NPR logo Crane


For Round 7 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that have a character come to town and someone leave town.
An airplane.

When the woman fell from the sky, she survived long enough to utter one word: "crane."

Later, we debated what she'd meant. The bird? The machine? The verb? A name? Someone even vaguely suggested that she'd gasped out a different word entirely. That maybe we'd misheard. That maybe it was just the sound of her last breath rushing out of her body. We quickly dismissed this. We knew.

A miracle, the doctors had said. Her body had been ejected from the plane that crashed 1,000 meters (1,021 meters, to be exact) away, and it was still intact. The papers left out that grey brain matter dripped out her nose and ears and every single bone in her legs and arms had shattered. The imprint in our yard was so complete that the outline of her Coach bag was discernible. How the purse had managed to stay slung across her shoulder was another part of the miracle.

They also said that if she had landed four feet to her left that she would have taken me out with her. They said it just that way, too: She would have taken me out with her. Doctor humor, I suppose. I didn't need someone to remind me that my life had nearly been clipped as I knelt there watering the begonias. Four feet, I know now, is just close enough to hear someone's final word.

We'd found out later that the 76 other passengers on that plane had all perished instantly. All of those final words drowned out by the ripping, tearing, crunching of the impact, like a game of one word story played in hushed whispers at a sleepover.

Our lives were invaded for three weeks. Newspaper reporters, journalists, policemen and curious neighbors sauntered up to our front door as if we had won one of those sweepstakes with the big checks and all those flashing camera bulbs.

Congratulations! You have just won the grand prize. How does it feel?

We never told them about "crane." It tasted like smoke and bile on the tips of our tongues, and letting it out seemed too poisonous — like we were spilling her most intimate secret. Her skirt had been shredded about her body, for God's sake. We needed to spare her at least one shame.

When they finally identified her, they offered to tell us her name and let us contact her family. The image of her salmon patent leather pumps swam before us, and we declined.

All words were vacuumed out of our home. Even mundane phrases such as "pass the sugar" and "don't forget your lunch" were replaced with gestures and brief glances. We spent entire days sitting around during that time. The television sat dark like a sin. Cellphones rested silently in their docks. Screams in the night were sometimes the only way to tell if the others were still breathing.

It wasn't an homage. I'm sure of that now. I think we were all just afraid that our next sentence would wipe away the existence of the beginning of her last one.

We didn't stay long after that. How could we? we'd bristled defensively. Would you?

What if it were your dreams filled with wingless birds wearing salmon patent leather pumps and Coach bags?