THE TUMBLE FROM A LONDON PLANE
It wasn‘t fear, but rather a sense of complete disorientation that overwhelmed him during his plunge through the branches toward the lawn. His deliberate and desperate plea for life to flash before his eyes went unanswered as he frantically grappled for an image or memory – anything that might provide a clue as to who he was or what he was or how long he had been plummeting. In the millisecond before he collided with the ground, it occurred to him to consider the possibility that he could fly. But by that time, it was too late.
It seemed idiotic to make any assessment of physical damage until he regained some sense of self. If he were a bird or a squirrel, maybe he would be alright? If he turned out to be human, on the other hand, he was completely fucked to some point obviously well beyond simple rescue.
“You okay, buddy?”
The voice was distant, but near enough to trigger his sense of individuality, robbing him of the cozy feeling of oneness he had so recently shared with the Universe. Such a notion seemed ridiculous now. He could peripherally distinguish a tree and a hedge and a couple of late-model BMWs and everything else; and he was a solitary being and not part of any of it. At least he wasn‘t part of it any longer, if indeed he had ever been a part of anything else recently, or even historically.
He groaned and managed to roll over where his eyes met with a brown, middle-aged face that eclipsed the early morning sun. “Hey buddy? You okay?” The voice came out of the face, thickly accented and tinged with an edge of concern. The green uniform suggested that the man was some kind of landscaping or garden worker. This was comforting because it suggested a recognizable world full of homes and civilization and low-cost immigrant labor.
“Don‘ move, okay buddy? I get help.”
He had no intention of moving, at least not in the short term. Whoever it is he might turn out to be, it was going to take some effort to fix whatever was wrong, and getting help to do it seemed like a damned good idea.
He briefly washed through various stages of semiconscious-ness, but summoned enough strength to haul himself up onto his elbow and gaze down at his body – a stranger‘s body, naked except for a grubby pair of tighty-whities. It hurt pretty badly, but didn‘t appear to be missing any pieces. Of much greater concern, however, was that his form lacked all anticipated sense of familiarity. The legs were too thin for one thing, desperately pallid, and chillingly hairless. The bare feet were calloused and dirty, which might be normal enough, but the toes looked bony and vaguely skeletal. A quick check of his hands confirmed the overall frail nature of his being. The skin stretching over his arms and lanky frame was practically translucent in spots, with an overall putrefying ashen hue. If he believed in space aliens (which he certainly did not), he might have thought perhaps he was one.
At least he was making tentative contact with his beliefs. Complete self-awareness couldn‘t lag far behind. He didn‘t believe in Martians or mermaids or elves or angels and required further proof before he made any sort of commitment to the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, or the giant alligators alleged to be living in the sewers beneath Manhattan.
The landscape worker trotted to keep up with the long strides of the police officer hurrying up the block toward him. They were about the same age and height, but their difference in deportment held his attention to such a degree that he failed to differentiate whether they were talking to him or about him.
“He fall from London Plane!”
The officer looked skeptically at the landscape worker who pointed upward through the thick branches of the tree. “A plane? Really? Are you sure?”
The landscape worker nodded as the police officer knelt down and placed a supportive hand under his neck. “Try not to move. An ambulance is on the way.” The sunlight danced off the shiny nametag on the officer‘s lapel that read “Jeffries” and drew focus in an almost hypnotic fashion.
“Was I flying to London or from London?”
The officer looked at the landscape worker, who was clearly frustrated. “London Plane! London Plane!” He slapped the trunk of the tree twice, which provided emphasis but little clarity.
“Do you know how you got here?”
“I–I–I‘m pretty sure I have cancer.” There it was – the first absolute distinction he could recall about himself. As if being pretty sure instead of absolutely certain could somehow relocate him to a healthier setting. “That‘s my chemotherapy infusion unit” he said, pointing up into the tree, where a deflated bag dangled from a branch. “The blue fanny pack. Except we really shouldn‘t call it a fanny pack in case we‘re in England where fanny has a totally different meaning. I‘ve made that mistake before, and I think the Brits are still laughing.” Until he was certain he wasn‘t in or near London, he thought it best to censor himself.
“We‘re in Beverly Hills,” Officer Jeffries said, somewhat proudly and as if it were obvious. “On McCarty.”
At least he was home. Or close to home. Or as close to homing in on home as he was going to get, at least for now. “Beverly Hills,” he sighed, smiling with relief. “Practically the Vatican.”
“What?” Officer Jeffries asked, with more concern than was probably necessary.
“Practically the Vatican,” he repeated, though he wasn‘t even sure why he said it in the first place. It felt like an echo from somewhere else, as if some antediluvian ventriloquist tapped into him from another dimension, forced the words out of his mouth, then somehow compelled him to repeat them. He was trying to rally viable clarification for Officer Jeffries as well as for himself when the same ventriloquist gave him another nudge and slammed him squarely into his identity.
His quest for self wasn‘t new, unfortunately – it was epic in nature and sprang from a raw and long-forgotten place just beyond memory‘s reach. He had always felt like, and indeed was, more of an understudy than the real McCoy. He had performed the role passably to the best of his ability for most of his 33 or 36 years (depending on your method of calculation), yet he wore himself like a secondhand suit that could never be tailored to fit. No doubt, he had never been a very good or even a particularly accurate facsimile of the precious original. He was a rushed and primitive substitute, whipstitched together from whatever scraps were handy; and no matter where this wholly inadequate stand-in fled, the elusive clues to the riddle of his own personal genesis had taken flight so long ago that they would never be found.
“My name is Axel!” he said, as if he himself were startled by the news and might require further convincing with regard to his own authenticity. “I‘m Axel Hooley, and I live in Beverly Hills.” As he sprawled on the ground shivering in his underpants, Axel felt obliged to attempt further explanation. “Just forget what I said about the Vatican. I don‘t even think I‘m Catholic.”