An excerpt from a novel in progress.
The plane skipped like a stone along the runway. With a bounce of wheels, they were airborne.
This one-prop wonder was supposed to deliver Lucy to the coast. That it was painted like a scene from a kid’s book didn’t inspire confidence. Monkeys clung to the fuselage, and a frog looked ready to jump clear at any sign of trouble.
Gaining altitude, they broke from a cloud bank into the blue. Light flooded the cabin and the plane shuddered. A woman across the aisle—60ish, sunburned shoulders, pale face—said something that got lost in the din.
“What?” Lucy shouted.
“Avión de papel,” the woman shouted back in an accent that made no concession to Spanish vowels. Paper airplane. Lucy tried to smile. She didn’t need to be reminded that between her and the sky was nothing but a thin sheet of riveted metal.
This was her third plane in 24 hours. Funny how recently she’d been telling her fourth graders that flight was a typical evasive maneuver. The housefly, for instance, starts flapping its wings milliseconds after sensing a threat. Was Lucy fleeing a threat or catapulting towards possibility?
At the departure gate in San Francisco, tvs had been showing a volcanic eruption in Iceland. Someone said there was ash floating over half of Europe. Lucy thought of her mother’s ashes –marble-sized chunks in a floury sift –scattered on the river and floating downstream. Waiting for her connection in Texas, Lucy struck up a conversation just to say the line, “My mother is dead.” It had been several months, and still, the words didn’t ring true. Sara dying didn’t feel like an event; it felt like an ongoing dispute.
The sunburned woman leaned across this latest aisle to make herself heard. “What brings you to Costa Rica?”
A dead mother, thought Lucy. A greedy little sister. A man claiming to be—
The woman repeated her question.
“Trying to track someone down,” Lucy said.
The woman nodded. “Boyfriend.”
It wasn’t a question so Lucy didn’t answer.
The plane banked hard. Out the window were bunched-up carpets of green. At ground level, Lucy remembered, it was all one big tangle, trees webbed with vines and lianas, exposed roots intertwined on the forest floor, insect and animal life humming under piles of rotting leaves.
Better that sort of tangle than what she’d seen on the way from the main airport to where the small plane took off. It had been cool in the capitol, but the driver blasted the ac and kept the tinted windows up, casting a pall over the six-lane highway lined with billboards advertising cell phones, private hospitals, and gated communities. The view bore little resemblance to the jumble of splintered memories, half-read news stories, and photos from coffee table books that had become her idea of the place.
The sunburned woman was pointing out the window now.
They had come to the end of the land. A thousand feet below, a wide-mouthed gulf was dotted with islands rising steeply out of the water. Lighter-colored water surrounded the islands. Sea air filtered into the cabin. Lucy gripped the sides of her seat as they began to lose altitude.
“The whole place is up for sale,” the sunburned woman shouted to no one in particular. She’d been coming here for three years; this year, the fourth, she herself would start buying up land. In ten years she would own a gas station, a motel, and part interest in a boat that took tourists snorkeling.
Across the water, past the islands, was a mountainous and tree-covered peninsula.
They were low over choppy water and then the land was rushing up to meet them.