“Small Planes Flying Low” a short story by Victoria Barrett

IMG_6026Above: officials inspecting the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103

I drew the four of diamonds for week 27 of the Deal Me In challenge. In this challenge, at the beginning of the year, participants pick fifty-two stories to read and assign each to a card in a standard deck of playing cards. Draw one every week and you’re done at the end of the year. The randomized order of the reading sometimes presents interesting coincidences, which I enjoy. An explanation of the challenge is here. My list of stories for 2015 is here. My lists for prior years are on the sidebar.

Four of diamonds pillow found at https://www.onekingslane.com/sales/12928

I own a copy of this story as part of the “Indy Writes Books” anthology, a fundraising publication of Indy Reads Books that features Indiana writers and donates its proceeds to local adult literacy programs. Bibliophilopolis is happy to be one of many sponsors of the project.

Those writers contributing material to Indy Writes Books were asked “to contribute work that had something to do with reading, writing, literacy, books, or bookstores,” and the story I read this week qualifies by taking place in a comic book store called Cosmo’s, where our young female protagonist, Rae, is employed. (Although the world of comic books and those who are passionate about them is not one I’m very familiar with, my brothers and I did accumulate a box or two of them when we were kids so, armed with that credential, I pressed on with the story…)

The story takes place in 2001 and is sparsely populated with just a few characters – Rae, Joel (the store owner), two adolescent male customers, Devin and Jackie, and Camille, who has a crush on Joel and works in another shop that Cosmo’s shares a strip mall with. Initially, there didn’t seem to be too much to the story other than some typical teenage banter between the customers and Rae, or the Boss-employee dynamic between Joel and Rae. But then a report comes on the Radio that Al-Megrahi, a Libyan terrorist, has received a life sentence for his role in the Pan Am 103 over Scotland in 1988. Rae is unfamiliar with this historical event and Joel explains to her that “300 people” were killed in the incident.

This – at least momentarily – sobers up the occupants of the store as Rae ponders the magnitude of such a tragedy. She is sure she couldn’t even name 300 people, a number which “was like her whole universe multiplied by eleven.” The story ends with a little spat between Rae and Joel, which she regrets, musing that “She felt safer here than anywhere else. Three-hundred people are a whole universe, but so was Cosmo’s.”

I liked the story and appreciated that the name of the store is both a person’s name (“Cosmo” – you know, like Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld) and a homonym for Cosmos, meaning the universe (you know, like Neil deGrasse Tyson’s or Carl Sagan’s) . I also enjoyed playing the “What Does The Story’s Title Mean?” game with this one, and must admit I don’t fully know. A Google search of the phrase “small planes flying low” yielded some conspiracy theory-related hits, and also the information that such a group of planes is one recommended way to overcome anti-aircraft and radar-aided defense. There is, of course, a plane in the story, but I’m not sure if the title phrase relates to that incident or not. I’m also not sure if I mind not knowing the true meaning of the title, as it’s fun to speculate about. 🙂


If the Indy Writes Books anthology sounds like something you’d be interested in, please consider purchasing a copy. More info may be found at http://www.indyreads.org/indy-writes-books/

What interesting short stories have you read lately?  Can you think of any books or stories where you have been unable to determine the meaning of the title?


  1. Dale said,

    July 6, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    I’ve always wondered why Hemingway used “The Sun Also Rises” as a title. I know it’s from Ecclesiastes where the writer talks about the meaninglessness of life. So that doesn’t surprise me given Hemingway tends to see lack of purpose in everything. But the title to me sounds more positive and upbeat than the story is. Why didn’t he use “All is Vanity”?

    But I’m with you, I can be content in not knowing exactly what a title means. And I think I would like the way the horrific act enters into the everyday life of the characters in your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jay said,

      July 8, 2015 at 9:19 am

      I have really come to enjoy playing the “What Does the Title Mean?” game. Especially since one can probably assume the author did not take the naming of his/her story lightly… 🙂 My week 28 story title is “The Commissioner and the Pig” – can’t wait to play the game with that one.


  2. tracybham said,

    July 11, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    Sounds like an interesting story. I often try to figure out what titles mean, although short story titles often seem clearer after reading the story than titles of novels.

    I recently read a book by Larry Sweazy (See Also Murder) and he has a story in Indy Writes Books. I see that story is on you list so I look forward to seeing what you think of it.


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