The Parachute
Kevin Sampsell

I could not understand what he was saying so I just shook my head in a neutral but hopefully empathetic fashion. He had a patch on his shirt like the kind mechanics have. It said, Skijm.

Skijm was speaking a language I was not educated on—its words sped past me with no handles for me to grab on to.

His hands and then his arms fluttered and then his shoulders joined in too. I watched his face for any kind of signal or direction. What he was saying grew larger and larger between us, a word balloon threatening to pop. I think I heard the words "airplane" and "parachute."

My eyes dilated like a parachute opening and he recognized my recognition of the word. Inside my head, a little foreign man landed softly on my brain. He rolled around with many injuries there, bones sticking out every which way. The parachute landed like a whisper on top of him.

I uttered a word by accident. A sudden, sorry, and high-pitched "Really?"

Skijm's hands and arms became stiff then, and his language stopped on his tongue. The heavy word balloon sagged between us but his shoulders remained animated. Suddenly, there were tears on his cheek, racing to the corners of his mouth.

"Yes," he said. "Really."

He moved closer, like he wanted me to hold him.

Kevin Sampsell's memoir, A COMMON PORNOGRAPHY, will be out from HarperCollins next week.

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Detail of illustration on main page courtesy of tsevis.

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