Today, we are thrilled to share the winner of our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers: “Drop Zone Summer” by Nick Fuller Googins. This arresting, surprising, and perfectly pitched story is told from the point-of-view of Osman, a Somali refugee who grew up in Maine. He’s spending his summer break from college working at a sky diving place, and he has found the thrill of jumping himself.
“At 6000 feet he never second-guesses the urges that spark his veins. He is not an African Marxist atheist in conservative Catholic Maine. He is not a clay jar for his community to fill with hope. He is not a lanky young man with all shapes of love for all types of people and nowhere for it to fit.”
Two weeks have passed since Cotter’s fall from the radio tower. His girlfriend, Liv, sparks with flashes of her former, easygoing self, remaining upbeat for customers and their tips, but she’s not fooling anyone. She’s most of all not fooling Osman. Osman watches her trot in from the landing area, grinning, Evel Knievel jumpsuit unzipped, sleeves knotted at the waist. She drops off her used parachute—Purple #3—and high-fives her next customer, a barrel-bodied guy wearing cargo shorts and a Phi Kappa Sigma t-shirt. Osman gathers the heap of purple nylon and dumps it in his section of the packing floor.
Osman packs parachutes for SkyHigh Maine. Liv jumps. That she only jumps with purple parachutes isn’t as superstitious as it sounds. The three purple rigs happen to be SkyHigh’s newest. Liv says they handle well in strong winds. Janice, SkyHigh’s owner, pays a flat rate of ten dollars per packed parachute. Osman finds that the new purple ones take longer. The stiff nylon is abrasive, unforgiving. He doesn’t mind spending the extra time.
This is Osman’s first summer packing. Liv got him the job. They are friends from Bates (“comrades,” they say, half-kidding). Liv was the charismatic, tanned-legged senior leader of the Global Justice Project, that coalition of anti-capitalist undergrads that held teach-ins, dropped banners, kicked military recruiters off campus. Osman was the wide-eyed freshman relieved to find one group in all of Great White Maine that let him be something other than Somali. Liv pitched SkyHigh on the drive to a rally at the Bath naval yards—for too many summers she’d wanted to organize the Haitian workers in the blueberry fields around SkyHigh’s drop zone. Osman was a natural, she said. Super chill. Everyone liked him. They could organize together, in their spare time. What did he think? Osman thought his internship with a socially responsible mutual fund in Portland suddenly stank of liberal hypocrisy and tedium. A week after finals he was on the packing floor for day one of training, learning from Cotter how to fold 400 square feet of nylon into a pack the size of a duffle.
It’s late August now, the final surge of tourist season. Osman and Liv have not organized the migrant workers. They have not grown intimate, working and living hip-to-hip. There has been no summertime leftist fling. The problem, of course, was Cotter. Still is Cotter. Fourteen days comatose in a hospital bed two hours away and his presence only grows stronger. Liv will disappear into her Airstream after work or drive to Maine Medical. Osman will lie awake in his tent, replaying the accident. He and Liv haven’t spoken—really spoken—in days. Broken femur, shattered arm, ruptured eardrums, fractured vertebrae. Osman has yet to visit.