Air Show

by Andrea Grassi

Andrea Grassi used to work as a copywriter in advertising and for magazine until she decided she wanted to become a research librarian. She is a graduate student at University of Toronto’s iSchool. She also folds shirts and stacks books for money. Ad infinitum, she is moved by three little words: cup of coffee. You can sometimes read new things by going to agrassi.com or following her tweets (@andGrassi). Currently, her first manuscript is being read by Claudia, Jack, and Andrew. (Also, Grassi would like to give a shout-out to Kim at the Staples copy and print centre).

Four jets shake the skyline. Peijui, VP of Development, watches everyone from his King St. location run to the south windows to see a barrel roll—part of the annual City Air Show. The 30th floor windows frame the playful jets soaring above the city. Flowing out of the elevators toward the growing crowd of spectators is the I.T. department—their heads emerge from the hoods of their sweaters and they scratch their beards as they watch. The steel bird dips back into sight, leaving a trail of exhaust lines that powder and sink, dusting the streets below. The glass partition parallel to Peijui’s office door gives him a view of the great windows, so he thinks there is no need to leave his office, get in front of his desk or off his chair. Bök, VP Client Services, puts his hands on his head, hunching and wincing at every corkscrew; “Did you see that, did you see?” he says. Twix, Copywriter, screams while slapping her hands against the window glass; her heels fall out of her backless summer shoes. They are little round apricots. The frizz in her hair is endlessly caught in an auburn ponytail that drapes over her shoulder like an animal stole. Peijui remembers the way it felt like a sponge when he squeezed it on Wednesday.

What happened with Twix were two instances and an event. The first instance occurred while watching a grilled panini disappear into folds of waxed paper at an Italian deli on the other side of King St; the second, at the patisserie two blocks south of King on Front. The Event happened in the time between the two instances, so Peijui thinks of these instances as the Before and the After. As he watched Twix watching the show, he wondered why she had chosen him. They never particularly talked much, never went for coffee like so many of his coworkers often did. She had talked to Seth, Market Sales, more than him—he even saw them tagged in a Facebook picture laughing somewhere off-site.

The H.R. department swaggers over from the north side of the 30th. The jets shudder out of sight above the building, and the growing crowd can see two more in the distance heading toward them to join formation. Some of Peijui’s coworkers look up—as if the jets will somehow be visible through the white suspended ceilings—to follow the thunder coming from the heart of the fuselage. It is loud. Peijui notices how short Twix is compared to the rest of the crowd. She has the frame and rubber skin of a thirteen-year-old girl and a face sucked so thin; the only perceptible feature is her nose. But she makes sure she is right at the front by the window, with one of the best views of the show.

It was the After, at the patisserie, that Twix admitted she never really “cheered for things,” and her natural state was settled at a level “too low to react.” He remembers her stirring her coffee and adding the sugar that comes in large brown crystals—a few grains falling onto the table and her picking them up with the wet back of her spoon. She talked on and on about her lack of animation since she was sixteen.

“The way I act …” she said, adjusting herself and putting down her spoon slow like it had its own specifically designed place on the table. “The way I’ve always acted around men doesn’t mean anything, really.” After saying this, he remembers her leaning back a little, as if she had just accomplished something, reached some ledge. He remembers her thin grey hands holding up her cup, this time simply presenting it. He remembers, from the Event, the way her private posture had this same kind of showmanship. During the Event, her wiry legs, flexed and suddenly thick with purpose, constricted around Peijui’s waist like killing snakes. It was true she seemed altogether lifeless otherwise—no screams or gasps—save for the soft and unwavering beat of her shoes tapping the wall, the crack of static made by hair pulled from wool, a belt jingling.

The Before was at the Italian deli. Working overtime on publicity for their charity outreach program, Twix suggested they grab take-out. Peijui remembers feeling a new, slung comfort in her appearance—he had never really looked at her this closely before. Twix’s thin structure made her, to Peijui, appear as a kind of statue—the kind you want to touch because it is smooth, not the kind you stand before to admire. Waiting for their sandwiches, she mentioned that working late took her mind off of her mother’s sudden death.

