m a g d a l e n    p o w e r s


Geography Lesson

The Passport Thief

Geography Lesson

We were standing on the west side of the southern shores of San Francisco Bay. Look, I said to Steve, someone’s sending smoke signals from the top of the big flat rock—that famous mesa from the flying saucer movie having somehow been transplanted to the north of us, far away and standing on another tall pillar of rock.

We squinted and stared, and just as I decided my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me—that there really was a thin white column of smoke rising from the rock—the top of it turned darker and changed shape, and I said, Oh, it’s just a plane, the way you would say about a star on which you’d almost wished. Steve nodded as the plane came in fast and low, trailing black smoke over the bay.

Oh no! someone said as the plane neatly flipped on its tail, then over, and bounced on its back off the water. It landed right side up, conveniently on an airport runway.

It was suddenly night. Behind the plane, the White House was lit up, engulfed in smoke from unseen flames.

Those fuckers, I said, as I’ve often imagined I would say if they did it again.

That was on purpose, said Steve, incredulous. Army guys were running toward us with machine guns drawn. Then I was alone.

I stood by a post and watched the crazy scene. A handsome young man with long black hair was sitting on some platform, leaning against a wall with his knees drawn up.

There were survivors. A group of them, exuding no small ill will, sprinted past, away from the mélée.

Why didn’t you go after them? I screamed at the young seated man. They did it!

He leaned into the light, all the better for me to see him, and shrugged. See you in heaven, I yelled above the din, then ran away. The army sequestered the plane in a large yellow hangar and we had no more news for quite some time.


The Passport Thief


I see the places she’s been—the stamps, the ghosts of penciled addresses, her hopeful expression. The day we met, she was tousled and tired, worrying about stupid things: Christmas, her computer, the wine in her suitcase, which was too big and had to be stowed below. This was when she flung everything on the seat, laying herself out for me as surely as if we’d been alone, and had known each other better. She wanted me to. I mean, she put it down. Didn’t she notice she wasn’t the one who picked it up?

She said she’d flown fifteen thousand miles in the past five days. She was on her way to a business meeting. I told her I just got back from Madrid. She said she was an editor. You must have a very interesting life, I said. That’s a Chinese curse, she seemed to shout. She startled the shit out of me—I could tell she saw—I worried—but then she laughed and said the curse was May you live in interesting times. Well.

I made her nervous, I could tell. And I could tell she couldn’t figure out why. I like that. I try to act calm, to not drink anything with alcohol or caffeine. She said she hadn’t slept the night before. I watched her drink three cups of coffee in a row. It was a short flight. She fell asleep sometimes, waking up to take sips. She got in and out of her purse a couple of times, for lip balm and headphones. Her purse was full of books and other things she wasn’t reading. I like to read, I told her. But I don’t really, I just thumb through the pages.

I lied about being in Madrid, but she believed me. I started to hate her a little then. I mean, how could I have been there and missed a news story about seventy-five thousand people being evacuated from a soccer stadium? The news was in Spanish, I said. She nodded like she knew what I was talking about. Stupid bitch.

I wonder when she noticed it was gone. By now she will have woken up in some hotel room or somebody’s house, happy to be away from home. But then she’ll remember me and frown. Poor baby. I wish I could make it all better. But I can’t.

I threw most of what was in the little wallet away, you know. Piece by piece, so it wouldn’t be found. Even the frequent flyer card with the PIN written on the back in black permanent marker. I could already see where she’d been. I didn’t need a fucking airline to confirm it for me.

She thinks I want to hurt her. I don’t.

I kept her passport, though, with her picture that had been places. I could sell it—there really are people who can lift the photos out, slide new ones underneath. But I just want to look at her. She’s so beautiful—her name is like bells; I don’t want to separate them.

You lead a very interesting life, I’ll say to her face above my bed, in the evenings when we’re alone. I know, she’ll seem to say, looking down, shy but happy. So do you.



As of this issue, MAGDALEN POWERS lives in Portland, Oregon, although she could by the time you read this be living somewhere else. She has published many stories in many places, some of which have been lately collected by Future Tense Books into a little something called The Heart Is Also a Furnace. Other pieces may be found on and/or via her website, Fool's Paradise. She does not travel enough, nor does she think that "enough," in this case, even applies.