Call the Bases
My son calls from the bus he’s riding to the runway. Flightline, airfield. tarmac. He was born at an air force hospital and spent his early years on bases with me and his father. We’ve learned to call the bases and the airfields many things. I met his dad in San Antonio, at the hospital. We were medics, still in training, and it was 1988—tall thin men would come up to the lab with big thick binders with pink stickers. This was before HIPPA. This was AIDS. His dad and I’d go to classes every day, but since he got there before I did, he was more advanced with his clinicals. He was good at drawing blood. He was good with patients. The AIDS patients usually needed 13 tubes drawn. I was fresh out of high school. He was one year older. We lived in the dorms, and he had a car, so he’d taxi me to early morning rounds, where we’d go up to patients’ rooms with our trays, waking soldiers and dependents. Veterans. He got orders to Biloxi. We got married so we could be together. We worked the lab: he was mostly chemistry, and I worked the blood bank section. That was where our son came. When. I still remember the fumes of the airfield, the tarmac, the flight line, runway. Even when I fly now, I take in the smell, and the fumes bring me back there. It wasn’t an easy time. We went to war. It was Desert Storm. My husband, now ex, got on a big green truck loaded with bags in colors of the army. Our son was only a year. Now I’m on a plane to go back to some of those old places. I still have friends there. I can still smell the shore, see the sand with my baby, the flightline where I ran barefoot with my baby in my arms to escape the large hand of my then heated husband. It was after he came back, on a big C-5, after treating wounded soldiers. My son is in the army. He’s going to the field. He has standing orders. There are bombings in Ukraine. I feel the slosh of my memories, and in my newly stitched-up wrist there is new hardware. In the seat next to me, a woman holds a boy, a toddler, sucking on the end of a hairbrush. I say hello, and I do my best to put on my seatbelt.
When we first meet at the coffee shop, he asks me: “So, what’s jumping?” I have no idea what he means, but he seems interesting. His brown hair spikes—I’m happy that he has some. He, like me, is from Wisconsin. We worked at the same hospital, oddly, in Wisconsin, during the same time. He was a helicopter pilot there, for the Mercy Flight. I was a medical technologist, and I remember going down to the trauma center after the patients arrived, them barely looking human—I’d collect blood from whatever arterial sites I could find, taking the blood back up to the lab where I would test it. The blood was so bright, and the trauma team moved along with such agency. Once a drowned man came, another was a motorcyclist, another was a kid who’d, from his car window, put a bomb in someone’s mailbox, but the car broke down and the bomb blew up in his face and killed him. Hardly anyone, at least from what I knew, in that trauma room, survived. At the coffee shop, he says he doesn’t want one single person. He likes to mess around. I don’t want to hear that—I suppose maybe I could change him, but that’s never worked before. I figure I’m more curious than anything. I’m not a med tech anymore. I’m a writer. He’s still a helicopter pilot, working for Mercy Flight. He was in the military, like me, too. He’s a Marine (Once a Marine, always a Marine). I was a medic in the Air Force. We both somehow landed in Buffalo, New York. We met on Tinder. He’s sexy, and I don’t find many sexy guys at my age (almost 50!) on dating sites anymore. The coffee shop is named Spot. There are lots of Spot Coffees in Western New York. They all have mismatched furniture, old wooden desks, ratty chairs, and things on the menu like hummus plates and soups. Gross and cheesy omelets. All the Spots are grunge-like. They smell like burnt coffee. We sit in one of the lounge areas. It’s early spring, and the snow outside is melting. The snow that sticks around is brown with dirt. The sky seems a continual gray. He doesn’t really say anything to me that’s complimentary. I order my own coffee. I realize he’s a little into himself. But I’m a big girl. My last boyfriend dumped me. He said I was too free for him. Too loose, perhaps. I like having fun. Perhaps he’s just too boring. Perhaps I don’t want to eat rice and noodles every night in his boring fucking kitchen. Perhaps I’ve seen a lot more of the world than he has, and I want to see a lot more of it without him. Nothing is in jeopardy. “What is jumping?” I say at Spot, to this sexy jump guy. “Ha!” he says. “It’s just a term. I say that to every girl I meet. Just to see what she has to say about it.” I lounge back in my chair and put my feet up. I ask him how long he’s been an asshole.
