FOREVER SUNSHINE

Doesn’t look like Phoenix with all the cloud cover. It looks more like Atlanta this time of year. Must be climate change.

The weather in Phoenix was not what he expected on a spring day. The overcast was a blanket of gloom obscuring the blue skies and sunshine above the cloud layer. And sure, it was early morning, but it was also uncharacteristically cool in the valley. The permanent residents felt teased by the extended relief from the burning heat in their throats and lungs, and the melanoma attacks on their skin that was to come. They welcomed the relief of the cool weather. The late-arriving snowbirds had a different take on the weather in Phoenix. They longed to bask in the heat so they could thaw from the winter weather at home. They were disappointed. The temperature was cold enough to prevent them from belly flopping into the hotel pools. The forecast said the overcast would be rolling out of the valley by late afternoon, and by the next day, the thermometer would see a slight rise in the mercury.

He took the first flight out of Atlanta, 6:00 a.m. He thought because of the early a departure it would be quiet on the plane and he could catch a badly needed power nap during the four-hour flight, but he was wrong. He hated to be wrong about anything. It was a family trait. The other passengers, he guessed, had stopped at Starbucks to get jacked on the caffeine. And it seemed to him every rambunctious child on the plane, having had a pound of sugar for breakfast, found a seat around him on the full plane. The parents of the unleashed, ill-behaved cherubs wanted to get to grandma’s house early for Mother’s Day. Upon their arrival, the grandparents would hover over the kids while mom and dad tried to find a place to decompress.

Why did God have to put children on the earth? Couldn’t He, or She, or whatever found a better way––like instant twenty- one? It’s too early for the little demons to be awake. There should be a law against kids being on airplanes to punish me so early in the morning. I wouldn’t think of dragging Kyle along this early. Breathe in, hold, and breathe out, only three and a half hours to go.

He made every attempt to close his eyes and rest his head against the seatback hoping one of the parents of the wildlings, would take pity on him and show mercy. They didn’t, believing everyone loved children, theirs above all. He finally reached into his carry-on that was jammed under the seat in front of him, a gymnastic feat for sure, so he could retrieve his iPhone and earbuds to drown out the head-splitting sounds around him.

Only three hours and fifteen minutes to go.

The music flowing through the headphones worked fairly well for noise cancellation, but the kicking of the back of his seat was out of rhythm with the music. Finally, after three more hours on the plane, relief came when the captain made a public address announcement they would be descending, landing, and at the gate in twenty minutes.

As the aircraft came to a stop at the gate, the door of the Boeing 737-700 opened and he made every attempt to get past, around, or over the rest of the primates to make a break for it. He didn’t make any friends doing so. If one needed an example of what Cro-Magnon man was like, it only took watching a deplaning. While other passengers were fumbling with their carry-on bags in the overhead storage, he grabbed his and managed to get the best on several of them until he burst through the door and into the Jetway Bridge. He got angry glares from mommas trying to open their Winnebago strollers in front of the plane’s exit door.

Finally, in the terminal, he only had to get into the passing lane around slow walking travelers. He hastened his pace as if he were late to an impatient judge’s courtroom. He walked down the downward escalator, turned left, and walked out through the doors of Terminal Four at Sky Harbor Airport to where cars waited for arriving passengers. He stopped to breathe in the fresh morning air but got exhaust and jet fuel instead. He reached the curb and scanned left and right.

A black, late model Mercedes, after a quick beep of the horn, pulled up to him standing on the curb. The driver parked and exited the car. She walked back toward the raised trunk. She met him there and watched as he tossed his carry on into the trunk. He was taller than her and a handsome man. She was a beautiful woman. He closed the trunk then opened his arms to embrace her. She gave him a kiss on the cheek.

He gave his sister a long hug. He knew she needed one. It had been a year since their last embrace. It was Mother’s Day and they were at mom’s funeral. Both had tears in their eyes then, the kind once flowing wouldn’t stop for days.

FaceTime was the best way to stay in contact with one another since airfares weren’t as discounted as advertised. He didn’t want to leave home, the place where he grew up, but the paycheck decided for him. His Ivy League law degree was worth more in Atlanta than in Phoenix. And, Peter was there.

She couldn’t bring herself to pull up stakes and resettle in an unfamiliar place with her husband and two kids. Arizona had every conceivable scenery––mountains, deserts, rain and petrified forests, Kartchner Caverns, meth-colored lakes, and cliff- dwellings long vacated by the Native Americans for casinos on the reservations. To find all those climates and breathtaking views would require traveling around the earth. No, Phoenix would always be her home. She had deep roots there, extended family, and mom and dad. She decided to live in their house after both parents had passed. Unlike her brother, she hated change. They hurried for the warmth inside the car. Both car doors slammed shut simultaneously.

“I thought Peter and Kyle would come out with you,” she said.

“They were, then a capital murder case popped up late last night. You know how Peter gets when an inmate on Death Row stares at the clock as it ticks down to zero hours and the ‘three-drug cocktail’ is about to be delivered. Ten years of appeals from the man’s court-appointed attorneys failed to produce a re-trial or leniency. The guy’s guilty. Peter was called in because of his expertise and reputation of turning death penalty cases into life imprisonments. He sends his love by the way.”

“How’s Kyle? I was sure he’d come to see his aunt,” she said.

“Kyle is in non-stop motion from the time his eyes open in the morning until he crashes at bedtime. He’s so intuitive about things. He asks questions way beyond his age. He’s curious and analyzes everything in detail. He hates any change in his environment, like you. We adopted him and love him so much, but I swear he’s your kid. He’s doing great in kindergarten.

