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Michael McCauley: Our Town Short Story Contest Winner 2012

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After much deliberation and only one fist fight, my co-judge Micki LeSueur and I have chosen the winner of The Our Town Blog's First Annual Short Story Contest. Behold his tremendous...story.

The People of the State of Illinois Vs. Andy Walquist
by Michael McCauley

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me begin my closing argument by commending the Prosecution.

Bang up job, fellas. First-rate.

Dear jury, though I have only the faintest understanding of the law, I can see that these attorneys have delivered an airtight case against me. I almost regret waiving my right to professional counsel. Make no mistake, I maintain my not-guilty plea, but hypothetically speaking, I would have serious doubts about my innocence if I were you. I would therefore be required to find myself guilty.

Here’s where I throw a wrench in the gears: the law kind of doesn’t apply to me.

You may recall a certain Captain Sullenberger, aka “Sully,” who captured the country’s heart and imagination when he flew an airplane into the Hudson River. Now, tell me, is it legal to fly airplanes into the rivers and lakes of this fair land? Of course not. A critical distinction exempted Sully from penalty—he was hero.

And so you the members of the jury must ask yourselves: am I not a hero?

I defy you to interpret the events of the morning of October 23, 2011 as anything other than a case study in heroism.

Let’s review.

I was driving westbound on West 63rd Street, adjacent to Chicago Midway International Airport, in a 2009 Nissan Frontier, beige. I had no destination in particular; I was simply enjoying a leisurely cruise and a cocktail—a bottle of the popular carbonated malt liquor product Mike’s Hard Lemonade. In other words it was a Sunday morning like any other, until I saw overhead, at approximately 8:31 AM, a descending jet whose landing gear appeared defective. The nosewheel had emerged only halfway from its well.

Responding to a powerful and urgent sense of duty, I swerved across the eastbound lanes, motored up an embankment, through a chain-link fence, and onto the airfield. The idea was to accelerate down the runway and overtake the doomed jet such that the pilot could guide the nosewheel into the bed of my truck.

The Prosecution contends that I was never within three football fields of Southwest Flight 332. They’ve tried to color the event as a maniacal joyride taken by a newly divorced, recently unemployed powder keg.

Poppycock. One-hundred-percent balderdash.

Although, yes, Peggy ended our marriage and disappeared with the girls. Also, a tip: no matter how furiously you type when your boss walks by, if he sees that your computer isn’t turned on he’ll know you’re not really working.

Impossibly bad luck dictates that no bystanders observed the rescue attempt quite as I experienced it. At least none came forward to testify on my behalf. I do have a witness, however. His name his God. He had better things to do this week than appear in criminal court, but I promise you, he will corroborate my account in a court of prayer.

I merged from the airfield turf and onto the tarmac at a speed of 70 miles-per-hour, achieving a maximum of 120 in mere seconds. Flight 332’s data recorder reported a landing speed of 140 knots. Not very likely. I remind you that while the flight recorder reports the performance of the aircraft, the FAA has yet to implement a device that monitors the flight recorder. I’m saying it must have been broken. For I converged upon the aircraft rather quickly. Too quickly, in fact: I was beneath its tail before I could sufficiently reckon with the physical and psychic enormity of my objective.

So I hesitated. I let the jet gain five-hundred feet. I would have aborted the mission altogether if something in the rearview mirror hadn’t caught my attention.

I saw fear, which instantly turned to shame, as fear often does when recognized.

“How dare you,” I said to my reflection. “How dare you think about yourself at a time like this. What about the passengers on that plane? The grandmas, nuns, nurses, teachers, substitute teachers, veterinarians, social workers, and babies? They need you. They need your Nissan Frontier.”


Ladies and gentlemen, I am an ordinary man. Don’t let this silk bowtie and these designer suspenders fool you. I am subject to the same flaws as you are. Perhaps less prone to weight-gain, but why nitpick? I mean to express that I made a conscious decision to transcend my shortcomings.

The jet raged before me like some mythic, aluminum bird of prey, engines shrieking. I slipped under the carriage with less than four stories of clearance. Instantly the truck began to shudder, as if it were a horse I was spurring toward a burning barn. The steering wheel vibrated with such force that my hands went numb. The numbness spread to my arms, neck, head. My peripheral vision blurred. Straight ahead, however, I clearly saw a swirling tunnel, much like one of those breaking waves surfers chute thorough, rise from the tarmac. This black, mysterious mass swallowed the Nissan Frontier not two seconds later.

Inside the tunnel I experienced a flashback, as I testified days ago. I was eighteen again, at my Eagle Scout Court of Honor ceremony, looking over my father’s shoulder as he fastened the badge to my uniform. Standing by the bonfire, my ex-wife, then my girlfriend, beamed with pride I would see on her face but twice more, upon the births of our daughters.

My story and the Prosecution’s align well from here forward. We agree that I lost control of the Nissan Frontier and spun out onto an intersecting runway. Delta Airlines Flight 2180, having just touched down, veered off course so as to avoid me and struck the airport terminal instead. The Concourse B Jamba Juice is beyond repair. One passenger will never again have feeling in his legs and another is undergoing a face transplant.

How I wish these victims of my bravery were present to hear my defense. They would be comforted to know that their livelihood was not permanently diminished in vain.

That Flight 332 landed safely can be explained only by the last-second intervention of my sole witness. I trust you know exactly what to make of the total absence of data supporting the occurrence of any malfunction whatsoever. I therefore needn’t mention again that the flight recorder was a cheap piece of rubbish probably manufactured in China.

In fact I needn’t say much more at all. If my intuition does not deceive me, and you are a jury of substantial intelligence and character, then this closing address has been a mere formality. Because we believe in the inherent goodness of man. Further, we reject the assumption that our nerves cannot withstand indefinitely the crushing pressure to maintain a family and a career, those painfully elusive fundamentals of happiness.

To us it’s plain—some people were in trouble and a hero tried to save them.

The police interpreted his heroics as criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, and driving under the influence. Consider the precedent at hand, my friends. If we hold our heroes to the letter of the law, we will eventually run out of heroes.

Close your eyes. Picture a hero.

What do you see? A man performing fellatio in the laundry room of a state correctional facility in exchange for a week of protection on the basketball court? Or a man loading his dinner plate with tacos, surrounded by his wife and children, who returned home to him shortly after his acquittal?

One morning this past summer I awoke on the sun porch to find the television still on. A national morning news program was running a segment on Captain Sullenberger and life after the crash. His wife, seated by him hearthside, said she had long known the poise, the mastery over mind and body amidst extreme distraction, for which her husband had become famous.

As footage played of Sully weeding a vegetable garden with his two daughters, it occurred to me that extraordinary circumstances, not actions, had made a hero of him. He was otherwise a regular sort of fellow. An average guy. Like me.

God be with you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.

You may open your eyes now.

Michael McCauley is a graduate of the University of Alabama's MFA Program in Creative Writing. His stories have appeared in Eleven Eleven, The Clackamas Literary Review, DIAGRAM, and Painted Bride Quarterly. He lives with his wife uptown in a two-flat and works downtown in a tall building. See him read this story live at Fictlicious May 15, 7 p.m. at The Hideout.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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This page contains a single entry by Sarah Terez-Rosenblum published on May 6, 2012 10:48 AM.

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