After a while more of talking and reflecting upon the comparative tragedies of the universe, Abilene and Jerris reached accord that the only thing to be done was to celebrate life everywhere by making love. She asked if he would like to come to her townhome, but he declined, and insisted he pay for a hotel room and treat her like a queen. And she did seem a bit like a queen to him—fattened by wealth and decorated by American splendor. Her hair was up in curls on the top of her head, and her face was a thing made placid by television screens and fried food, along with the drudgery of daily life that imprisoned her most extreme opinions and emotions. He imagined that he was liberating her psyche, like a knight on a steed rescuing his lady from her tower.

He held her hand as they rode the escalator down to the front doors.

“I’ve never had a tryst in the daytime,” she reflected.

“What a special day this is,” said Jerris.

They exited the mall and hailed a taxi. Jerris told the driver to take them to the Radisson in St. Paul.

“Radisson’s closed, man. Potential target. Anywhere else nipping your fancy?”

“Hmm,” contemplated Jerris. “Anywhere we can make love discreetly and has a mini-fridge for my queen.”

“Someplace low to the ground, too,” appended his queen.

Traffic was terrible doing in the business district.

“Sorry, folks. I should’ve known not to head in this way.”

“That’s okay, dude,” Jerris called. “We’ve got all day.”

Jerris looked at the cabbie’s license as he was kissing Abilene. His name was Dylan Rybald. Rybald listened to the radio as he attempted to extract the vehicle from gridlock. A man’s voice bellowed with Southern inflections from the speakers in the back:

“God does not hate us. No, no, no, my children, not for a second should you believe this. God hates the sins. This is why He will purge the earth of those who have sinned against us and, my Jesus, have they ever sinned against us! Mark my words, these people will meet the wrath of our just and merciful God, for He is yet our shepherd and will destroy every mangy cur that wishes to rape us and distort us and lead us astray from God’s plan.”

“Now some of you might want to ask me, is this punishment for our sins? I say, I don’t believe so. Of course, in a world as diverse as ours, it’s possible we’ve let a disproportionate number of sinners into our midst. But why would he want to do that? What have Americans done to deserve such reprimand? I don’t know, my brothers and sisters. All I can say is you gotta make your souls ready for Christ, for the devil is always near.”

“Hey Rybald, can you turn it down? You’re killin’ the mood back here.” Jerris’ arms were still around Abilene; his own breath was starting to smell as bad as hers, a sign of true affection.

“I have to hear it, sir. It’s important. We might all be on the fast track to Hell tomorrow if we don’t watch our asses.”

The cab soon arrived at the Quality Motel, which sat amongst the dust and garbage settling off the freeway. Jerris paid the driver and the couple got out. They went together to the main office, where a man with square, enormous glasses was watching a small TV.

“How’s it going? We’d like to rent a room this afternoon,” said Jerris, leaning upon his elbow over the front desk.

“You can only rent a room for a night. I have to charge you for a night,” said the man.

“Anything will do. I just want to get my lady into a room as quickly as I can.”

“What are you watching?” asked Abilene, seeing the small screen was occupied by shots of a dismal field.

“Some fellas in Texas killed some Arab guy cuz they thought he was a terrorist,” said the man, brushing some dust off a lens. “The guy was working in some convenience store in the boonies and they dragged him out and gutted him. Dumb cluck.”

“I wonder what he did to deserve that,” said Abilene. Tears began to swell again.

Jerris consoled: “Don’t worry, wife, honey. You’re like a lily. No one in a million years could ever confuse you with a terrorist. Don’t you agree, dude?”

“Oh, yes. You don’t look at all like a terrorist,” said the man behind the glasses.

Their room was on the second level overlooking a pool and a playground themed around characters from a burger restaurant next door. The day was still bright and beautiful.

“Come on, m’lady, take off your blouse if you please. Climb beneath the covers. Touch yourself as you need. Get comfortable. Be at home.”

Jerris began to unbutton his work shirt and loosen his belt. Abilene had taken off her shoes and was kneeling on the bed, sucking on her pinkie finger: “I kinda wanna turn on the TV to see what’s happened. Just to make sure the country’s still there outside.” A string of long drool ran down her forearm.

“I hope you don’t mind if I undress you while you’re doing so,” said Jerris.

“No. Of course not.”

