This is not the place, I say from the passenger seat. This is not on any map. Beyond that dirt road is a door, and behind that door is a crank that will pull out our teeth and eat them for breakfast while we bleed. Delicious teeth! Like popcorn! K wishes I’d slept. Pines rise as we slow, slow, slow but don’t stop. White mountains crest over glass rivers like Valhalla. K says right now nowhere is the place to be.
We’re looking for a silver Sky Corp Administration Building. I dread the first on-camera interview. K’s bones are electric; he seems rabidly eager. His first show went better than mine. I did Open Up! Dove, which paid for college. For four years I tried face creams in front of a camera each morning, black sugar and zinc, oatmeal and acai. I lived with my organs outside of my body. K did Open Up! Facebook. He strategized from a tower in Tel Aviv. His video diaries were unkempt, sexy and light. Ask me anything, he said the night we met, after kissing me under a power plant. I did.
How did you wake up to drones like clouds, knowing they would pass you by?
Put a red X on my door, he said. Passover.
I’m so so so fucking lost, K laughs now.
Now we want a house and child. So we play the big tickets. The warhawks, the religious despots, the polo shirts stretched over bellies. Is Sky Corp Walmart? I ask the unforgiving, beautiful mountains. Donald Drumpf? The National Guard? Will I be naked in an hour? Will we press a button and obliterate some stranger? The mountains sound back THAT’S THE MYSTERY! And for a second I feel loved, I feel cared for.
We pass mansions with stone walls and tar pits. The old moneyed West, says K. We’ve stepped into a storybook. A producer runs down the fields to flag us. Straight into the demo. Soft lights, smooth carpeting, blue, grey, on-brand.
What defines success? SkyCaptain asks. A big-ass house? A pool? Beating out fifty other people who also could have used the job, and would have rocked the job? Rising rested from your lofty Country Lane bed, snug in General Electric warmth beside your exquisite spouse, your progeny pouring White Cow ProteinPlus milk over Bran Flakes? (He winks.) Our kids haven’t mastered the cereal thing. Cerebral palsy.
K makes a Yikes face. I feel differently. We’re sunk.
Meet Clyde, says SkyCaptain softly. Unemployed construction worker here in Boise. Role model of mine. Clyde prays to a Higher Power every morning.
Clyde, a thick-legged barrel of a man, says I know each SkyDestruct machine. Loaders, excavators. Open availability. (The crowd claps. We clap extra hard.)
SkyCorp 787s depart the tarmac soundlessly, electric, pilotless.
We debrief in the alcove. SkyCaptain gives us water before he drinks. Humid, he chuckles. I know it’s his job to be likable. He can ship us in crates to the Yukon once we cease to be of use. But I like him. The wrinkles on his face look crafted, like carpenters’ wood.
I never felt beautiful but then Dove, I begin.
K ventures Hebrew, then Arabic. I translate: SkyCorp Facebook openness connected new horizons grateful grateful.
Nonsense, kids, says SkyCaptain. I know who sponsored you. I don’t care. This show rates number one among heartland families for a reason. YOU pilot the chopper. YOU chart the course. How should we proceed?
We confer. We return with:
Give Clyde the job. Give us jobs too.
Outdoors smells like indoors. Clean, mint and salt. K waves boyishly from the freighter. Good job! I mouth, like I’m his mom. It’s a sim, naturally. Those not trained in trades get funneled into Marketing and PR. We wear pressed denim.
The blue river beneath my bare feet reminds me of preschool. Tactile, open fabric. We named the sea creatures in Michigan pools.
Growing up we drank fresh water on Sundays, I tell Camera One. Best. Day. We were raised on synth water or Punch, remember Punch? Milk was for holidays. We’re seventy percent water, right? Two million Americans can’t access this vital drink. Which I didn’t know. In college we were all constantly dehydrated, we’d joke about it, like being tired or overworked. Stasis. The days unfurled, preselected. We didn’t participate in our lives.
Hit the tags, Camera One says. She chews glossed lips.
Sound natural or hit tags?
