Issue 35, Final Fringe

Ringlet

by Russell Hehn Issue 28 10.24.2011

Shortly thereafter he found himself piling into the Lockheed Vega floatplane heading toward Hawaii for a quick stopover, after which they proceeded as scheduled to this little island, and this little hut, to retrieve this skinny little payload.

Sweat dripped from Mason’s nose.  The small pip the drop made against the jungle floor reverberated around the hut, mixed with the halo’s hiss.  He gave her a moment.  No rush.  He let his eyes fall from the halo to the little reddish mole on Miss Earhart’s back, and as he did he saw her muscles relax, go lank, get loose—the neck, arms, back, tailbone coming to rest like she was being electrocuted in reverse, and in slow motion.  The halo jangled into place, vertically now.  She shook her head and pointed her chin toward the sky.  Mason saw her forehead, her nose, the upper hemispheres of her breasts.

“Miss Earhart,” he said.  He said it the way a brick falls, and he only said it once.

She kept her bare back to the men and her slender shoulders pulled taught beneath her skin, as dry as powder, and as white.

“Is that the way it is, then?” she blurted, like she was being taken into custody.

Mason wasn’t completely sure she was talking to him.  She wasn’t.

“I’ve wearied tribulation sufficient?” she asked.

The other men, the crew—Redbone, Cuffs, Gus and Monty—looked to Mason.

He didn’t look back.

“And my work isn’t done, I suppose?”

Later, independently, several of the crew would recount hearing an audible and resounding “No,” emanating from both everywhere and nowhere.

“So it is,” said Miss Earhart, standing and turning quickly to her saviors, the quintet of Americans in flight suits, sweat on their collars, who either turned their heads in further distraction, or shielded their eyes altogether.  Mason did neither.  He looked her in the eye.

“I suppose you’ll be taking me back to Kansas, then?”

“Eventually, I suppose,” said Mason.  “But for now, let’s get you decent.”  He tossed her his jacket.  “Cuffs,” he said, preemptory of a command, “go fire up the prop.”

“Yes, Captain Mason, sir,” snapped Cuffs, saluting first, then darting out of the hut to follow through with his orders.  Mason didn’t like Cuffs.  Found his breathing too heavy.  Considered him slovenly, unkempt, a mess.  That’s why he sent Cuffs on the errand.  He needed him out of his hair for a minute, so he could think.  Cuffs distracted him needlessly.  This seemed to Mason like it could be a delicate situation.  He couldn’t tell, what with the halo and all.

“So you’re a military man?” said Miss Earhart.  She gave him a cockeyed smirk, which Mason, not knowing any better, took as flirtation.  The whole man-in-uniform thing had worked for him and, he thought, all too well, even when he wasn’t in uniform, and had not been in uniform for years.  It was muscle memory, really, the way he carried himself as if he were still in full regalia, and women could tell.  It was almost as if the man-out-of- but still, somehow, -in-uniform aura made the job of undressing a serviceman that much easier.  Quicker access.  Mason had picked up on this reaction in women, and he was witnessing a similar response in Miss Earhart.

“I was,” he said simply, without even a tinge of nostalgia.  He said it this way intentionally, imagining that any even subtle expression of longing of any sort, even for the military days, would make him even more endearing, somehow broken, in need of being fixed, which was not his aim.  But this putting on of airs was not difficult, considering he had no intention of returning to the service, nor of ever thinking about it with any fondness.  He’d served his time.

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Russell Hehn

Russell Hehn

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Russell Hehn is a teacher and landscaper in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Some of his other work can be seen in Barcelona Review, Interrobang?! and Pindeldyboz.