November 16, 2007
By Justin Rose, Corvallis, OR

The door is thrown open, momentarily revealing the rain-swept street beyond. A fork of lighting illuminates the sky, reflecting on the back of a black raincoat hurriedly fleeing the merciless rainfall, and then just as suddenly the light disappears. The door is closed with a sharp bang, and the tinkling sound of breaking glass follows closely behind. A muttered curse amid the darkness. A strange scuffling that ordinarily accompanies groping for a light switch follows. A few moments, then a sigh of relief and a small click follow. The room remains dark. Several more small clicks in quick succession follow. Another muttered curse, this one not as quite muttered. A scraping of opening a wooden cabinet, a couple of minutes of rummaging in the darkness, and finally light slices sharply into the room, the darkness retreats obligingly.

The man holding the flashlight is Zachariah Freeman, and he is searching for the small battery powered lantern he bought at Sears four years previously in case a power outage should occur. Zachariah was the kind of man who liked to think of himself as an organized, prepared-for-anything businessman, but had no real urge to have his house reflect this trait.

Light fills the room, once more, this time not in a slicing beam but a soft yellow gleam of luminosity. The room has a thick carpet that might have once been white. There are two pieces of furniture, a leather couch positioned in front of a television that had been designed to impress, and a desk on which the lamp is sitting. The couch, a black two-cushion love seat, is lined with a thick fortress of beer cans and plastic wrappers, the remnants of a hodgepodge of take out entrees devoured in front of the tube. The desk is a deep brown wooden variety, with an impressive looking caramel finish. Despite the unkempt appearance of the rest of the room, the desk is strangely neat, orderly and clean. Several books lined the small shelf and the top of the wood piece was decorated with colorful folded paper.

Zachariah’s face is dripping wet, and not all of it can be attributed to the rainstorm. His eyes, bloodshot and puffy, were closed as he sat down heavily in the swivel-seat in front of the desk. His nose is running onto his handcrafted suit but he did not seem to notice, nor did his hands, limp and unmoving at his sides, make any attempt to wipe away the tears with a monogrammed handkerchief sitting slightly crookedly in the breast pocket of his suit. Slowly one eye opened, revealing their muddy brown color, and Zachariah made an attempt to look at his surroundings without moving any other body part. He glanced unsurprisingly at the picture frame that is face down in the dirty carpet. This had been the crash of breaking glass. Zachariah didn’t own any other glass objects except the television, and he supposed that would have made a much larger noise. Strangely, he did not reach down and pick up the picture. He just sat there in the chair, unmoving, looking at the broken frame in a strangely detached way. His eye (the other remained firmly closed) was still on the frame, but he was no longer seeing it. He was somewhere else entirely, and only he could have told you where.

A soft sob rakes the silence. It is an unnatural sound, almost unpleasant. Zachariah had cried only twice that he could remember: When he was in fifth grade and he broke down during a math test, and now. Get yourself together, Zach, he thought angrily, wiping away his tears fiercely. The sobs don’t cease, however. They come in quicker intervals, louder and louder, until Zachariah is openly sobbing, his fists clenched tightly and his body trembling. The tears dribbled down his cheeks slowly, leaving a moist path in their wake. Suddenly, with a great gasp, the sobbing stopped, and Zachariah looked down at the fallen frame once more, with a determined look about his sodden face. I will reach down, Zachariah told himself firmly. I will reach down and I will grasp the edge of that frame and I will throw it into the trash and not look at the picture. I will NOT look at the picture. I will throw it in the trash, and then I will get out of this damn chair and pick up the pieces of glass out of the carpet and go to sleep.

Zachariah reached down. He grasped the edge of the frame. He walked over to the garbage can, and he dropped the picture, closing his eyes while doing so, as if dropping the picture into the trash brought some spiritual feeling within him. Unfortunately, the picture bounced off of the edge of the wastebasket and landed on his stocking feet, face up this time. Zachariah looked down in surprise, but then in horror as his mood went quickly from tearfully complacent to aghast.
“Nooo…” He moans softly, backing slowly away, “Not you…”

The picture portrayed a beautiful waterfall with foliage surrounding it. Just a few feet in front of the cascading water was Zachariah and a young woman with long brown hair. They were quite obviously soaking wet, but both had broad smiles plastered across their sopping faces. Zachariah has his arm over the young woman’s shoulders.
“Not you!” Zachariah screamed, grabbing the picture by its edge and throwing it against the wall with all his might, enjoying the sound of the plaster cracking. He began to swear, not mildly, but all the horrible words he had ever heard, ever. He used them all, and made up quite a few others, screaming wildly at times in a fit of inarticulate rage. Zachariah would never remember quite clearly how long he went on with this sort of behavior, but it all ended with him, slumped in the swivel chair in front of his desk, his tears pooling in the hallows of his cheeks.
“Why…” He whispered softly, all rage gone from his voice and only a depressed sadness left. “Why did you leave me? I thought…” He pauses to blow his nose on the monogrammed handkerchief, “…you were the… one.” He broke down again, sobbing twice in quick succession before recovering in an almost unnatural quick moment. He turns 180 degrees in his chair and faces his desk, which had escaped his rampage unscathed and remained neat and orderly. He had an odd almost primal desire to lash out with his fists and break everything on the small table but resisted. He grasps one of the books from the shelf and his trembling fingers take a piece of paper from the metal tray in the corner. He opens the book and quickly decides that he can not do anything complicated. It has to be simple, he realizes. He was a mess, but this relaxed him. It was one of the few things that did. He took the paper and folded it in half. Soon he was lost in the book, his tears, although fresh, were now drying on his cheeks in the lamplight. He is at ease.

