On the afternoon the Cessina 182 fell from the sky and crashed into Ms. Meeson’s house, we were in Luke’s backyard huffing rubber cement. There were three of us—me, Luke, and Tiny Boykins—each with a Wonder Bread bag rolled down to better fit our faces, breathing in and out, as the small plane sputtered over our New Buffalo neighborhood.
Tiny pulled the bag away from his face. “I think something gave on that plane,” he said. “I ain’t ever seen one that low before.”
Me and Luke continued to lean against the mower shed with glazed eyes, our bags opening and closing like a fist, while the drying cement in Luke’s took on the sheen of coconut butter.
“You hear that?” Tiny asked and pushed himself up.
There had been a loud bang somewhere close, but the glue was getting the best of me—a repetitive echo, a wowing sound, that kept rolling through my head—and I hadn’t given anything else much thought.
Then Luke stood. He crumpled the bag into a ball. “What if that was the plane hitting Ford Middle? You think they’d have it fixed before school starts?”
“What if the math building’s on fire?” Tiny asked. “Maybe we could get there and watch, be on the TV.”
Before I could even get the bread bag tucked under the mower shed, the place we’d wedged the fifty or so others so far this summer, Tiny and Luke had almost reached the street. When I caught up, they both stood on the sidewalk, surveying.
“Look,” Tiny said, and pointed.
At the end of the block, the plane jutted from the roof of Ms. Meeson’s house. A cloud of black smoke rolled from under the plane, and some people had already gathered to look at the wreckage.
“Shit,” I said.
When we got down there and pushed our way through the crowd, the flames now rose from the roof and licked at the plane’s belly, at a wing that had cut into the peak of the house, holding the tail upright.
“Fuck,” Luke said. “Where’s Ms. Meeson?”
It wasn’t just Ms. Meeson that I was worried about. I wondered about the pilot, and if he or she was alive? I wondered where the person came from and if it was beautiful there—was it some lakefront community like ours, with lush, clipped grasses like Ms. Meeson’s—another old money world where sand didn’t blow into the faces?
“Somebody get ‘em out of there,” a woman yelled from the street and threw up her arms, “please.” And two burly men in sleeveless shirts stepped past her in an attempt to do something, but then turned back when the flames got bigger.
Tiny rushed over and elbowed me, his eyes large. “Mrs. Bradley just said Ms. Meeson’s on oxygen. The whole place could go any minute.”
“That isn’t true,” Luke said, and he crouched between the Calloway twins, who each held a toddler on a hip.
Now, a police car and an ambulance wailed onto the scene, with a fire truck in tow, and one of the policemen motioned for the people to get back so the truck could get through. He got out and looked at the plane now fully engulfed, and a few of the fireman leapt off the moving truck and ran to Ms. Meeson’s door, where one began prying at it with a crowbar.
“What about the folks in the goddamn plane?” the woman from earlier yelled again, her hair exploding like a kicked dandelion puff every time she said something. “Why worry about Ms. Meeson, she’s almost dead anyway. Get a ladder up to that roof and climb on for Christ’s sake.”
The fireman closest ignored the woman and pulled a yellow hose from the truck, while another dragged it into the yard and positioned it at the house before firing a gushing stream at the roof and plane.
I leaned in to Tiny and said, “I mean maybe that woman’s right about the people in the plane. What if there’s a family of six inside, all locked in an embrace, with fire surrounding them, praying to be freed?”
Tiny’s eyes pinched shut, and he opened them again slowly. “I suppose they’d be welded together then. It’s kinda like that movie where they show the family charred like logs in the bedroom of a burned building.”
“What?” I asked, and Tiny shrugged.
I tried then to find Luke. He was across the street holding Ann Trudell’s head against his shoulder; she appeared upset, and when Luke saw me watching he winked.
When I turned back a commotion stirred in the crowd. Little puffs of smoke slipped from Ms. Meeson’s entryway as a fireman emerged holding a green oxygen tank, and behind him another carried Ms. Meeson in his arms. Her legs hung, fat and milky, over the fireman’s arms from a blue nightgown, and oxygen tubes stretched over her face and were tucked behind her ears; she seemed conscious as the fireman handed her to the paramedics who got her onto a gurney. The paramedics then wheeled her toward the street, fast, and the gurney caught air as it hit the curb to reach the ambulance. One of the paramedics began testing her reflexes by moving a small rubber hammer from side to side, and then he popped both knees while the other slipped a new mask over her face. More firemen and trucks had arrived on the scene, and multiple streams of water now banged off the blackened plane and ran down the roof, spilling from the eaves.
“I don’t know what that mask is gonna do,” Tiny said. “With all she’s been through, maybe she could try one of ours when she gets home.”
I just looked at Tiny and shook my head.
Keith Rebec resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s a graduate student, working on a M.A. in Writing, at Northern Michigan University. His work has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail and The Rusty Nail.