Victims of Gravity
She’s young and frail and sitting at a Formica table smoking a fresh Pall-Mall. She has red hair and she's holding a sleeping baby in her lap in a one-room apartment above a grocery store in Greenwich Village while her husband hangs dead from his parachute straps somewhere over China. They say that each body is surrounded by an electrical field, an invisible corona that can be broken by a gaze, a thought, a death. This is why she’s shaking now, and smoking one cigarette after another. He was supposed to be home by now. His last letter made that promise.
He’s never held the child. But he has her
picture. She has his laughing eyes. The plane that carries him is a long range
bomber named Princess Eileen. She’s beautiful - a shiny B-29 with a chrome
exoskeleton and a spitting cobra painted on its nosecone. He’s the navigator, a
little man with squinty eyes and a pug nose. His name is Sammy Pittarino but they call him Sammy the Pitt. He plays the
guitar between missions and sends her pictures from the
She stares at the peeling wallpaper. It is the color of old pea soup. The room is veiled in a green fog and smoky ringlets trail off the tip of her cigarette. She reads his last letter by the light of a flickering bulb, certain that she is a widow.
He huddles in the blackness, his fingertips numb, his body is curled like a fetus. They make the small guys into radio men, navigators, ball turret gunners. Little men fit easier into tight places. He relays coded coordinates for the drop zones to the pilot and smiles at the little photograph with the scalloped edges. It's the red haired girl with the baby in her lap. The amber diodes on the com-panel put off enough light to see her looking back at him. He talks to her because it makes him feel alive. Sometimes the pilots hear a faraway voice singing lullabies.
She waits on
The bomb doors yawn in the sky over
The sky drops rain onto the
The Princess Eileen deposits her
The baby girl is called Maria. She splashes in the tepid water of the living room tub. Her skin is shiny. She loves the water. It's hard to hold a cigarette and wash a baby but it can be done. It juts from the corner her mother's mouth and she squints tightly to keep the smoke out of her eyes. The rain has stopped but she can't hear it because the water is still running.
In the air over China the flak flies
thick as hail and the big chrome bird is punctured all over with shrapnel and
iron slag that cuts through her wings and knocks out the number three engine
and the number one and the plane starts to spin, tipping gently like a seagull
into a graceful spiral, trailing a ribbon of burning oil behind her and
spinning, so that at times Sammy the Pitt hangs upside down in his safety
harness, sending out coded mayday calls as the little photograph falls from the
console with everything in turmoil and all the smoke and then the crew jumping
from the bomb doors with Sammy the Pitt behind them. Their chutes open white
against the dark sky and they float down to
The old cradle squeaks and the baby likes its rhythm. The red haired girl unfolds the letter and holds it up to the flickering bulb. His hand writing is perfect. Every word is beautiful. Soon, I will be home.
The ground is crawling with Japanese and the billowing white parachutes make easy targets. Sammy the Pitt lands in a tree. He hangs from its branches like a puppet, desperately trying to cut himself free. The Japanese are everywhere. Twigs pop and crack all around him. Bullets whistle past his ears and they jeer at him in a strange language as he dies.
She feels this.
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