A journal of narrative writing.
Introduction to Airborne Radar
by Corey Campbell

He sucks his cigarette and shrugs. He projects his voice out, commanding the group’s attention, too. “I said we’d catch up later.”

“It’s later,” I say. His friends on the court pretend to talk but watch us instead. Some squint at the streetlight behind me. I whisper, “Why didn’t you call me back?”

He stays quiet, probably thinking dramatic pause. “I just haven’t done it yet,” he says finally. “Besides, one day apart and you’re totally freaking out.”

“No,” I say. “Something’s different. I don’t know what happened.” I search for warmth in his face, but nothing feels right. I wave for him to stand up, follow me, give us at least the hint of privacy. “Can I talk to you alone, please?”

“We’re talking,” he says, not moving and if anything, leaning back into his friends, these people he’s never introduced me to, and how long have we been going out? Long enough for me to know some of his fears. Not all of them, but some. Turning out like his mom, for one, alcoholic, desperate; being the useless one left behind, for another, the one who gets by. He says, “Did you hear about the shooting today?”

Delia comes up behind me. “We can go, Linds,” she says. “He’s being an asshole.”

Some of his friends start to laugh.

I hold my face for a minute, close my eyes, breathe into my hands to warm them up. “I know,” I say. I look at him. “You think just because you had sex with me that now I want to follow you around like a dog?”

A cloud of embarrassment crosses his face, separating him from his friends.

“That’s not what I want at all, Ernie. Do you know why?”

He doesn’t answer.

“Because you’re all messed up. I know you, Ernie. You pretend everything’s fine, but it’s not. You hate your whole family. Your insides wouldn’t even show up on an X-ray, they’re so diseased and sad.”

It’s dumb, but I think it: Ernie would never gun down anyone in a grocery store for me. I turn around and start walking.

He calls after me, “Lindsay.”

I keep walking, the grass blades frozen and cracked with each step.

“Listen,” he says. “Wait.”

And for a second I have hope though I shouldn’t. I stop and let him grab my small hands and hold them in his large ones, awkwardly. “You’re cold,” he says. Last night, his warm breath, his eyes were closed and then they weren’t. He says, “You don’t believe that, do you?”

“Why are you ignoring me?” I ask him. “What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing,” he says.

I breathe out a small halo. “I must have. What was it?”

He shakes his head. “It messes with you,” he says, squeezing my cold fingers. “Sex,” he says, then looks down. I want to prod him on, to ask him what is it? it isn’t fair, and finally I think he’s going to say more but he doesn’t.

“This makes no sense,” I say. “What are you saying?”

His hands move to my shoulders. His eyes have that bit of brightness but then it’s gone. “It’s too much.”

You didn’t want it to be a big deal,” I say. “I’m telling you, it’s not.”

“It is a big deal,” he says. “Things matter, Lindsay.”

The basketball court fades behind us. I can’t make out the silhouettes of his friends though I know they’re there. They’ll reclaim Ernie soon, be the ones he looks forward to seeing every morning at school and on weekends. They’ll hear his jokes and laugh and I’ll just wish I were enough.

“That’s why you throw them away,” I say.

In the car, Delia calls his behavior criminal. I feel like a rabbit caught in a bear trap. I need to drive. Along the dark hill that curves down into the golf course and back up to our neighborhood, I decide I can’t be home yet. I can’t be home anyway since I’m staying with Delia, but I can’t sit in her living room and watch her mother get out plates and fold napkins (though they must have eaten without us by now—poor Gregory). I can’t stare at their walls hung with woven baskets and wide oil paintings of mountain peaks. I can’t be anywhere at all.

At the bottom of Delia’s street, Mrs. Moorehead’s lights are off and Delia’s house has the faint blue buzz of television. Delia pulls her house key off her rabbit’s foot and hands it to me. She climbs through her bedroom window, waves, and I’m gone.

I meet Mr. Blue Apron in the Albertsons parking lot and tell him I feel like driving. I leave my car next to Romero’s Pontiac, which will not be driven by Romero again. The inside of Blue Apron’s car is bare and responsible, his backseat stacked with debate files. A tiny rubber jet plane hangs from the rearview mirror. His fingers on the stick shift knob look round, fat, and sure of themselves.

Denver International, just opened, becomes our destination. Mr. Blue Apron doesn’t even ask. He just drives there.

DIA’s white-capped roof makes me think of an all-night carnival. It’s so far from our neighborhood, from anywhere, it seems we cross cold oceans to get there. I have nothing to say to Mr. Blue Apron and don’t know if he notices. Whatever the airport will come to resemble over time—all the comings and goings, people’s constant re-calibrations into this or that life—now just built, it’s a far-off place, somewhere to go for teenagers with new drivers licenses. Somewhere to get away.

Mr. Blue Apron and I park in a lot that doesn’t charge. Inside it smells like burnt toast, and I can’t get warm. I remember Ernie again. It messes with you. We ride the moving sidewalks and underground trains between terminals, the voice of another local newscaster reminding us to hold handrails, forget what happened today, every last bit of it, even the worst part and the part after that; enjoy your travels.

Most terminals are empty. The outside looks empty, too. Gray vinyl seats face long black windows. We move from gate to gate trying to see beyond our reflections. An international flight lands on the runway and I wonder how pilots leave navigation to the mercy of technology when they can’t see at night. How do you trust in anything?

“How do they land in storms?” I say. When they only see vicious-looking clouds, and those clouds create unbearable turbulence, jagged movements, the half-promise that lightning may bolt and cancel the whole show. “How do they know what to do then?”

“Lindsay,” Mr. Blue Apron says, trying my name out, not reaching for my hand.

“If they just stayed above the cloudline, there’s sun and whiteness,” I say. Maybe that’s easier. You don’t have to go down. “You don’t have to enter the storm at all. But your passengers count on you. How do you get them even remotely near where they need to go?”

There are gauges, he tells me, gauges and dials and sophisticated machinery. It’s a system that can be learned, he says. “You can always see it coming,” he says. “All of it. Believe me.”

We stare out the black window.

“My dad says so,” he says.

I don’t know what to do next, I want to tell him. I don’t know how to be.

He stands behind me and lightly drums on my shoulders. He breathes in deep and I do the same.

“Lindsay,” he says.

I look up.