She flipped through the tumults of disaster coverage and he fiddled with her buttons and kissed her ample shoulders, cheeks, knees, tummy, and neck.

“Oh my God. Look at all this disaster coverage,” she said. “Every channel is about the bombings. Except this one. It’s playing Full House—that’s nice.”

“Turn the volume down and let me suck your nose.”

By the time the two were naked, the news stations had reverted back to programming dedicated to the Towers’ collapse and the images of the second plane jamming itself into the seemingly impenetrable building. The anchor was conversing with an expert from a Washington defense institute who had been called in to explain how such a building could be felled by one plane. He was expatiating in front of a cheap computer graphic that showed how the towers’ infrastructures were composed, and how, by pinpointing their entries, the two planes, however diminutive in comparison to the bulk of the buildings, had acted like incendiary devices of fuel and flesh and turned the metal bones of the towers to liquid until there was no way they could endure. At that moment, they fell to the streets, becoming nothing but the dust and metal that had created them

Abilene lay similarly shattered, sweaty and splayed across the bed. Mindless cries of intercourse had exposed this to be only the third time she had engaged in the act. Now she was disoriented in her own pleasure, momentarily amazed by the joys human bodies can provide.

“Ugh. What am I doing?” asked Jerris, looking at Abilene. He jammed his head into the bed and inhaled the odor of sweet nicotine the previous inhabitant had left in the sheets.

Abilene slowly righted herself in the bed, making rings of her stomach’s flesh. “I can’t stand to watch that video again. I don’t even understand how they got to the Pentagon. You’d think they’d have the place guarded.” She turned off the TV and fell back onto the bed with the remote in her hand. Jerris watched her breasts vibrating from the fall.

“Never trust forces outside your control,” said Jerris. He turned to look at his lover’s body, which was a-hum like a tuning fork. “Ugh,” he said to himself.

“Is that a clock radio?” Abilene’s eyes shone toward the bedside table. “Let’s turn on ’CCO to see what’s happening around here. I would hate to hear a terror attack has occurred in the Cities while we were making love.”

Jerris rolled over and tuned the radio, trying to avoid another direct glimpse of Abilene’s veinous stomach.

“—which makes it even more difficult to get by in this modern world of ours,” the first announcer said.

“You’re completely right,” the second concurred. “I don’t even know how the average Joe is going to be able to go to work tomorrow seeing what we’ve seen. It’s just too horrific. It’s a complete and utter shock to the system.”

“You really hit the nail on the head there. The world is so different for us adults—how in tarnation do you begin telling that to your children?”

“You can only feel sorry for them—this is a generation that will be forever changed by this day. Hopefully they will change for the better.”

“Oh yeah. We all will change. No doubt about that. We have to look at the world differently now and prove to everyone that our way of life is worth protecting.”

“We’ll have to teach our children that, yes, they do have enemies. They hate us for who we are. Because we believe in working for our money and they don’t. Because we believe in freedom and they believe in slaves. Because we have heroes, like those who sacrificed their lives on this day, and they have cowards, like those who flew planes into our buildings. This is a new era, when our enemies are more malicious and savage than ever before. A transition to this way of thinking may be difficult, but it must be done.”

“They make a good point,” said Abilene. “It must be hard to have a daughter through these tumultuous times. It’s not like you can always just turn off the TV and pretend everything’s okay.”

“What did they say they’d teach their kids?” Jerris asked. “That they have enemies? My daughter’s only four. Her only enemy lives next door, and he still comes over to play computer games and leave logs in our bathroom. Jenny doesn’t have any enemies,” he cried, now talking only to himself.

“These terrorists are our enemies. They killed civilians and tried to destroy us. They’re evil. That’s just the reality of the situation.”

“Four-year-olds don’t have reality. They have parents.”

“You can’t deny the truth to your daughter. These people would love to see your daughter dead, and ruin her way of life. How can you hide from her the stories—how can you hide from her—” Abilene’s tears returned and her sentences suffered as a result.

“She’s four. She’ll have plenty of time to hate whoever she likes when she’s older, but for now I don’t want anyone teaching her that smut.”

“Where are you going?” asked Abilene. Jerris had stood up and was pulling on his underpants.

“Huh? I’m getting my daughter,” he declared. “How dare anyone try to teach her such smut? What kind of world is this where a man can’t protect his daughter?”

