Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Flash Fiction: A fine day in Aspen


It was a fine day in Aspen. A clean, cold breeze blew in from the west and the sky was so spare that he could clearly make out Castle Peak, 15 miles away, just there on the horizon. What a day, he thought, as he peered over the courthouse eaves to where a crowd of onlookers was starting to gather.

Well hell, that didn’t take long.

His name was Blanning and today he would die. He’d long ago expended the alternatives; spent years talking himself blue to any local with a foot in the past and half a mind in the present. But it got him nowhere. And all the while the mocking, the placating.

Go with the flow? What kind of hippie shit was that?

It was enough to make him sick to his stomach.

Meantime they got pushed farther and farther out, into Basalt and El Jebel and Carbondale working two, three jobs just for that luxury. Or else corralled into employee housing units at Burlingame and Truscott; like animals. No better than prison. And I should know.

Now there was purpose, a grand scheme. A Holy Mission. One last loud fuck you to the bloated elitists and their lackeys in the County Seat. And maybe, in the process, he’d open some eyes.
They say each man is condemned to his own limited view of the world. But some men embrace their sentence for what it is and so avoid the suffering of negotiating alternatives. Blanning had served his time stoically, maxed his bid. Now he was tired, tired to the bone.

He took his knapsack off and removed the noose; the crowd responded with muffled gasps.

Goddamn elitists. I’ll give ‘em a show.

Kneeling, he tied the end of the rope around a steel cornice that jutted from the courthouse roof. Then he squeezed his head through the looped end and stood, slowly, proudly, as if accepting a trophy: hands on hips, chest puffed out, the rope hanging slack from his neck.

Blanning scanned the horizon, picking out one by one the resort slopes of Aspen. It was about halfway through the season and the town was booked to capacity, the runs peppered with down-clad figures covering the pristine whiteness in shades of mauve and turquoise and yellow.

It was still early. Later, after they’d slept off the drink and brunched at the Social, the throngs would ascend and the pristine white would all but disappear under them and the lift lines would back up and the lodge would erupt with the sound of laughter and conceit. Hundreds of em, thousands…Just kept coming. Their Gulfstreams sat wing-to-wing on Sardy Field.

He imagined himself sweeping the impurities from the snow with a single swipe of his massive hand. At fifty-six, born and bred here, he could remember the town when it was no more than a collection of lumberjacks and ski bums; back when it was just Buttermilk and the Highlands, and gnarled prospectors smoked cheroots in the bar at the Hotel Jerome, drawing pictures in bourbon.

Terminal recollections of woolen plaid, goose down, the smell of stale lager and saw dust, blood-copper and the taste of Carmex. The tiny cell at CaƱon City. Memory’s a bitch, alright. A jilted lover. He felt the twisted grip of progress clawing at his shirt collar, jerking him towards the edge of the building, towards destiny.

A child had taken up position to the left of the courthouse steps. He’d staked out a little viewing stand atop a dirt mound next to a tall spruce, eyes fixed expectantly upon the man on the roof. The boy stared intently, willing the tragedy with such alacrity that it occurred to Blanning it would be a sin to disappoint him. He took a step forward, sending static through the crowd like a rifle shot. The boy’s eyes widened.

Above him, a piebald sky, slate-gray, slaked by wisps of high cirrus. Below, the hungry tentacles of the mob. Another step, aaaahhh. With each movement the crowd inhaled deeply and in unison, a single organism holding its collective breath.

He was close to the edge now, right up on it. He could see the silver head of Lady Justice just above the courthouse door. His toes jutted over the side of the roof.
Wailing sirens grew nearer. Here they come.

Hearing steps, he turned to see a young man poke his head from the arched window of the three-tiered copula that sprouted from the center of the building. He recognized Braudis; the sheriff was out of uniform.

“How you wanna do this, Jim?” he asked, calmly.

“One way over the edge, or one way walking.”

Days later the Aspen Times would quote a friend: “Jim always had big dreams.”