They walked back to the empty building, Peijui holding the plastic bags containing two waxed paper-wrapped sandwiches, Styrofoam cartons of salad, two pops. The elevator ride to the 30th was smooth and quiet at first, with talk about outreach and team building, but Peijui remembers this was when he was really lost on the white moon between her neck and shoulders. Her body was more or less a collection of edges, but there, thought Peijui, was a perfectly cradled curve. He asked her how her mother had died when they got to the 28th floor. He wanted to know more about her and didn’t know what else to say. Twix, shifting, said quickly, “Heart attack”. Peijui could hear Twix’s lungs pumping hard under her thin chest after she said this, and thought perhaps the force would eventually crack her ribs, the sound like chattering teeth. He could see it, so he stopped. Then they left the elevator and went into their separate offices to eat and work.

Everything was normal again—quiet—until Peijui decided to go home. Then the Event. He remembers collecting his things and turning off his office light, noticing the way his grey carpet, grey walls, and black desk settled into a cooling navy after hours. He made sure he had a red pen and the day’s newspaper for the subway ride home—he enjoyed tracing the faces in the news photos in red ink because it turned all the scenes into flat cartoons. He remembers heading toward the elevators, as he usually left without saying goodbye to anyone, but decided that this time, because he knew how her mom died, he should probably say goodbye to Twix. He also wanted to see her skin again. Her smooth moon neck. He turned back and walked to her office door. Expecting to look in and see her punching away at her computer, he decided to wave quickly from the door and maybe say something, but she was already waiting for him in the frame.

The jets are back in the window, flipping and vibrant. They head back toward the lake and the crowd swells because they know the show is about to reach its climax—a triangle formation maintained through a series of loops and curves executed over the water.

“Here it comes!” says Bök. Gerald, CEO, passes Peijui’s office to dissolve at the front of the crowd.

“In this case, the nosebleeds are the best seats in the city,” says Gerald. The crowd laughs and cheers the show on. Twix’s hands spread along the glass, creating wider spaces between her fingers. Her ponytail falls behind her, jerking back and forth as her head follows the snarling sound.


In the affluent suburb of Silo Park, a sixteen-year-old girl was found prisoner in her parents’ attic—forced to wear a peach blanket over herself at all times. When the blanket was removed, it was reported that the top of her head was completely bald, hair rubbed off over time. She died in the hospital shortly after her rescue due to heart failure. Her father was a recorded sex offender, and the parents were sentenced to life in prison: the “Silo Psychos.” When Peijui first saw Blanket Girl, he was in the sauna of his dad’s pool house. Sixteen, alone, curious and overwhelmed by the pulsing warmth and the soft pine, Peijui rested his hands on the front of his swim trunks. He had a poster of Linnea Quigley above his bed, so he closed his eyes and thought of that. Her little body, in a metal bikini. Her blond hair pulled over one shoulder. She was holding a chainsaw, too—such a tiny thing holding it up with one hand, propped on her hip like it weighed nothing. He pulled his swim trunks down around his mid-thighs. That is when he noticed her crumbled, tattered pink appearance on the opposite bench. She slunk down to the floor and began to slowly roll toward his toes. He had heard of her ghost appearing at neighbourhood birthday parties, garage sales, alleyways, barbecues, but he never actually believed it. He remembers her silvery hand emerging from beneath the hem and grabbing his ankle, then his scream and his kick at the mass of peach. Even though he saw the hand, when he kicked it he just felt a silly light blanket, empty, landing in a humph. Peijui pushed open the sauna door and continued to wail as he ran back to the main house.

He remembers how cold it felt outside that night, his lungs icy from the screaming and the running and his sweat lapping up the cold air. Mom was in the kitchen at the glass breakfast table, a bronze can of cola opened and ticking beside her as she thumbed the stock pages. She looked up startled and then furious; Peijui stood there scared and crying with his shorts around his ankles and his shame dangling. He was being punished for his urges, and he swore he would stop. He could. Could he? He promised.


The Event happened, as Peijui remembers, after Twix told him to come into her dark office. She walked around her desk and stood there with one hand resting on top. Among her things like a tiny pillar, her skin was so bright against the dark cool of the room. Peijui began to feel the air’s volume, everything heavy and elastic. She looked at Peijui, but also beyond him. She walked close, first touching his arm and then his mouth, pressing hard. Her strength startled him. He wasn’t sure what to do, but his body and Twix’s tiny frame led them firm. Barbs of pain pulled through his stomach, rising into his throat. Could he? He remembers the feeling of her ribcage contracting—the bones massaging the palms of his hands as she clung to him.


