The Wilderness

by Blake Kimzey

The bright red billboards lined the honeycombed freeways of Los Angeles and stretched north to Santa Barbara. They had airbrushed glamour shots of Justin’s parents and block letters that read Spouses Selling Houses: Nicky & Ricky with a 1-800 number at the bottom. The billboards were a tolerated eyesore, had been since Justin was five years old almost two decades ago.

Nicky had kept the same hair-sprayed bangs since the late ‘80s and was known around town for her large red glasses. Ricky had a thick black Selleck mustache and was jokingly mistaken for Magnum, P.I. Their faces were on benches at Metro bus stops and stamped on direct mailers sent to nicer zip codes and anywhere the advertising agency could think to put their faces.

And Justin couldn’t avoid seeing his parents en route to LAX. He was flying to Alaska.

It had been a month since the Cessna 206 seaplane they were aboard crashed attempting a water landing a few hundred miles north of Anchorage. Justin needed to see where his parents were lost. They had been on a Denali flight-seeing tour for their 25th anniversary, a trip Justin suggested, knowing his mother wanted to see Beluga whales and his father wanted to learn to fly-fish. For years they had talked of renewing their vows in the shadow of Mount McKinley, and after a gentle nudge from Justin they booked the trip.

Justin got the call as he was leaving LACMA for the night, where he worked as a Major Donor Events Assistant. The touring company representative told Justin that his parents had left Lake Hood in the morning and crashed several hours later near Cook Inlet. Only debris had been found. The landing floats bobbed perfectly intact near the navigational light at the jagged southwest tip of Elizabeth Island.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the representative had said. They weren’t sure what had gone wrong, but the representative assured Justin they were looking into it.

Before ending the call the representative told Justin that if he had any other questions he could contact the company’s lawyer, who would be able to discuss next steps. Justin walked on in silence to his apartment at 6th and Curson, where he could look down the block from the La Brea Tar Pits and see his parent’s smiling faces 40 feet above the intersection at Wilshire Boulevard.

Justin couldn’t hold the remoteness of Alaska in his mind, to imagine his parents at the bottom of Cook Inlet or swept out to sea, his mother’s big red glasses a bit of flotsam.

For weeks the paperwork kept coming. There were so many loose ends to tie up after his parent’s memorial service that it took Justin weeks to book his three-day trip. He finally landed in Anchorage and hired a seaplane to take him to Lake Hood and on to Cook Inlet, retracing their steps.

At Elizabeth Island the pilot stayed with the plane and Justin spent the day walking the cliffs overlooking the shoreline. He took in the volcanic air and looked out at the offshore oil platforms and beyond them to a flat horizon. Justin collected a small vial of seawater and a Ziploc full of volcanic ash and bits of crystalline pumice. He wanted to take something home with him.

Back at LAX Justin hired a taxi. On Century Boulevard he looked out his window and saw his parents overlooking the 405. It would be some time before the billboards would come down, several months to go on the last contract. But Justin thought he might renew for another year, keep his parents around town. He had only ever known Los Angeles with them in it.