“How am I gonna get home?” Abilene whined. “I thought we were gonna take a cab together.”


He left Abilene with quivering bare breasts and the chattering radio and jogged out to a bus kiosk alongside the freeway. A bus soon arrived and its driver notified Jerris of his yet-open zipper.

“It’s easy to forget when your mind’s racing,” he said.

“Days like these make you realize how the little things don’t matter so much,” said the driver.

This route would take him within a block of the parking garage, where he would retrieve his car. He found a seat next to an older woman and a middle-aged man with a crew cut. The route back into the city was populated by brown, decrepit shrubs decaying alongside the gray pavement, and steel streetlights hanging their broken necks over the passing vehicles, and the smiles of talk show hosts assuring passing drivers that their problems, both comedic and psychic, could be solved every weeknight at nine. A man passed through the animated screen of Jerris’s window, standing in the carpool lane, holding a sign that read, Repent Now! The End is Near.

After two stops, the crew-cut man asked, as solemnly as if he were conversing with the Lord, “Where were you when you saw the buildings were hit?”

“Uh, at work. With a friend of mine named Howard,” said Jerris.

“I was in my car, in my garage, when I heard the news over the radio. Then I knew I’d have to take the bus today.” He paused. “For I was crying. For all the victims and their children. I couldn’t bear. My heart was in flames. As if those terrorists had stuck a blazing knife into my chest.

“Jeez,” Jerris said. “Maybe you shouldn’t listen to the news if you can’t handle it.”

“This is a national tragedy we’re talking about, son, not some melodramatic soap opera.”

“I’m just sayin’, it’s pretty gay to be sitting in your car and just start crying. I hope you didn’t have any children around to see you.”

“I’ll cry for whatever and whomever I choose. And if I weren’t so sure you were American, and this weren’t the day it is, I’d kick your ass, you son of a bitch.”

At his stop, Jerris shot from the bus and down the sidewalk and cut sharply into the stairwell of the parking garage, bolting up, carried by his urgency with an inverted force of gravity. And in this upward fall, he knocked shoulders with a bulking heavyweight.

“Hey, buddy, where you goin’ so fast?” The man’s voice was a bulking baritone, made deep by his cavernous ribcage.

“I gotta get to my car. I gotta go see my daughter.”

“Alright, man.” He raised his meaty hands in deference. “I only ask because you might be al-Qaeda. I’m kind of patrolling the building—keeping an eye out for them.”

The man’s Adam’s apple was big as a scoop of mashed potatoes.

“Ahh,” said Jerris.

The garage was nearly empty but all the streets were still gridlocked. Jerris put on the radio and looked for some rock tunes, but all the stations had been commandeered by voices and talk. It seemed a fruitless search for tunes and, in hope for a reprieve, he kept it on the station that regularly played classic rock, which now featured one of its regular DJs talking:

“This is America—we saw it today, folks. This is how America should be—a fraternity of great people. This isn’t about the institution. I don’t even really care why these guys attacked us. All I care about is retribution. These are scumbags, the same scumbags who hold us hostage and charge us a dollar-eighty for a gallon of gas—and I suppose the flakes are all gonna want to analyze their motives and their childhood Oedipality, and all that crap. Listen: don’t give me crap about how we need to understand them or understand why they attacked us, cuz I already know why and that’s because they hate us, and they resent us for all the freedom we’ve got. But we’re not going to change, America. We are a proud people with a great history. The bell is tolling, America, if you can hear it. We are a great people, and we will defeat these savage enemies with our own greatness. We will find them, and they will run. They will run, and we will hunt them. Just like they put you and me in coffins, we’ll stick them in cells and show them that we love our great freedom more than they love their god.”

“We’re gonna play a song now, and I don’t care what those pussyfooted liberals think about it, called the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ by Jimi Hendrix. Yeah, I’ll probably get phone calls from flakes telling me how incendiary I am. Well, stick this in your hashpipes. Hit it, Max.”

The music swirled over Jerris’ head like a river flowing over a rock. White leaves sparkled in the blazing of the afternoon sun, valiant and clear over the filthy highway. Jenny was all he had, was all he was. Eve’s sin might have stripped all women of purity, but she was still something wholly wholesome to him. She was his daughter, and she was a wonderful little being not yet deserving to be ruined by life’s barbarity and added as another stone to the edifice of our race.