Fold a sheet of paper in half lengthwise. Unfold so that the crease is 'valley' side up.

Zachariah frowned as he folded. His hands were not nearly as steady as they were the many times before as he sat down at this desk. Already, he knew this design would not work. It was off balance, horrible, and unshapely. Was it just his imagination that it felt heavier than a piece of paper normally did?

Fold the top corners down to the center fold. Fold the tip down. Fold about one inch of the tip up; unfold.

It just would not work. It was a mess, a horrible, despicable mess. These were Zachariah’s thoughts as he slowly toiled under the cheap lantern he bought from Sears. With a strange, soothing hum, the electricity came back on, and suddenly his dark house was full to bursting with light, but Zachariah did not notice. He was too focused to care.

Fold the top corners down to the center fold so that the corners meet above the fold in the tip. (Note that the top—the nose—should be pointed)

This was the most important part. The crucial moment. He thought of all the vital moments that he had wasted or screwed up during his miserable existence. Folding? Yes, there had been many mistakes there. It was not uncommon for the white plastic trash bin that sat primly alongside the desk to be overflowing with crumpled and creased paper. Outside of folding? Zachariah didn’t want to think about that, but the softest touch of memories trickled into his thoughts, and before his angry mind could brush them away, they shouted their graphic obscenities, littering his psyche with dirty, previously discarded thoughts. Having a crush on his 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Jordan. How Bobby Freely had found out and told the whole school. He had tried to fake sick the next day but his mother had not believed him. He remembered walking down the hall in the morning, his ears bright red, hearing the laughter of his peers and their mocking faces. Shame. He remembered riding along in his new two-wheeler when he was 7, how his mother had given him the freedom to go anywhere in the block. How expansive that had seemed! He remembered how hot it had been, that July afternoon, when he had gone blazing down a small hill, his small legs pumping like pistons in a wane attempt catch a breeze. How a mother rabbit and her litter had leapt across his path. He had stopped, but not before the small newborn rabbit jumped from the bushes on the right and in front of his new shiny two-wheeler. How had it sounded when its little bones snapped like twigs? He remembered. He had halted and looked back at the poor little rabbit, abandoned by its family in the sake of safety. Its spine seemed to have caved in, creating an odd, irregular trench. The rabbit’s little eyes slowly grew dull and lifeless, its inert body laying there on the blistering concrete, not feeling the heat of it now or evermore. How frightened he had been! He had rode home as quickly as he could, slamming the door behind him, gasping for breath. He remembered hearing the whining siren of a police cruiser that night and being convinced it was coming for him. Fear. Zachariah shook his head to clear it from these troubling thoughts. He paused for nearly a minute, staring at the wooden contours of the desk, unmoving and unblinking. Slowly he began to fold once more, thinking he was sure to mess it up regardless. Sure enough, the tip was blunt and about 2 centimeters wider than it should have been. He kept folding nevertheless.

Fold the entire object in half so that the tip is on the outside.

He folded once more, terribly aware of how awful it looked. A mockery of his former creations. They stood on top of the desk, turned ever so slightly away as in disgust of his travesty of a construction. It was exactly like him, Zachariah realized. Like his life. A bundle of mistakes multiplying upon each other until they emerge into the ugly heap that was himself. This design even reminded Zachariah of himself. How could someone get something so simple so wrong? But he had, he reminded himself, and more than once. Might as well finish it, Zachariah thought glumly.

Fold the wings down.

He applied the last crease, stood up from his chair, and looked around. He raised his creation slowly above his head…

And threw.

The paper airplane soared gracefully into the air; it flew in an elegant arc and slowly descended amid the rage-induced wreckage of his house. Zachariah looked on in amazement.

Zachariah’s townhouse had two picture windows looking on into the street. The window on the right was nearly fifteen years old to Zachariah’s reckoning, and had never been replaced. The one on the left, however, had been replaced three times in its miserable existence, and had already obtained another crippling injury. A youth’s baseball was the culprit, and when Zachariah had discovered the left window’s most recent grievance, he had decided it was not entirely all that serious and to wait until its wounds were seriously incapacitating before replacing it again. Zachariah had covered the six inch diameter hole with spidery tendrils up with a piece of cardboard and a few pieces of a duct tape and hadn’t thought about it since. Although Zachariah hadn’t noticed before, the storm had made the cardboard soggy, the duct tape wet, and the strong winds had picked up the entire contraption and drove it from Zachariah’s window. It was this hole from which Zachariah’s paper airplane, still flying as true and as straight as an arrow, had exited. The unrelenting wind grasped it eagerly and it disappeared with incredible speed from Zachariah’s vision, soaring skyward.

Zachariah blinked, still a little stunned, but within the next five seconds he was outside, in his stocking feet and without a raincoat, searching for his treasured aircraft. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he saw something small, pearly white, and beautiful disappearing among the gray-black vastness of the rain clouds before a flash of lighting and a gust of wind and sleet forced him back into his house, shivering and wet.

He sat down heavily on the couch, staring at the blank television screen it faced. A smile, his first in many, many hours lit up his handsome face.

The plane was flawed, Zachariah thought, but it flew. It flew better than any of my others. It was beautiful. It did not falter.

Zachariah woke up the next morning, smiled, and yawned reflectively. He made his coffee as per usual, the only hindrance occurring when glass from the broken picture frame punctured his right big toe. He hummed merrily along with the radio while picking it out of his toe with a pair of tweezers, and even sang along when it got to the good bit while vacuuming up the glass, a rare occurrence by any scale.

Zachariah Freeman’s paper airplane is still soaring, somewhere.

As for Zachariah Freeman? He is still airborne too.

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