falling fast: in suspended animation

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


a novel by



Aunt Stella busied herself at the stove making hot tea for Kori and Avery, warm chocolate milk for Gil.  She waddled back and forth between the stove, the microwave and the refrigerator, pulling out milk, mugs, tea bags, honey, and checking the clock on the microwave every thirty seconds.  If time were about to stop, she needed to be the first to know.

“Can we call Mom and Dad again?” Kori asked.

“You already left three messages, honey.”  She checked the microwave clock again.

“Well, can we have them paged?” Avery asked, walking into the kitchen.

“Anything else burning?” Kori asked.

“Nope.  Just the porch still,” Avery said.

“You don’t want your parents getting into an accident on I-95 because they’re racing home to you kids, do you?  You’re safe here.  The firemen will take care of the rest.”  Aunt Stella set a plate of chocolate chip cookies in the middle of the table.  Gil reached over and grabbed three at once.

Kori smacked his hand.  “One at a time.”

“Oh, for Godsakes, the boy’s starving.  Let me fix you a sandwich, Gilly.”  Aunt Stella shuffled back to the refrigerator and pulled out imported ham, Swiss and provolone cheeses, prosciutto, salami, sliced thin, a hunk of asiago and a giant loaf of bread.

Avery left the room; Kori’s gaze followed him.  She bit her nails.

Aunt Stella cut chunks of bread with vigor, a woman in need of a purpose.  She filled a basket, set the meat and cheeses on a plate, and put it all on the table, checking the kitchen clock this time, and then the clock on the stove.  She knew time hadn’t stopped, not yet, but she could feel its relentless grind in that direction and the thought made her throat thick.

Stella sniffed the air:  “I smell smoke.”

Kori peered around the door jamb and across the living room to where Avery stood on the front stoop, watching the fire.  The open door allowed the smokey night air full ingress.

Like a giant luxury liner, Aunt Stella turned toward the smell.  “Anything else?” she asked Avery.

“Still just the porch.”  Avery shut the door and returned to the kitchen.

Gil reached for the bread and Aunt Stella, happy for something to do, intercepted him and made him a sandwich.  He devoured it.

“Who else is hungry?” she Stella asked.  Avery shook his head and Kori grimaced.

Aunt Stella sighed, letting her gaze slide across the hands of the kitchen clock.  Barely two minutes had passed.  She held out the plate to Avery who took a piece of cheese and placed it on the napkin in front of him.  Aunt Stella rolled her eyes and set the plate in front of Kori who preferred her fingernails.  Aunt Stella turned her gaze to meet the stove clock behind her.

“Well, children, the party’s got to be winding down by now.  Let’s give your parents another holler, eh?”  She padded to the phone.

“Nice slippers.”  Gil smiled at Aunt Stella’s feet.  Giant Mickey Mouse heads sat atop each one.

“I’ll get you some next time I go to Disneyworld, Gilly,” she said.  She handed the phone to Avery.

“Why doesn’t Kori call,” Avery said.

“Because you’re the man of the house,” Aunt Stella replied.  “At least until Robbie gets home.”

After a few rings, Ruth’s voice mail picked up.  “Hey Mom.  It’s Avery again.  Call us as soon as you get this message.  We’re still at Aunt Stella’s.”  Avery hung up the phone and handed it back to Aunt Stella.

Gil took a piece of bread and made another sandwich while Stella poured him more milk.  “Where the heck are they?  It’s almost midnight,” Avery asked.

“Ah,” Stella said, “now the shoe’s on the other foot.”

“I’m not the curfew abuser.”  Avery folded his arms and raised his eyebrows at Kori whose response was drowned by Robbie’s entrance into the house.

“What the hell happened over there?” he barked.  A wave of relief passed palpably through the room as if Robbie’s mere presence alleviated all woes.  Even though he was younger than Kori by two years, he was in charge when Ruth and Marty were not around.  Gil ran over and threw his arms around Robbie’s muscular torso before scuttling back to his seat to finish eating.  Everyone but Gil started talking at once.  Robbie raised his hand; his eyes settled on Kori.

She recounted the story beginning with Gil’s imperative need to leave the house, but broke down soon after.  Robbie put an arm around Kori’s shoulder, and looked at Avery who finished the story with the call to Ruth’s cellphone.

“Have you talked to the police yet?” Robbie asked.

“Yes.  They’re coming back later for a statement,” Aunt Stella said.

“I give it two stars.” Gil said.

“Give what two stars?” Kori asked.

“The explosion.”

“Gil, somebody just blew up the porch.  The windows even shattered,” Kori said.

“That’s why I only give it two,” Gil said, taking another bite of a cookie.