The next time we hook up, he comes to my house after his shift. He takes off his flight suit right away and there’s nothing besides him under it. The time after that I go to his apartment where he shows me his artwork, and we end up in his bedroom and after we start getting into it, he gets out his toys. He has great skills and knows how to satisfy. After our climaxes settle, and he gets up to go to the kitchen, I notice his cabinet, partway open. It’s filled with sex toys of all kinds. Big ones, small ones. There are things I don’t recognize. “Wow,” I say, getting dressed. When he comes back to the bedroom, I point to his cabinet. “Wow,” I say. “Yeah,” he says. “You got any questions?” He’s back in his jumpsuit. It’s orange. He smiles a big smile and he beats on his chest like an animal.
Rise and Splash
It’s not my first time at his house, though it’s my first time in his bedroom. I found my way here after I crashed my bike on a ride with him. He rode ahead of me and somehow forgot I was behind him. I tried to call him, but he wasn’t answering. My bike was shot and I'd fallen on my face. I have blood on my legs. I had to take an Uber. It’s not the worst feeling. It’s not the greatest feeling either. I have daffodils sprouting in my yard. I had a four-hour ride planned—it was part of my Ironman training that my coach had set up for me. I imagined riding to Niagara Falls, kind of an epic thing I experienced before, riding along the river on the bike path, seeing the rushing water, getting closer to the rise and splash, then seeing it go down into another body. I like feel of its mist on my skin. Instead we rode through the city and he showed me properties he flipped. He’s into extreme sports. He has a deep voice. We have a history. We were hot and heavy for months until I told him I wanted something more than just a riding and sex partner. Not many people our age can ride as far as we can. We fuck. He doesn’t ask about the bruises on my face, the skin lost, my banged-up knees and shoulder. He tells me to get dressed so we can retrieve my bike and so he can get me home again. As we pull out of his driveway, I touch my face, finding the parts that are most tender. He apologizes to me about fucking me in ways that may have seemed forceful. I remind him I’m an adult and responsible for making my own choices. I even tease him a little, giving him a tiny slap on his arm, then his leg…
A Very Nice Couple
After I return from travels, I gift my neighbors pralines. They are a very nice couple: him, retired, with a car preservation hobby. His wife is a nurse. They, like me, have older children. I also give them a bottle of vodka that’s been sitting unopened in my house for months, a bottle of Prosecco. This is outstanding, Ted, the neighbor says to me. I find it pretty outstanding that they kept an eye on my house while I was away. He did snow removal after I broke my arm, even secured the posts in my fence so my dogs wouldn’t push them over. I’ve only been in this house for a year. They’ve been here for over twenty. I’m on medical leave because of the fracture. I tell Ted traveling was hard. He says, I love being home. He’s a slim man with thick hair. Attractive, and he looks like a man who spent his life working, who has earned. He has nice teeth and a Buffalo accent. I say, I got a little homesick. There’s a bomb threat on campus. Last month, the day before my first surgery, campus was on lockdown because of a gunman. I’d just left campus to drop off paperwork. I don’t think to mention the bomb threat, but Ted mentions the safety of his home, the sorrow of war, the people of Ukraine. My son has orders there, I say. What does he do again? Ted asks. I had already told him. I think about it day and night, as if it’s a part of me.
KIM CHINQUEE is the author of seven collections and the novel Pipette. She grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, served as a medical technician in the Air Force and elsewhere, and is currently an associate professor of English at SUNY-Buffalo State. She’s senior editor of New World Writing, associate editor of Midwest Review, chief editor of ELJ (Elm Leaves Journal) and a recipient of three Pushcart Prizes. She’s a triathlete and lives with her three dogs in Tonawanda, NY.
Artwork by Jack Felice.
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