James Babbs

The Dirigible

I saw the dirigible at around one o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon under partly cloudy skies with a light wind blowing just enough to ripple the high grasses growing at the edges of the road. I was traveling south on the country road I drove on nearly every single day. The same road I always followed for several miles before connecting to the state route where traffic grew heavier and there were lots of big trucks hauling freight from one location to another.

The dirigible hung in the air against the bluish gray color of the sky slowly making its way north. I kept watching the front of the dirigible bouncing up and down as if it were attached to a string and being pulled along by an invisible hand.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road and fumbled with my phone wanting to get a picture of the dirigible. It was difficult trying to see the dirigible on the tiny screen but when I, finally, had the phone situated in what I thought was the proper angle I pushed the camera icon a couple of times. In one of the photos the dirigible was there but it was flattened against the clouds reminding me more of a flying saucer than anything else.

As I started to drive away I tried to find a radio station that might have some kind of report on why the dirigible was there in the first place and where it was going. I tried two or three different channels but couldn’t find anything.

***

When I got home Beth was standing in the kitchen drinking a glass of water.

“Hey” I said. “How was your day?”

Beth turned and looked at me thrusting her tongue between her teeth until the end of it protruded from her mouth. She made a groaning sound and I knew enough not to ask her any more about it.

“Did you see the dirigible today?” I said. “Or hear anything about it?”

“The what?” Beth said.

“Dirigible. It’s like a blimp. Or it is a blimp. I think. I’m not sure if there’s a difference or not.”

Beth tilted her head to one side and closed her eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about she said.”

I reached for my phone in the front pocket of my shirt. “I have a picture of it” I said. I opened the photo gallery and scrolled through the images. There were several pictures of Beth and me together in some far away place. They were pictures from a long time ago.

“It’s not on here, now” I said. “I wonder what happened to it.” I started looking through the images for a second time.

“Are you going to mow the yard today?” Beth asked as she walked out of the kitchen and into the hallway.

I was still looking down at my phone. “Uh, I don’t know I said. No, I don’t think so.” But she was already gone.

***

“Any chicken left?” I asked entering the kitchen.

Beth was warming something up in the microwave. She was holding the fork waving it back and forth in the air. “Bottom shelf,” she said, pointing toward the fridge.

I poured myself a glass of tea and set it on the table. “So I was looking on the internet,” I said. “I found out blimps are the same as dirigibles.”

“Well that’s good,” Beth said. She opened the microwave door, looked inside, before closing it and starting it up again. “So I talked to Steph earlier. She wants to know if we’re coming up next weekend.”

“Oh,” I said. “Why does your sister always want us to come up?”

“I don’t know,” Beth said. “Maybe she likes seeing her family.”

“Well, why doesn’t she ever come down here and see us?” I pulled the chicken out of the fridge and set it on the counter. I took a plate from the cupboard and put some chicken on it.

“So what do you want me to tell her?” Beth asked. She took the bowl from the microwave and stirred the contents with her fork.

“Oh I guess,” I said. “That way I can spend all weekend listening to Josh tell me how great of a job he’s got.” I put what was left of the chicken back in the fridge. Beth carried her bowl over to the table and sat down. I put my plate of chicken in the microwave and punched in some time. I watched the chicken rotating inside the microwave. When the timer went off I pulled out the chicken and took it to the table. Beth sat across from me, pushing food into her mouth without looking up.

“So,” I said. “I found out blimps are more or less just big balloons. They don’t have a rigid structure like some airships.”

“What the hell would a blimp be doing around here?” Beth let her fork fall against the bowl.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t see any writing on it.”

“Maybe it was one of those birthday balloons or one of those shiny balloons you get, sometimes, when you’re in the hospital.” Beth picked up her fork and started eating again.

“It was bigger than that,” I said. “It wasn’t a goddamn balloon. It was a real dirigible.”

Beth leaned back in her chair. I saw her glaring at me. “Why do you use that word? Why don’t you just say blimp like everybody else?”

