by David Byron Queen
The only man to survive three plane crashes lived in a cul-de-sac down the hill from my parents’ house when I was growing up. My brother and I had read about people who’d survived a crash or two, but surviving three was unheard of. We’d ride by his house on our bikes after school, and hide in the patch of trees by the mailbox to spy on him, absorb his power.
Once my brother and I were out by the end of his driveway, looping and swerving on our bikes, when we saw him step out of the house in a navy bathrobe. He was old and his skin looked like stained glass, full of jagged scars and discolored patches. I leaned into my bike to pedal away, but my brother grabbed the back of my t-shirt with his free hand and wouldn’t let go.
“Don’t say anything,” I said, as the man approached the mailbox.
But my brother, of course, ignored me.
“How did I do what?” the man asked, stacking the mail on his forearm.
“Survive those plane crashes?”
The man wrinkled his nose like a garden rabbit and continued as if nothing had been said. “Got lucky,” he said, finally, and walked back into the house. We never got anything more than that.
When we were older, my brother accepted a job with a tech company and moved to Northern California with his wife. I stayed home to take care of our parents, but it turned out they were still young and healthy enough that they didn’t need my help yet. In the meantime, I landed a gig as a drummer in a mildly successful tribute band, and got a job at a wine bar downtown – the fancy one, with the faux Tuscan cottage décor.
Every so often, I go and visit my brother. The trips are always a disappointment; I rarely get to see him because of his busy schedule. Each visit results in him apologizing and saying I should have given him more notice, and me taking the train up to San Francisco each day, to wander around without any real plan. But it’s an excuse to get away.
On the return flights, I get this evil tickle of excitement. I’ve never told this to anyone, but I like to imagine for a second – usually in that gentle lurch when the plane has reached its peak altitude, while waiting for the ding of the cabin bell – that the plane will plummet towards the earth, spiraling, twisting through the atmosphere. That the passengers, debased by their sudden mortality, would begin to scream and cry and pray and screw all around me – their faces pulled tight by the g-force, as if encased in saran wrap. Yet I would be fine: calm, collected, and waiting for impact, like nothing unusual were taking place. But this thought leaves almost as soon as it arrives, and I pick up an in-flight magazine or try to sleep.
And here I thought I was the chosen one.