Papa Jim Drinking in the Air

Sometimes Papa Jim would help Curtis start the prop of his duster.  The blades spun off into a transparent disc that looked like it was beginning to wheel the other way around as it accelerated.

In the freedom of Sunday afternoons, Papa Jim flew over the fields of green in the back seat of a corn-yellow duster with a few beers, drinking in the air.

The snarling engine was too loud for them to hear any talk. In roaring silence Papa Jim got his thinking done in the tranquility torn from the low sky.

They threaded back and forth with each long low pass over the quilt patches, and with each turn the furrowed land fanned out like rays of striped light. They flew so low that Jim could see the bugs just before they were dusted under the wing. He looked behind at the cascade of fertilizers and pesticides and counted how long it took the clouds to hit the ground, knowing he couldn’t hope to fall so slow.

He felt as though the plane ought to move faster to stay in the air. He felt unlikely up here, a big man, in this coughing hunk, challenging fate and teasing gravity.

He was one to challenge and tease between working too hard. It was how he unwound from the grating impersonal violence of surviving. Wealth and poverty were pretty well predetermined in his community. But he was a big man, and hardship strong and when an overconfident money man fell in his path he personified Papa Jim’s faceless foe. When Jim and his pals would find a hive of such soft-handed dollops in one of the dance halls, they would draw sticks. If you drew the short stick then it was your turn to start the fight.

He flew miles and miles inside that square mile. He wondered how far he might’ve gone if he could unwind that tangled flight path into one long straight line.

(by C. Hancock)