The Heiress

by Tara Laskowski

At 10:16 a.m. on a Saturday morning, Maria Vensasto Mortegan leapt out of a high-speed Cessna 182 wearing nothing more than her trademark yellow t-shirt and white work-out shorts. She was carrying an orange kickball, which she immediately flung out in front of her and screamed, “Karaoke!,” which no one heard, of course.

Immediately, as she had experienced in the few practice sky dives she’d been on, she began falling. Fast. Hard. Below her, the landscape of Wisconsin looked quiet and unimpressed. It looked like it looked the many times she’d glanced at it from the safety of an aircraft window, or later, a private jet. Rows and rows of farmland, neat patches. She knew there were many cows—almost more cows per capita than people—and imagined running into one going this fast, how the velocity of her body would split open the cow, splatter its guts all over the field, its cud-chewing face still chewing for an extra few seconds before it toppled over from gravity and rolled away. This image, gruesome as it was, made Maria Vensasto Mortegan laugh aloud, which no one heard, but then the dip in altitude made her panic, so she only screamed, “Karaoke!” again in her mind, in her spirit, and plunged forward.

Remarkably, the kickball stayed with her, and she could maneuver herself to get to it. It would not help her at all, but she found comfort in grasping it, then letting it go. She spotted the Great Lake below her, her target, and it seemed many miles away. A lake so huge it had its own current. Landing in the middle of it would not help Maria necessarily, though she felt it was much better than landing on ground. She was insistent on that point, though they tried to talk her out of it.

It looked like she was hovering right over the water, though Maria knew that was an illusion and she was really still 50 or 60 miles from the shoreline. And yet, she could begin to make out people, cars, trees, and she wondered if she should pull her parachute. Or was it too early?

She twisted herself, aiming her head down. She wanted to pull off her t-shirt and wear it around her neck like a cape. Like the superhero she imagined herself to be. Maria, the heiress of the famous Mortegan tortilla empire that gave her access to those private jets, pulling another stunt. She was going to piss off Jorge, her fiancé, who did not know she was planning to jump out of a plane until her office distributed the press release this morning. She’d written it herself, announcing she was jumping to draw attention to her desperate search for her long-lost father. She did not know that there was already a man in Pensacola, Florida, who was claiming to be him, who wanted Maria to travel there so he could show her the famous secret recipe for their mouthwatering tortillas.

She saw people on the shoreline, waving flags and signs she could not read. They had boats, too, Maria saw with relief. She would be saved. She would not die out there in the middle of the lake that was really an ocean. As her feet plunged into the icy water, as the lake welcomed her and numbed her, taking her breath away, as her parachute collapsed on the surface of the lake above her like a giant jellyfish, Maria Vensasto Mortegan knew she was safe. But that was just the beginning.

Tara Laskowski is the author of Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons (Matter Press) and the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly. www.taralaskowski.com

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “The Heiress”?

This story was a dream. It all came to me in a dream and I woke up with the voice in my head and I went right to my computer and wrote the whole thing down in one burst. And then I saved it and put it away for about six months. And found it just the other day and read it and thought, “wow, this is ridiculous, but kind of fun.” So I did a little cleaning up and sent it to you and then immediately felt foolish.


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