“Chemtrail Mist of the New World” – Fiction by C.D. Frelinghuysen

A frustrated husband and his paranoid wife try to cope with their realities in “Chemtrail Mist of the New World,” C.D. Frelinghuysen‘s paranoid & poignant flash fiction from our Fall 2018 issue.

{ X }

MORNINGS BERNADINE HAUNTS THE PORCH.  She glides back and forth, white hair untethered, clutching the egg timer, glaring at the sky. “I dare you,” she tells it, as if we don’t live under the Atlanta flightpath. Right on time, Delta 49 appears from the northwest, slicing the sky with a white wake. Bernadine mutters and winds the timer to five. Ever since the Doctor cut her to half time for unprofessionalism she’s been able to perfect the details of her delusions. And after Bernadine squandered our savings I’ve had to unretire from my fine decade of alcohol abuse and represent morons at traffic court, but business is slow and so most mornings I’m stuck here with her.

Last summer at a minor league game Bernadine got beaned by a foul ball, knocking her into the next seat. She was out for a full minute, but when she came to she waved off the paramedics and pushed through the crowd to the parking lot. She grabbed the car keys and drove home, but took a strange route, and kept looking in the rearview. When we got in the house she had a whiskey and a Tylenol and went to sleep. At three a.m. she suddenly woke and shuffled into Tricia’s vacant bedroom, which we’d turned into storage, and booted up the dusty computer. She spends most of each day in there now. I’d heard of a man who dove headfirst into the shallow end and could play piano afterwards. Bernadine, during her brief time in the void, had mastered keyboard and mouse. I caught the ball off the rebound, by the way. Bernadine called it the instrument of her trepanation, and had it mounted above the fireplace. But the baseball was only the final straw that broke her. Lightning ignites dead woods, not the living.

It’s her fault I know every plane by its name, how many engines move it, every federal poison it belches, and why five minutes of linger tells you what sort of smoke is coming out.

Yesterday I had to coax her down from a box in front of Chase Bank, where she was denouncing the fraud of fiat currency. The police officer didn’t scold me, or laugh. He just wrote down the phone number for Braxbury Convalescent.

The timer erupts. Bernadine measures the sky, clicks her tongue, goes inside and shuts all the windows, despite the heat. She clomps down the basement steps and I hurl my spent smoke into the yard. She comes out wearing her gas mask, no longer a ghost but an olive drab and dumpy elephant. “Looks like arsenic today,” she gasps. The Brauns are watching from their window.

Then I notice Bernadine is holding out a second gas mask for me, price tag still dangling. She remembered my birthday. I fold my arms.

“How did you pay for that?” I ask. Because behind my back she had cashed out our 401k and dissipated it on eBay. Our frantic accountant told me to cut up all the credit cards but the damage was done. She installed three file cabinets, stenciled on them the words “New World Order,” and filled them with nonsense. She pasted over the Luke Perry posters with special rush orders from far-off universities: star charts of the southern sky, annotated printouts of Nostradamus’ deeper cuts, mass spectrometry reports from Lake Ashinoko, schematics of unusual nucleotides in certain Endopterygota, seismic charts of the Plain states. I’d had my Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners at the Chinese stall in the mall food court while she clicked through two hundred dollar online classes called “Pleiadian Ship Physics” and “Bilderberg Plots Deciphered Through Numerology.” I would get these invoices in the mail, and ask, “What is this? What is this?” Every night I feel in my knees the swelling interest on our Visa. I’d chase ambulances if not for my hips.

Bernadine reveals that she’d bought my present by unearthing Tricia’s old college Mastercard, somehow two months before expiry, with a fresh five hundred dollar credit line. “Her last gift to us,” she says, reaching under her trunk to dab her eyes.

She shakes the second mask at me. “Please put it on. We don’t have much time.”

I ask, if she’s so scared of the air, why she insists on bothering me out here.

She says because we never do anything together anymore. She knows it’s partly her fault, but she promises to do better.

I say, “Start with giving my money back.”

She looks up at the white smoke beginning to descend, and tightens the straps of her mask. She wants to speak, but is scared to breathe. Finally, in a small voice, she says that in the coming apocalypse she wants me by her side. Then, even smaller, she adds, we’re not too old to try again.

I’m dizzy, concussed, with the full and final measure of her insanity. See, we decide each morning to live or not; we hold up our prospects beside our debts as we brush our remaining teeth and fasten our clothes with fingers that won’t bend. But Bernadine has unlocked that question and all others. She breathes only the air that she wants and discards the rest. She is invulnerable now.

I tell her that’s the dumbest thing she’s ever said. I knock her hand away and the mask falls off the porch, into the yard. I take a deep sniff and say if the government wants to poison me from every 747 it would be doing me a favor.

I can’t see her eyes behind the mask but its trunk quivers. Delta 49 is a distant dot, descending beyond the city skyline into an ozone haze. Bernadine, named for the saint, takes out her pocket actuarial table, finds the row and column that corresponds to my remaining soul, and informs me that the mask won’t matter anyway.

{ X }

C.D. FRELINGHUYSEN is a writer in Oakland, California. He is a graduate of the MFA program at San Francisco State, and has pieces published in Limehawk and JMWW, the latter of which has been included in the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2018.

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