Look, I don’t know how Dove worked but we’re on a schedule.
SkyCorp channels the abundance of the Great Northwest to pour fresh water down the ruby red patriot throats of America through SkyWater. AgriCommons joins us to offer Calcium Enriched MilkPlus. Drink, #GetMilk, and repopulate, my darlings. Send forth the best ye breed. The #SkyandClouds are yours, bitch! Take your picture in baby blue and pink. Help SkyCorp #ReclaimRedWhiteandBlue. New colors for a new generation.
K’s showpiece freighter hovers. He’s Moroccan, raised in Boston, still walks around America like What the fuck is this.
Camera One calls break. She gives me a sandwich and SkyWater from the cooler. She asks, Wanna bite my hand too?
Sorry. Dove would say I was triggered, I guess.
Production beckons to me. Housekeeping issues. New spokespeople step in. The grass I tread is slow, spongy, spring-back turf, appearing sweetly real.
The green room’s carved from a mountainside. Aerial Camera follows. Eye tracking connects me to a restless student in London, a lonely girl in Bombay. Families eating potatoes. I don’t know who watches.
Contract stuff, Production says. There’s a light blue picture of SkyCaptain on the wall holding his kids, toddlers then. It’s the meme money shot. SKYDRONES DROWNED CALIFORNIA. SKYWATER POISONED BOLIVIA. Etc etc. I’ve shared them all.
SkyCaptain looks in and says, Saw your first take.
Oh, that was…
I liked it. A little nerve, cuteness. Saying bitch and all, that charms a key demographic. Not mine. These mountains call me Grandpa. We’ll have you on the standard five-year, set for life thereafter. Just this life, though.
Really? No gilded mansion in glory? I wink (flirting? Calling him God?).
Nope. You’re on your own there.
This disappoints me. Leave me alone in life’s broken, glad chaos, I’ll wander blind, but don’t let me flail for ETERNITY. (K and I have a recurring argument. Him: How can any thinking person be religious? Me: We’re going to die. K: BUT STILL BUT STILL.)
I know why K’s not here. We lose contract negotiating power separately. They’ll have a scene if one signs and the other refuses. K, I suspect, will refuse, so I sign. Scenes mean money. We play as a team, each sounding to the other across space.
Production draws blood for diseases and pregnancy. I open my mouth to let the world in, quarks then atoms then molecules then air, building blocks, each and all wonderful. Then I wait. Hush, the planes say. Hush. The pregnancy test is standard. So standard I sleep. Then I’m called back to Camera One and K is there and Camera One says Zoom tight for first react and I say React for what?
Strange faces, in the background, beam.
The holy echo of auditoriums, the silver-soft linoleum shine. Cameras radiate. Every clapping pair of hands is ours. Please retest please, I mouth, K’s face sucked in like a frog’s.
Production retests. (Still positive.) They wear eerie dragon head cams. We stare, because we have all we want, and now what do we do?
Step off the field, Production’s telling me. Hands grab my armpits. I’m lifted into an insulated helicopter, goggles on, coughing out of spite. Wind screams insults. K is saying words to SkyCaptain like ambient radiation, nuclear toxicity…
No no I understand. SkyCaptain’s palms are out. We won’t murder you two if you walk away from the contract. You stay knowing the risks. Can we go offline? Camera Two?
Snap go the lights. Who’s piloting this plane?
SkyCaptain ahems that should we not ahem keep the child there are discreet um vehicles, call it a miscarriage, is that amenable to you? K says We didn’t vote down birth control, that was you, so. Can we get water?
All these options are horrible. The copter’s turning, turning, going where?
Let me tell you a story of three men on three crosses, says SkyCaptain. The first man lived in such abundant selfishness that his teeth turned to caramel and his spit to gold. The second man, born to poverty, robbed those with abundance. As the condemned men felt their lungs split, they recognized that the second man had robbed the first. They each turned to the Savior and said, Capitalism, dude. That was the problem. We each looked out for Numero Uno. Let us down from here.
