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**PRINT: COLD WAS THE GROUND, by Chicago's Scott Stealey, is No. 34 in our broadsheet series. Gina, protagonist, a rather lonely condo dweller/office manager, strikes up a fleeting friendship with one Porgo, an Eastern European construction worker who is burying on her property what Gina takes for a time capsule. But the metaphorical fix is in -- Porgo, an ESL student, may be leading Gina in directions she canít exactly get her head all the way around. Enjoy. Chicago writer Stealey is editor of the Please Donít online mag.

WING & FLY: Bubbling up in Nashville, gassing it to Chicago | Todd Dills
AFTER DETOX Jamie Iredell
CHARLIE's TRAIN a novella by Heather Palmer
INJURIES Jeremy P. Bushnell

Todd Dills

Dills is editor of THE2NDHAND and author of the novel Sons of the Rapture. A Nashville resident, Dills reads this coming Sunday, May 16, 2010, in Chicago as part of THE2NDHAND's regular "Nerves of Steel" series with Patrick Somerville and Heather Palmer. Details here.

You can spot them by the flood beards, thought Professor Minnow, glancing beyond the whir of flight-attendant activity up ahead of him in the aisle of this old Boeing 707 en route to Denver. One could easily identify the responsible men of his town, those who obeyed the emergency flood order to conserve water -- none had shaved, and probably only slightly bathed, in the past two weeks. If the smell didn't alert you first, turn around. You'll know them by the proverbial seven-days stubble. Minnow did it himself, idly, standing up and scanning the rows-upon-rows of passengers at his back, to no avail. It did, for a moment, distract his attention from the in turn astounding distraction in the seat next to him. Minnow, see, savored nothing better than a cigar on a flight en route to a writers conference. He smoked of the Bulldog label, which for reasons he'd always been uncertain of, being possessed of a level of intellectual curiosity below that of what you might expect from a professor, came with a picture of a giant poodle as their emblem. Had he thought to inquire of the hometown-Nashville-based tobacco-products distributor of the brand, he would have found out it was the company's idea of a fine, sophisticated joke. He'd never laughed at it, which might tell you a little more about him, still.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

The enjoyment of his Bulldog-brand cigar on this plane to Denver was, however, being hampered by a very real miniature poodle in the lap of the old lady at his left. The poodle would not stop licking his arm, nor would the lady do anything to discourage the beast's invasion of his personal space. "Oooohh, that's a widdle baby licky poo poo poo," she said, now, after perhaps the fifteenth episode of same.

The professor pulled slowly on his cigar, his slow exhale now directed squarely in the direction of the pair at his left.

The woman, Mrs. Ida J. Hubbard, en route to visit grandchildren in a posh mountain suburb, had no part of the water conservation order, having driven for three hours from her own mountain "cabin," as she and her husband were quite fond of calling the 3,000-square-feet house nestled on a hillside in the Appalachians, to the flood-affected area to catch the flight. More importantly for Minnow, she insisted on talking to her dog in the above-described fashion to mask a growing irritation at the fact of not only the professor's smoking, in this parallel existence where cigars were the normal run on things on planes. Cigars, she felt, did not belong on planes, not to mention the more natural effluvia emanating from the professor's armpits and clothes and, no doubt, crotch, particularly in this day and age, and the flight attendant now bringing Professor Minnow a second whiskey/soda would have agreed with Mrs. Hubbard had it not been the attendant's job to not think too much about the idiosyncracies of her passengers.

Unbeknowst to the hive mind of the passenger list and crew on this domestic-service Boeing 707, the situation here was reaching its crisis point. Widdle baby licky poo poo poo's tongue was quickly extending for the sixteenth lick, just as Mrs. Hubbard was readying her lungs for a full-bore cough, the near-explosive simultaneity of which, for the Professor, would send his arm in a reflex jerk away from the dog and coughing woman at his left. The drink, set just then on the pull-down tray in front of the professor, would catch the brunt of the professor's arm's force and fly straight up into the face of the waiting attendant.

At the denouement of the plastic cup's arc, "Goddamnit!" the professor positively - or, negatively, as the case may be - shrieked. He then grabbed the miniature poodle by the neck and flung it with all his might through the window on their row, causing an unsafe drop in cabin pressure and prompting the domestic-service 707's automatic safety systems to engage and drop oxygen masks for the otherwise soon-to-be hypoxic passengers.

Mrs. Hubbard groped for her mask. The professor pulled slowly on his cigar, exhaling then before strapping on his own mask. Mrs. Hubbard, drinking in the fresh air, watched him with a contemptuous detachment now, her widdle baby licky poo poo poo no doubt halfway to its demise somewhere in the Texas panhandle below. When the professor finally bothered to look her way, she raised the middle finger of her right hand to him, and in the same motion grabbed his Bulldog-label cigar and threw it, too, out the window. It joined a stream of gathering detritus, from half-filled cups and paper napkins and foil peanut wrappers to the peanuts themselves, which whipped down their aisle and out over the wing of the plane, a seat by which Mrs. Hubbard always chose on her trips to Denver, if she could, to avoid the vertigo she felt when she could actually see the ground below.

Among the maelstrom of detritus the professor managed now to return Mrs. Ida J. Hubbard's lewd gesture, and behind the oxygen mask he smiled, for out on the wing of the plane, he spied, flapping in the wind, the old woman's poodle, gamely yelping, tongue flapping from the side of its mouth, in which, in further confirmation of his love for the eventfulness of so many a flight, or maybe that was the growing hypoxia talking among his synapses, a quite curious object. His crude gesture quickly turned to another, now, for Mrs. Hubbard to look, out there, look, and she did, where her widdle baby licky poo poo poo had caught in its jaws neither the cigar nor the loads of peanut sustenance flying now in a stream out into the air, at 50,000 feet, but a bright-yellow brick.

Mrs. Ida J. Hubbard cried in both horror and relief, and the professor threw up his hands, leaned back into his seat, closed his eyes, and patiently waited for the next opportunity to smoke, opportunities by which he measured his days. His arms rose high, hands clenched into fists, his eyes closed, triumphant. He didn't for a moment consider that the last cigar, wasted at 50,000 feet, could have been his last.


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