Under the Surface Postcard
Third prize winner of the 7th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.
Way before the complete annihilation of everything, my mother would dress us up and take us downtown to meet Dad for dinner at the Point View, where the ground fell away.
It was always the same. Hello Shelley, Dad would say to the lady whose hair was piled up like a golden basket woven on her head. We’ll have a table by the window.
Eyes crinkled. The restaurant was a wall of windows, stuck into a cliff and leaning out over the Monongahela River. Beyond, downtown Pittsburgh looked like it had sprung from a pop-up book.
Dad would shake hands with the scowling man. How’s business, Nick? Nick would always say Can’t complain Mr. J, and Dad would ask for the usual, a pink lady for my mother and a Shirley Temple for me. Under the table, my feet would jiggle for that sweet fizz high and my mother would smooth my unsmoothable curls while my older brother waffled between Coke and Sprite.
Sometimes Dad spotted someone and had to go hook his fingers on their chair back and talk until laughter bounced around the room, but that last time there was no one, so we made him tell us again about the plane.
It crashed right down there, he said. Right into the Monongahela, nose first, and the silt swallowed it so fast they never found it.
I thought all the mystery in the world lived in that one story. I peered hard, trying to see under the water’s surface. We’d studied Egypt in school so I knew about being preserved for all time and I knew, given a chance, I could find that plane. It wasn’t invisible; you just had to look in the right spot.
I turned to tell Dad that, but he was watching the man coming toward us waving a crumpled envelope, shouting.
You goddamned Judas—
Dad leapt up, blocking my view. Jesus Ted, I’m having dinner with my family. His hands held up like Settle down.
There wasn’t much more before the man shoved my father into an empty table. The sound of smashing—plates and cutlery and water goblets—was titanic. Dad got up fast but the man was already leaving, Nick at his heels. Off to the side, Shelley held out her arm like Halt, like a background singer delaying our dinner. On the floor, water was vanishing into the carpet.
Dad winked at me, placed his hand over Mom’s. Later she’d move away from a gesture like that but this time she leaned in. My brother started to ask What— so I kicked him, wanting even then, I think, for some things to stay submerged.
Years on, after Dad lost his business and moved to Florida with his new wife and Mom switched to gin, I heard the Point View burnt down but I never went to see. People get these things wrong. It’s probably still there, still keeping its clear-eyed watch over the Monongahela and everything underneath.