to steady me with his hand. Before he abandoned us.
Stop. Don’t think about that.
Marco buys a round of beers for the three of us, and I begin to relax. I’m thirsty. Greedy for beer. I guzzle it. It drips down my chin. I’m laughing, giddy. Until we hit some turbulence. That’s what the pilot says.
Putain, he’s got it wrong. Turbulence is hitting us.
I need the bathroom. I’m gonna puke. I know it. All that beer is belly dancing like seven devils. The hostess orders me to sit.
She points to the signs with a plastic smile.
“I’m sick,” I say. “It’s an emergency.”
“You have a bag, Monsieur,” she says.
With no other choice, I use the bag. Marco and Rudy rib me, howling with laughter. I don’t care.
‘When you’re sick, you can’t help it. It’s not your fault, Paco,’ Mamma’d say. Sick, like Papa was sick? It wasn’t his fault either. Putain, I’m still blaming him—for taking off on a plane to Paradise without us.
We land at last, and outdoors, the chill October wind feels good, like aftershave. It stings—a sure sign that I’m alive.
Maybe, flying’s not so bad.
Minus the turbulence.
We check into a little hotel. Then, we go out. By the time we get back, I’m so drunk I can’t remember where we’ve been.
The next morning, I’m dunking flaky bread slathered with salted butter in my coffee when Marco gets up and goes out for a while.
So now he’s sick?
When he comes back, he says, “I rented our ride.”
“Good,” says Rudy. “We wouldn’t wanna make Romeo walk.”
There’s more? No. Enough.
“Hermanos, you’re overdoing it,” I say. “Why don’t we just chill here? Go to the beach?”
“Don’t you know Romani never stay put?” says Marco. “It’s in our genes.”
That’s our inside joke. All three of us have always wanted to settle down and plant roots.
We pile into a little red Ford and drive to the parched, hilly countryside. We stop at the dead end of a dirt road and hike uphill. Sputtering sounds of running engines grow louder the higher we climb.
Planes? Not again, putain.
“We’re there,” says Marco.
In a deserted field, I see a flimsy, yellow propeller plane. In comparison, the pilot looks solid, built to last. He stares at us, sizing us up, sucking on a cigarette filter. Marco steps forward.
“Rodrigue? Bom dia,” he says.
So now he knows Portuguese?
Rodrigue nods to him and takes a brown envelope from Marco. He opens it and fingers the contents, before smiling.
Marco picks up blue flight suits for him and me.
“What about Rudy?” I say.
“He couldn’t pay.”
“He can take my place,” I offer.
“You’re the groom,” says Rudy. “Besides, I have some stuff to do in the meantime.”
I put on the flight suit, and Marco hands me a harness with a cushion on the back.
“Step into this,” he says.
“What for?” I ask.
“Don’t ask, Paco. Do it. I promise you’ll be more comfortable with it than without it,” he says, laughing.
When the gear is in place, Rodrigue saunters over and shows me a red tab. He mimes pulling on it. I’ve seen enough TV to know this is a parachute.
I sure hope I don’t need this. Jeez, what’s he thinking? Is this plane safe?
Once on board, it’s strange. We’re sitting on a small bench–Marco’s right behind me. The plane takes off and circles up into the sky. We have to shout above the racket.
“Where are we going?” I holler.
“Up,” says Marco, pointing.
“We get high on the autumn breeze,” he says, chuckling.
“No. Then, we jump.”
“Are you fucking crazy?” I scream.
“You gotta do it,” he says.
“Look, I’ve done this a thousand times. Do as I do, or you’ll die, and then I’ll marry Angie. Her father likes me, anyway.”
“The hell I wouldn’t.”
Not a nightmare, I’m in a daymare.
Before I can react, the door opens. Freezing air rushes in. I can’t even look outside.
“No. Fuck you,” I say as I try to force my way to the back. But Marco has the advantage and grunts as he shoves me out of the plane. Murder? “Papa,” I shriek. Fighting to breathe, I’m falling, flailing my arms wildly, struggling to go back up.
But Marco somehow has my back and grabs my arms. He gestures for me to spread them out like a bird, and to look up. I do, and we’re soaring, diving to the earth. The ground’s closing in. Marco pulls his cord. I pull mine. We almost stop in mid-air as the parachutes open, making us vertical.
I copy Marco and pull some hanging handles to steer. He points to something below. Like a drawing, strewn flowers form a huge heart. Inside, a poster reads, “LOVE.” I must be hallucinating–Angie’s standing there in the middle.
“Angie,” I yell.
She grins as my foot finds purchase near her. Rudy and Angie’s cousins rush to help me stand, but searing ankle pain and dizziness make me fall, head-first into the sign.
Now kneeling and red-faced, I curse Marco until I’m hoarse.
“That’s what happens when you fall in LOVE,” he says.