Sweetest Day

The Takeaway of Takeoff
by Matt Athanasiou

Rob found another piece of his girlfriend’s dream before bed. He had seen the slip of paper fall out of Beverly’s jeans when she took them off, and he snatched it up without her noticing. He turned his back to her and scanned details about a flying lesson she had scheduled for herself, with a sentence at the bottom of the sheet reading, “Bring this slip to your appointment!” Jagged lines broke his tired expression, his face screwing up.

He walked out of their bedroom—the hangar, she called it—and into the hall. Just before the stairway a portrait of them hung askew, as if about to nosedive down the steps. He lifted the silver frame—the photo beneath the glass was slightly cloudy—and set it on the floor, revealing the hole he had punched in the wall after a long day of work, after finding a new aviation book Beverly had bought and attempted to hide beneath a pile of magazines. Once the hole was made, he had started stuffing it with items he had discovered her collecting, all of them related to her dream of becoming a pilot. She never confronted him about the missing objects; mentioning them would have been an admission of guilt.

They had made a deal after she became pregnant. He would continue working road construction, suffering backaches and heat exhaustion to save money, and she would stop spending money on her aspiration until they could afford it. No more flight lessons. No more air shows. No more talking about flying to places that never seemed to include him. He had held firm to his end of the deal, but she appeared to find difficulty in setting aside a goal that would free her from an uneducated man with simple ambitions: a roof over his head and his belly fed.

Floorboards creaked in the bedroom. He tucked the piece of paper far into the wall, crumpling it over a beam, and his sleeve caught on something. He jerked his arm but remained stuck. He pulled again, elbowing a book, and watched it drop. The binding smacked against the hardwood floor.

Beverly shouted from their room, “The sky falling out there?” and the door pulled in, opening.

He kicked against the bottom of the wall for leverage and accidentally knocked the framed portrait into the stairwell. It dove onto a step, cracked, spiraled onto another, and flipped off in a burst of twinkling fragments that smashed into the darkness downstairs.

Beverly paused beside him, looking from the shards on the stairs, to the book on the floor, to the hole containing pieces of her dreams and his arm. She exhaled, deflating her cheeks, and touched the recent bulge of her stomach, an extra piece of luggage that she probably believed he had wanted to weigh her down with. Then she grabbed his arm and said, “Know why I never pushed you down the stairs?” Her hand slid up his forearm and into the wall.

“I meant to patch the hole,” he said. “Work’s been draining.”

Her fingers poked at his palm. “It’s safer flying with a co-pilot. Workload distribution. Noticing problems the other overlooked.” There was rip-rip, and she freed his arm. He tried pulling away from her, but she squeezed his wrist and said, “We’ll figure out this nightmare in the morning,” and led him back to the hangar.

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