portion of the artwork for Tiff Holland's story

Paradise with Jets
Tiff Holland

I have already bought noise-reducing earmuffs when he suggests I write about the jets.

“A sitcom kind of thing,” he says, “about us, how we can’t have a conversation without having to stop, how we lose track of what we’re saying.”

“Already done,” I tell him, although the story is still just an idea. I am a little put off by the word “sitcom” because that is how I see it, too, but at the same time I don’t want to see it that way, which is why I haven’t written it.

I don’t elaborate as I can already see the lights of the next jet approaching, clearing the mountains, the main headlamp aimed like a spotlight to illuminate our lives. When he starts to speak I nod toward the sliding glass door as signal, and I slip my earplugs back in. When I think of the story, I think of the three of us on the couch lined up like the see-no, speak-no, hear-no evil monkeys, watching television with the fluorescent cupped muffs strapped on our heads. It’s too ridiculous.

There’s a lot more air traffic this week, two weeks before Christmas. In addition to the commercial jets, the Air Force has been conducting night maneuvers. I belong to the neighborhood resident-access and buy-and-sell pages and have been reading the complaints—and the retorts—all week.

“It’s a school night!” wrote Leilani.

“The sound of freedom!” wrote Kenny C., who I’ve encountered, in person, in my backyard in the middle of the night, looking for the black cat with the broken tail who sometimes rubs back and forth across the screen as if begging for affection, tormenting my dogs.

From the posts, I know that the night maneuvers are scheduled twice a year, August and December, and go on for one week. However, right now the increased air presence could well be due to the President’s annual holiday on the Windward side. Earlier, Ray told me about the gunships sent to patrol the island, the “red zone” where the beaches will be closed and traffic tightly controlled for the next week. He tells me these things because I don’t watch the news, as if the news is the only way to know “what’s going on in the world”—his phrase—but most of the time I have a clearer picture than he does.

“Eight hundred dollar electric bill!” Skip, much-beloved in the community for his witty posts, wrote yesterday. It was disheartening to read. Skip’s always so positive, offering his electronics when someone’s check-engine light comes on, passing along news of heavy traffic on H-1, sharing Christmas photos from the beach: sand snowmen in close-up against the view of Diamond Head across the harbor.

Ray and I are done with dinner, sitting at the kitchen table. We never did this in Texas. We sat in front of TV trays in Ohio. Maybe it’s the futility of television viewing between the hours of eight and ten. Tonight, we’ve been talking about the President’s visit and the planned presidential library.

“Imagine if you lived over there,” Ray said. “You couldn’t go anywhere.”

“Everyone likes to go home for the holidays. It’s his home,” I answered.

We moved on to how every year we overspend for Hannah at Christmas. Feeling guilty, I brought it up, but Ray told me he doesn’t care; we’ll only have a 12-year-old once. Technically, this is his second daughter, but by age 12 we rarely saw her. I tell him about Skip’s electric bill, the estimated readings.

“They can’t do that!”

“Sure they can. They do,” I answer. “Some people are talking class action.”

“Hell, yeah!”

“But it won’t help now.”

We both get quiet, which seems like a wasted opportunity. I’ve been looking around on the Internet. The property management company, whom we hate, whom we all hate, have townhouses in Kapolei, and even though we hate the company, maybe they would be willing to let us transfer our deposit. I suggest this to Ray, but he nixes it.

“Hannah has friends here. She’s just started band. It’s the middle of the school year.” He speaks staccato. There’s no time for conjunctions this time of night.

My folks always did this, sat at the table talking after dinner, but they drank coffee while they sat, smoked cigarettes. We’re getting older. Television is boring, jets or no. Maybe we would sit here anyway and the jets just give us something to talk about, something we agree on.

“Three hours to watch a movie!” Jenna posted.

“Get a DVR!!” from an obvious alias.

“I love the smell of napalm in the evening! LOL,” Skip replied.

I always sit facing the mountains, the sunset, and the jets, just clearing the palms, wing-lights flashing, red starboard, blue or green aft, are beautiful. When I wonder if they ever loved each other, I think about my folks talking at the kitchen table, Mom’s back to the oven, Dad against the wall, eyes locked, missing the ashtray and burning holes in the vinyl table cloth, leaving white-flannel backing poking through the charred edges. Later, standing side by side at the sink, Mom washing, Dad drying. When they were done, Dad would lean against the counter, towel over one shoulder like, I realize only now that I’ve had Hannah, a burp cloth.

It’s my nature to apologize. I had been assured the jets were not a big problem as I sat in the rental office in the middle of the day with its central air running and soft music playing.

“You did great,” Ray says. “You got us here. We landed.”

We don’t mind the jets in theory. Ray always says that they remind him of our trip here, people coming home, the honeymooners, and all the tourists, the trip the thing they’ve waited for all their lives.

The afterburners are the worst, especially on cloudy nights like this one. I don’t bother with the plugs but cup my hands against my ears so tight they create a vacuum. Ray follows suit. There’s a popping sound when I pull my palms away, a moment of absence, of being outside the world. Tomorrow, when Ray takes Hannah Christmas shopping to get something for me, I’ll wrap the earmuffs, tie ribbons, hide them away to stuff our stockings. In a week, we’ll open them up and we’ll laugh. We’ll start wearing them around our necks in the evening, popping them on as flaps are lowered and the palms stretch their fronds, reaching for the wings. In my story, we don’t lose track of each other, we pick right back up after each jet has passed, as natural as breathing.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 46 | Fall 2015