“Hell,” I said. “Sorry. I didn’t know it bothered you so much.” I bit into my chicken and it wasn’t even warm.

***

In the dream I was standing near the edge of the corn field watching the dirigible passing slowly above my head. The sun was shining bright down on the corn and I felt the heat on my face rolling up from the plants. The dirigible was close enough to the ground for me to see the faces of the people in the cabin windows. I waved and some of them waved back.

Then the dirigible started tilting forward. The front end of the dirigible was pointing toward the ground. The dirigible was falling. I reached up and touched it with my hands and it felt like warm smooth skin. I heard the people screaming. I pushed against the dirigible trying to make it go as high as I could. The dirigible was coming down on top of me.

“Hey,” It was Beth’s voice. “Hey! Shit…”

She was shaking me awake. I came up out of the dream gasping for air. “Shit,” she said again. “What’s wrong with you? I told you I have to get up early in the morning.”

“I was dreaming,” I mumbled. I started to mention something about the dirigible but decided against it. “Sorry,” I told her instead.

***

When I woke up the house was strangely quiet and I felt cold. I looked at the clock and groaned. But I laid there for another minute or two before pulling myself out of bed and stumbling into the bathroom.

When I got to the kitchen I saw the coffee Beth had left in the pot. It was sitting on the counter so I poured myself a cup and stuck it in the microwave. I sat at the table drinking it while looking out the window. I kept looking at the sky. I didn’t see much of anything out there but a few stray clouds.

When it was time for me to go to work I found the car had a flat tire. I said fuck it and went back into the house. I emptied the rest of the coffee into my cup then called my boss and told him I wasn’t coming in today. I checked the pictures on my phone again and this time I found the dirigible. I sent it to Beth with the message—Hey. I found the pic. Check it out. Then I headed back outside to change the flat tire.

I tossed my empty beer bottle in the trash just as Beth came into the kitchen. “I didn’t go to work today,” I said before she had a chance to say anything.

“Oh,” she said. “So, what? You been drinking all day, then?”

I pulled another beer from the fridge. “I haven’t drank that much.” Beth walked past me and stuck something in the fridge before pushing the door shut and holding her hand against it for a moment.

“I was going to mow the yard,” I told her. “But after the rope broke when I went to start the mower, and I spent like two hours trying to fix, it I finally said fuck it and decided to start drinking instead.”

“Well good for you,” Beth said. She waited like she wanted to say something else, then started out of the room. “I’m going to change my clothes.”

“Hey,” I said and she stopped. “What did you think of the picture I sent you?”

Beth turned in the doorway and looked at me. “What picture are you talking about?”

“The dirigible,” I said. “I found it and sent it to you.”

“Oh, that again.” She started down the hallway.

“So what did you think?”

“I didn’t get any picture,” she said from out in the hallway.

I got up and followed her down to the bedroom. “What do you mean? Let me see your phone.”

“I just looked at it a few minutes ago,” Beth said. “Before I came into the house. There wasn’t any picture.”

“You’re lying,” I said. “Let me see your phone.”

She glared at me and shook her head ever so slightly. “Why the hell would I lie about it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “You lied about David.”

I saw the anger boil up into her face. “I never lied,” she said. “There was never anything between me and David. Now, we’re not even friends, thanks to you.”

“Let me see your goddamn phone,” I said. When I lunged toward her she stepped aside and I fell against the bed.

“You’re drunk,” she said.

“I’m not drunk!” I yelled back her.

Beth ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. I jumped up from the floor and ran over there. I pushed all my weight hard against the door and found it was locked. There wasn’t a sound from the other side.

“Where’s your phone,” I said. Beth didn’t answer. I punched the door a couple of times before I started kicking it. I heard the wood cracking but the door held.

I hit it one last time before stumbling back across the room. I fell onto the bed with my feet hanging over the edge. I listened to the sound of my own breathing. I felt like I was floating somewhere far above all of this but, now, I was starting to descend.

I heard water running from the other side of the door. I glanced toward the bathroom. I looked at the door for a long time but it always looked the same.

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