“I don’t get it,” Robbie said.  “Why would someone bother with us?”

“I know,” Gil said.

Avery shrugged while Kori gnawed at her pinky nail.  Robbie waited for Gil to swallow.

“They were looking for the drawings.”

“What drawings?”

“Dad’s waste-to-oil machine.”

“What would they want with that?” Robbie asked.

“What anybody would want,” Avery said.  “The patent.”

“Oh c’mon,” Robbie said.  “How did anyone even know?”

Avery made a line of defense with a group of crumbs on the table.  “You know all those 55-gallon drums out behind the barn?  There’s gas in a lot of them.  I don’t know if Dad realized how much he’d refined or if he just wanted to give me an opportunity to fatten up my bank account.”  Avery moved the crumbs, rearranging the line formation like a general strategizing his next move.  “I sold some to Cooper’s Gas Station.

“How much?” Robbie asked.

“Four or five fifty-five gallon drums a week for the last couple months,” Avery said.

Robbie burst out laughing.  “So they blew up the porch?”

Avery looked hurt and concentrated on his crumb line.  “Maybe he canceled his deliveries from Akanabi Oil and the company got pissed,” Avery took a deep breath. “Maybe they found out that Marty Tirabi makes better gas then Akanabi, and he doesn’t need to drill a hole to get it.”

“Avery, think about it.  Four fifty-five gallon drums a week is two hundred and twenty gallons.  My tank holds twenty gallons and I fill it once a week.  At that rate, you were giving Mr. Cooper enough to supply a whopping total of eleven people with gas for a week.”  Robbie raised his eyebrows; Avery blushed a fiery red.

“Look.  It’s not like Dad didn’t tell everyone who was even remotely interested all about the TDU,” Robbie said. “There was that magazine article in Omni a few years ago.  So chill out.  It wasn’t your fault.”

Gil sat back and placed his arms over his now-protruding belly.  A big burp escaped and Gil giggled, covering his mouth.  Avery laughed.  Aunt Stella grimaced.

“Excuse me,” Gil said.

“It was pretty damn stupid though,” Robbie said.

Avery’s smile faded and he returned to rearranging crumbs.  Robbie squeezed his shoulder and Avery smiled half-heartedly.

Robbie sighed.  “So how do we tell Dad the drawings are gone?”

“We don’t,” Gil said, rose and walked out the kitchen door.

“Where’s he going?” Kori asked.

A minute later Gil returned with the cylinder tucked under his arm.

“The drawings!”  Avery hugged Gil so hard the boy’s face turned crimson.

“Excellent!” Robbie said, spinning Gil around.  “High five me.”  Gil smacked Robbie’s hand.

“Try Mom and Dad again,” Robbie said.  Kori obliged, but got Ruth’s voice mail.

Robbie bit the inside of his lip in concentration.  “They went downtown so they’ll be coming back I-95.  They may have broken down…. I’m going to go look for them,” Robbie said with an authority belying his twenty-two years.

“I’m coming with you,” Avery said.

“Me, too,” Gil said.

“You stay here, Gilly,” Aunt Stella squeezed his hand.  Gil looked at her with imploring eyes, but her face was resolute.

“No.  I have to go by myself.”

“I’m the one who started this,” Avery said.

Robbie shook his head.  “You gotta stay here to talk to the police when they call.”

“Kori can do that.”

“Avery.  Please.”  Robbie tilted his head in Kori’s direction where an ash-white Kori sat, leaning against the table, hugging herself tightly..

Avery looked at Kori and sighed.  “All right.”

Robbie squeezed Avery’s shoulder and Kori’s hand and kissed Gil on top of the head.  He looked at Aunt Stella who checked her watch and nodded assent.

“C’mon, kids.  Help me make up the beds.  You can sleep here tonight,” Aunt Stella said, standing up.  “I’ll speak to your parents when they call.”

“Thanks, Aunt Stella.” Robbie said.

She touched his cheek.  “Be careful, eh?”

“I’ll be back with Mom and Dad before you guys are finished with the beds.  After a chorus of “goodbyes” and “be carefuls,” Robbie left, the air thick and strange and still in his absence.

“Thank God you were home tonight.” Kori said, hugging Aunt Stella.

“Ditto,” Avery said, kissing her on the cheek before heading upstairs.  Gil fell in, one step behind Aunt Stella, his pockets stuffed with cookies.

“Gilly, you just leave those cookies there until tomorrow,” she said without turning around.  “I don’t want any crumbs in my beds.”

Gil halted in mid-step, wide-eyed, contemplating.  He stared after Aunt Stella for several seconds in disbelief, emptied his pockets and ran up the stairs after her.

to be continued. . .

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