I’m an atheist, says K, but I don’t think that’s how it goes.
I laugh. The seat expands to fit my swirling heart.
Together we pour SkyWater from plastic bottles into plastic cups. We toast consumer choice. Your land, my land. Mountains and fountains and volcanoes, caves and crystals and ice. Me: Everything’s new, like glass. K, beautiful against the sepia-gold clouds of the robber barons: My father worked smart and so too shall I. (Oh, but he looks happy.) Camera One: Cut.
We sit on grass sponge. This is okay, right? I ask. Camera One scans for toxins. When did you start here? I ask her, idly.
Two years ago. I came from an indie craft…thing.
How does creation feel? Powerful, like turning antimatter to matter? Or more like folding a blanket?
Her head shakes.
What’s your name? K asks.
This is a job. There’s no jobs, she says. She looks like a Danielle.
Alone, we bathe in the icy sun. People get by unsponsored, we murmur. Beans and rice. Roommates. Social services. Sure. And WTF with that like quiet abortion, how many of his wives has he … I whisper Don’t don’t don’t. Pain stirs like I swallowed a tooth.
The mountains will catch fire, I incant. A chorus repeats. What, K says, what, what?
The chorus replies: The land will open like a mouth.
When your kids find out the chemicals on your grounds gave them cerebral palsy, what will you say? an audience member shouts. We hum. We have blank paper faces.
SkyCaptain: You are loved, loved, loved.
The chorus points at us, clamoring. She hasn’t decided, SkyCaptain says, yet they stomp as if we’re selfless. SkyCaptain, with warmth, says the chorus cares more about our future/kid than we do! Let ‘em vote! They like that idea.
Sure, we say. Fine.
The air conditioners sing.
Did you know the Fortune 500 can suspend time? With chaos in the stands, we go into the crystalline outdoors. Goats jump over crags of ice. Fleetly they fly to all points North, like witches they ride. Stalactites crisp and angular as the fingers of gods. Cold marble fountains sing Providence. Welcome to Idaho, I say in K’s embrace. Welcome Home. (Wink to Camera One.)
Our bodies turn aquamarine with cold. SkyCaptain: Let me tell you a story about blood, poured into wine thimbles.
IT’S VAMPIRE JESUS, I say straight to camera. You won’t let us go. We’re theatre of the most macabre kind.
The voters report: we should abide by contract law as they have. SkyCaptain requests coffee.
K and I confer. We place our palms on the ice.
When next we meet, we’re on flat asphalt pleated with sunshine. K rocks a #HomeInTheSky blue and pink jacket. I’m in wool and khakis with holes. Say words, I instruct him. Say ten years’ worth of words to us both. Say everything you’ll forget. Camera One gulps.
K: You are loved YouarelovedyouarelovedIloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveyou
Beneath his perfumed smell is sweat and dirt. I get money in ten years. I’d switch places. We do silly grins and the audience shrivels, like prunes, they’re howling. The tears come like vomit.
A plane swoops him up which is our cue to walk, I guess, me and SkyBaby. Me and you. Tramps with no country. Let’s hum a mountain song. I open a granola bar and eat. I’ll find the car once I figure out where the hell I am.
Amy is a writer in Portland, Maine. She has a forthcoming collection from Magic Helicopter Press and a middle-grade book on Nikola Tesla and the War of Currents from Zoozil Media. She’s working on a novel about the Quiverfull movement, more stories about the near and far future, and getting by in the world.
After winning a Charles Burchfield scholarship in 1976, Cole studied drawing at Pratt in Brooklyn, N.Y., joined the planning committee of City Without Walls Gallery in 1983 and exhibited extensively around NYC until moving to Maine in 1994, where he organized political art actions with the Union of Maine Visual Artists and served on the board at Waterfall Arts. Cole won a 2012 Monhegan Island Artists Residency, exhibited an interactive solo installation at the University of Maine Museum of Art’s Zillman Gallery in 2014 and will show new interactive work in October 2016 at Perimeter Gallery in Belfast, Maine.