We had an interesting thing pop up a few days ago. After school, he asked me what a ‘Homo’ was? Some father, picking up his kid up, said to him, ‘There’s the little homo!’ The other parents say things about Peter and me, and he doesn’t understand. We need to prepare him for grade school, where the older kids will bully him. We’re trying to put that off as long as possible. He’ll be all right in the end. School doesn’t last forever, but the love in our family does.”

“I’d like to see those parents on my operating table sometime.”

She looked over her left shoulder to see if she could drive away from the curb while he spoke. The warning feature in her side mirror wasn’t flashing, but she hadn’t convinced herself to trust it yet. Sometimes trust took a long time to earn. When she saw there was no traffic, she launched out of the parking space and drove to the house. The kids wouldn’t be home from school for hours. Robert wouldn’t be home from the Tempe ASU campus until six as long as the traffic on I-10 weren’t backed up because of another accident. They had time to themselves, so brother and sister could do as they planned.

“Now I’m disappointed Kyle didn’t come.”

She crossed over five lanes to get into the far left lane. Her turn was next. She exited on 44th St. and it was a straight shot to the house in Scottsdale from there. Mom and dad had been in the house a long time. They bought the house in the fifties, before air- conditioning was common in Phoenix. They had it installed as soon as the first summer ended. It was a long, ranch-style house with a stunning garden and back patio area where the family would spend most evenings together, whenever mom wasn’t flying a trip for the airline.

“So the last time we spoke you said you were looking for a larger suite of offices for the firm.”

“We’ve definitely outgrown where we are. We’ll have to relocate before the end of the year if we get one more client. We already handle half of the criminal cases in Fulton County. How about you, Dr. Cochran? When will you leave the hospital and start your own practice? Get your doctor feet wet, or as mom would say, ‘Fly solo,’ I believe.”

“It scares me, taking that chance. The hospital is a steady paycheck. It’s hard to save these days with the economy the way it is, and the kids get more expensive every year,” she said.

“Mom wouldn’t let you get away with that conservative thinking. She wanted a rebel for a daughter, a risk-taker like her.”

“Yes, she did. Robert loves teaching at ASU. He loves the astrophysics department, the students, and the whole campus atmosphere. Robert would have gone to school the rest of his life if he could. He loves to learn and do research. His department is involved in research for NASA. We could move to Tempe so he wouldn’t have so far to commute, but the kids like their school. They’re involved with all sorts of things at school. Kelly is on the soccer team and, at her age, friends are important to her. Brian is on the baseball team. He and his friends spend the day playing video games after homework and baseball practice.”

“Mom would say you have to take chances. You can’t protect yourself from the future. I think you’re hiding behind your fear of change. Before long, it’ll be too late and all you would have collected will be dreams that stayed dreams, and not great stories to tell the grandkids like mom used to say,” he said.

She stopped for a red light and stared straight ahead. His head swung left and right to see the neighborhoods and strip malls. The light changed.

“Yeah, well, mom was bigger than life, and I could never compete with Jane Cochran no matter what I did. She trained other female pilots to fly military aircraft during World War II––her beloved WACs. After the war, she was the first woman to break the sound barrier. I don’t remember how many flying records she broke. I took all of those plaques down months ago. As a civilian, she broke down even more barriers. She opened the door to the airlines for women. Mom had logged more flight time going into the airlines than any man applying. I went to med school, and I always believed I broke her heart because I did,” she said.

“What’s wrong with your accomplishments in medicine? You’re a nationally recognized oncologist, Chairperson of the department. You broke quite a few barriers of your own, big sister. They don’t pale in mom’s shadow. Mom was mom. She started flying DC-3s, trained up to the Electra turbo-props and flew the first jet-powered Boeing. She flew everything between that and the A380. I don’t think she missed landing her airplane anywhere in the world. But you’ve saved lives in your career! They were so proud of you graduating a doctor of medicine, making discoveries, and becoming head of the department. They were proud when I graduated from law school, but they weren’t proud of my being a criminal attorney and keeping felons out of prison. I not only live in their shadow, I live in yours,” he said.

She looked at him with a disbelieving face. She couldn’t believe he felt that way.

“I think you followed into greatness by being daddy’s girl. He was always easier going, never trying to conquer some speed record. He cherished his little girl and what she had done with her life. You know he did, mom too. All that tinkering with him on cars taught you to tinker with biology and make discoveries. The only time I saw dad with disappointment in his eyes, was when I came out, but he never said a word about it. He just loved me no matter what,” he said.

She made a few turns on city streets that brought them to the house, which was impossible to see with the surrounding foliage and trees. He could see to the west the massive hospital where his sister worked. He had pushed her about her own practice but understood why she could never break away. He was more surprised he did. They sat in the car.

“Did it bother you that dad was disappointed?” she said

“Of course, how could I not be? But while other parents threw their sons out into the street, and never spoke to them again, I always had a home filled with love. I was lucky. And I was lucky, I guess, that I was more like mom. She taught me to protect myself, to never let anyone trash me for who I am. She taught me to stand on my own two feet and not let anyone get into my head because she used to say, ‘that’s where the battles are lost.’ Her strength and wisdom got me through law school and followed me throughout difficult times in life.”

She parked in the driveway and they got out of the car. The philosophical discussion ended. They wanted the keep the visit a happy reunion with the ones they loved.

Cary Allen
Phoenix , United States Of America

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