Listen

Two days after the Event, as the jets twist and sear—Twix with blush cheeks, screaming mouth wide, hot breath misty on the window glass—Peijui wonders if she slept that night. He went back to his apartment to drink milk at his kitchen table and trace the newspaper in red ink. Every muscle in his body was soft butter. He finished outlining an entire issue and held it up. Art. He laughed and laughed at the paper lit by the kitchen light that only he had ever switched on and off. Did she go home alone, too? Did she think of him or her dead mom or Seth, Market Sales? What did she think of while she was sharing her editorial ideas in the board meeting the next day? Peijui wonders now as he watches her shifting back and forth at the window—rosy lips, cheering for the show.

“One of them is doing a free fall. I don’t remember this part,” yells Bök. The crowd around the window begins to panic.

“Jesus, he’s crashing,” says Gerald. Black smoke, tail to sky, the frantic sound stirs the life below, making way for the inevitable boom. Horns beep and sirens fill the ache of air that has no future but to make a noise that will never dull. In an instant, a black coil of smoke twists up from the lake and the sky becomes the only quiet place. H.R. covers their open mouths, pulling into the window. I.T. runs to the nearest offices to watch a live news feed. Peijui gets up to join them, but any curiosity is turned into white terror when Blanket Girl reappears. She is emerging from the 30th floor spectators, rolling toward Peijui’s office straight and calm along the carpet. The blanket that covers her floats slowly along, pulled by nothing. Peijui runs back to his office and shuts his door. He squats behind his desk but can’t stop watching her through his glass partition, the frail dead form of a girl beneath a tattered pink blanket. She looks like a joke—God’s own pink tissue—and the only things that would make her more absurd would be two cutouts for eyes. But Peijui knows she is real.

Ambulances whine below. Everyone in the office is at their computer now, flashes of the scene lighting up pale faces in a sobering blue. Bök bites his hands and cries on Twix’s shoulder as crash footage from a bike messenger’s cell phone loops on the national news. There is doubt in her being able to prop his weight, like a table picture frame with a back support that is slightly too small, and you wait for the photo to topple backwards with the slightest movement in the room. But she holds him. Blanket Girl melts through Peijui’s office window, mounts his desk and squats to place her hidden face inches from his. He can’t detect any sort of breathing but he knows there is a girl under there. He has seen her hands below the hem, not thin and frail and cooked tender by death like you would imagine, but smooth and silvery, like dolphin skin. She throws off her pink cover and a clog of fog slips off her shiny body. She is ugly, but her skin shines and catches the fluorescent overhanging light. Her naked body is twisted and tiny and silver, even her toes. Her face is a house pet run over by the family station wagon. There is no hair, everything slippery. Her smile shakes as she reaches out for Peijui’s face and she looks at him with white eyes completely blank. Her hands are hot, not cold like you would expect from something dead or with death, and she squishes his cheeks between them.

There is chaos in the touching, a rumbling spider crawling up his arm bone to his brain. Through Blanket Girl’s grasp, he can hear what the crashed pilot is thinking as his jet sinks deeper into the lake: Special Forces, one episode of anoxia, his wife’s hair smelling like peeled oranges, his daughter sliding down her favourite red slide at the park by their house. There is one final thought the pilot has, and Peijui hears it loud, the desperate question: Am I alive? Despite the definite end of traveling in one direction gaining force, there is some peace for Peijui. Blanket Girl squeezes harder now, getting ready for the final crush, and he thinks his last clear thoughts: Linnea Quigley’s white body in Return of the Living Dead, the light fixture that hangs over his kitchen table that is round and looks like a lady’s breast, Twix’s strength, the way his mom’s hair always curled sideways at the back.


Andrea Grassi used to work as a copywriter in advertising and for magazine until she decided she wanted to become a research librarian. She is a graduate student at University of Toronto’s iSchool. She also folds shirts and stacks books for money. Ad infinitum, she is moved by three little words: cup of coffee. You can sometimes read new things by going to agrassi.com or following her tweets (@andGrassi). Currently, her first manuscript is being read by Claudia, Jack, and Andrew. (Also, Grassi would like to give a shout-out to Kim at the Staples copy and print centre).

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