Jenny’s daycare—Kindergarten Kops—was off of Burnsville Parkway. It stood directly next to a burger restaurant and the establishments shared a common parking lot. Urgency was yet hypercharging his thoughts as he pulled up next to a Chevrolet with door handles shaped like French fries. He ran up to the daycare, through the front door under a rainbow painted on the tinted window.

“Hello, how’s it going?” he said, approaching the front counter. “I’m here to pick up Jennifer Jerris.”

“Jenny? Okay. She’s in the back, I think, watching a movie. I’ll call.”

While the woman spoke his daughter’s name into a phone, Jerris looked to a group of children playing in the corner right in front of a tinted window that looked out to the burger restaurant. Some were holding toy cars, some dolls, some children teddy bears. They yelled and screamed, all of them, like a horde of savages.

And through the window to the north side of the building was the hazy gray stamp of the Minneapolis skyline, picturesque from the vantage point of Burnhaven Drive. He watched the top of the IDS Tower explode; the Foshay Tower began to crumble and its flaming refuse spread to the other buildings. The entire city began to smolder.

A band of fighter jets roared with thunder. Jerris stared confoundedly at the U.S. flags on the underside of their wings, and when they were directly over the city, they dropped their bombs. Fire devoured steel and glass. Stones crumbled and metal bent. Pink blood-like steam rose off the sidewalks and burning rotting flesh cooked like carrion on the streets. A miasma formed over the city, variegated as any cloud in the sunset, but the colors were unnatural because they were human: the yellow of bile and the blue smoke of charred hair mixed with pink and crimson blood and gray sublimated guts.

“It’s been a terrible day to be a child,” said the woman behind the counter, bursting Jerris’ vision. “Their little minds shouldn’t have to deal with so much.”

“Their little minds are filled with the same things their parents’ are.”

“Just so you know, we’ve been keeping the children informed throughout the day. Responsibly. Just enough to let them know that America was under attack, but that we have some very smart people who lead us and who will make sure that none of us gets hurt.”

“You think you know everything, don’t you?” cried Jerris. “Well, I’ll tell you something: you don’t know near enough to teach my daughter anything. How do you know so much about right and wrong? Listen: don’t you worry about what you think you know. You worry about keeping that wormy kid from biting everyone, that’s what you do.” He took a breath. “Dear God, you see something on TV and you can’t even prove that it’s real, and you think you know something, and you want to change the world. But nothing changes. It’s all just kids growing up—that’s all it is and that’s all you should be worried about. You just keep my daughter safe—that’s all I ever want you to do,” Jerris said, trailing off. He fell on one knee when he saw Jenny rushing out of the play area. “There you are, baby. Let’s get out of here and get on home.” Jenny embraced her father.

Jenny and her father walked out to the car. The day was still gorgeous, and the sky was clear and calm as a still lake.

“How was your day, baby?” Jerris asked, rubbing back her hair.

“Okay,” Jenny murmured. “I got kind of scared. Some school kids said we were under attack.”

“You were scared?”


“Don’t be scared, baby. As long as you don’t ride your bike in the street, no one’s going to hurt you. Daddies are always around to keep their babies safe.”

“So I’m not gonna get hurt?”

“Of course not. Nothing at all is gonna get you. There’s no bigger chance of that than yesterday. Remember what I told you about Halloween frights? Sometimes people like to be scared because they like the feeling, so they make up things to be scared about. But there’s really nothing to be scared about, baby; it’s all just a feeling in your mind. Everything’s gonna be just fine.”

He sat her in the back seat of the car and buckled up her seat belt, which was specially designed not to irritate her neck. Her neck was dirty and smelly from a day’s exertion; he reached out to touch its torrid stickiness.

“Sometimes,” he said, “I wish I’d never given you a name. The moment I named you, I did the worst thing I’ll ever do to you.”

“Don’t you like my name, Daddy?”

“Oh, I like ‘Jenny’ a lot. But if no one knew your name, you’d be mine alone.”

He sat himself in the driver’s seat and started on the way home.

“Daddy, what will we have for dinner tonight?”

“Hmm. I dunno. I hadn’t really thought about that.” Daddy didn’t really feel like cooking. “Well, it’s a very special day, so how about we order a pizza?”

“Yeah!” squealed his daughter.


For all installments of “A September’s Flight Into Being,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1