about the author

Gunnar Jaeck is leaving New York City. He has an MA from the University of East Anglia. This is his first published work.

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The Demarcation of Skies

Gunnar Jaeck

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Two falcons were dogfighting with a hawk over the river. Their ideas of territory were as ephemeral as the air, naked as aggression, unmappable. The space they dove and wheeled and flapped and fell for was, in fact, space, and when a falcon struck the hawk, the hawk fell. And fell, and fell. Only altitude rescued the hawk who, tumbling, had to flap and twist four or five different ways before finding lift again, enough to turn and glide away low. The falcons stole the hawk’s wind, leaving no mark there.

Tavin’s space had lines all over it. Lines that bent, lines that crossed, lines that led on, lines that wrapped around. Power lines, county lines, worry lines, front lines, wash lines, bottom lines. Waiting lines. Check-out lines. Break lines. He toed lines, read lines, did lines. The bike shop even had a ley line running past the rack with the lycra jerseys, according to a customer who knew feng shui and rode a cruiser with a big seat and a long fork like a Harley chopper. Tavin had taken a lie detector test. His fate line met the first knuckle.

That night, he dreamt of a bird following him up a stretch of dusty single track. It hung in front of the full moon, which ensconced the bird’s hooked shadow with an oily nimbus of light, latticed like the wafers of vapor that sometimes grow on frozen lakes. Outpacing him—since in the dream Tavin was pedaling in granny gear and when he tried to shift, the derailleur went straight through the chain—the bird flew past the moon, banked ahead of him, and alighted on a bare tree bending over the single track. It was huge, still as much dinosaur as bird, with a long scaly beak, small black eyes, powerful legs, a thick curving neck, bulky shoulders, and decadent flowing plumage: incandescent, sparkling streaks on waves of deep, wispy blue that danced gently in the winter breeze. Tavin gasped as he rode beneath it. The beauty of it woke him.

- Are you Christopher Columbus?

- Yes.

- Do you live on Jupiter?

- Yes.

- Is your name Tavin?

- Yes.

- Are you wearing a purple tie?

- Yes.

- Are you wearing a red tie?

- Yes.

- This concludes calibration. When you answer the following questions, please give your real answer. Do you believe lie detector tests are accurate?

- No, not really.

They ended the test and told him he could not be considered for the position because the results of a lie detector test were inaccurate if a subject did not credit lie detector tests, and he had to pass a lie detector test to be a campus security officer.

Niella watched Tavin true her back wheel, sipped kombucha. - Mmm. What’s this called again? Kombooka?

- It’s pronounced “vagina.”

- That’s funny. You’d a been a good cop.

- I might try to get some credits in architecture or surveying.

- That right?

Tavin slapped the tension meter back into his belt loop, popped the wheel off the stand and flipped it into the upturned stays.

- Yeah, or maybe paleontology.

Niella took a rag off the stand, seized Tavin’s wrist and rubbed the grease off his palm. She slowly traced the lines with a long, polka-dotted finger nail. Tavin felt his arm relax and the hair flutter on the back of his neck. It got quieter in the shop, though it was hard to tell which sounds went away.

Niella’s whisper crackled like ice in a glass of bourbon. - This says that you’re going to be an airline pilot. Or maybe fix bikes.

- Yeah, but, this will never go anywhere.

- You’re good enough you could run you own shop.

The problem with that was that only certified lunatics were qualified to run bike shops, by international law. Tavin had established this to be true, even if he did not completely understand it. He had worked in eight different shops in three different countries, and had never had a boss who did not either talk to himself, practice taxidermy on deceased pets or have an underground bunker full of canned food and wooden stakes. There was always something a little off about bike shop owners. Tavin didn’t know which was the cause and which was the effect, but didn’t care to find out.

- Why did you say airline pilot?

- Oh, that line between your wrist and your finger looks kind of like a jet trail.

Jupiter aligned with Mars that night. Tavin drove the thruway, every hour an hour, every hour a vector, the vector a concentrated choice, by and by, Bushido-straight. Halfway to the border, an owl swept out of the left-hand forest and over his hood and into the gully on the right.

The author thanks Brian Millen for technical consultation.

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