The flight attendant’s voice was squeaky and earnest. I didn’t want to hear which exit was closest to me, or how I was supposed to proceed in the event of an emergency.
I unlocked my seatbelt in defiance of caution well before we leveled off at 38,000 feet. I passed the rear galley, a hotbed of non-nutritional activity. If the plane didn’t crash, certainly the food would kill us all.
Finally, I came to the passengers at the rear of the plane, the most disheveled humanity on earth. The refuge of last-minute thinkers and great procrastinators…
I opened the bathroom door and slid the lock shut. I stood there in the temporary safety of my confinement and unzipped my pants, one hand holding onto the plastic handle overhead. A warm yellow stream hissed into the toilet as a fan-jet engine, so large a grown man could stand in its intake, whirred along not five meters away.
I glared at myself in the small mirror over the sink. I stood straight up, trying to reverse years of sloth and neglect and bent my forty-one year-old frame back into the shape of my fondest memory. I pulled back my shoulders and tucked in my hardly noticeable gut. Nothing worked. I was who I was. Nothing more, and nothing less.
My younger brother, David, was in a hospital in Tampa. He had suffered with diabetes for many years and the day after tomorrow was going to lose his left foot. His two children were in grade school and wouldn’t understand what had happened to make their father such a different man.
This was his greatest fear. Not fear for himself, but for how his children might see him as something less than he was. I was neither married nor had ever experienced the joy and torment of parenthood. I hoped 1986—already problematic for Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier who fled to France and President Ferdinand Marcos who fled the Philippines Major and for most of Western Europe after the nuclear accident at Soviet Union’s Chernobyl—would be a better year for me than it was turning out to be for David.
I opened the bathroom door to a line of impatient travelers stretching back to the galley. I passed what was once a sea of meaningless faces and was now the backs of bobbing, canted heads. Different shapes and sizes with hair in every color; some with long, dreamy swept-back locks, while others, mostly men who drew from the wrong side of the gene pool, sporting bald spots and endless tracts of barren flesh.
David had a thick head of curly blonde hair. He knew how this one characteristic had affected his relationship with women. Teresa loved to run her fingers through it, tug at it when they had sex. Or so I had been told.
Teresa was a wonderful mother to Becky and Danny. She loved David with a sense of devotion I had always thought I would see in the eyes of the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
Two men turned and looked up as I passed. Both men were heavy, fleshy, unshaven Eastern European types in their late forties and dressed in poorly tailored suits—large and precipitous bodies making a considerable effort at being inconspicuous in seats meant for lesser forms.
They were sitting behind a very pretty blue-eyed, blonde woman who thankfully was wearing a skin-tight white tank top. My fantasies made the most of the moment.
The woman sitting next to me continued reading a recent bestseller about an attorney who conquered impossible odds to press on pleading for some pathetic indigent who had been injured by a large faceless multinational conglomerate.
I, on the other hand, had brought little else with me but my fears, probably like many of my fellow travelers: making their journey through life with no guarantee of success, and more than enough evidence of the possibility of catastrophic failure ahead.
Past the dowager in the window seat billowy white puffs passed by only to re-form, as we all would, sometime later into a new life and life form.
“Are you frightened?” she asked.
If Bernoulli could only have grasped the magnitude of his gift to humanity by postulating the concept of laminar lift, would he have believed such a metal monster possible? “Just thinking about what keeps us up.”
She glanced out the window as though I had just discovered an ominous cosmic relevancy. “Why would you want to know that?”
“Because it’s a constant fascination to me.” I found myself enjoying terrorizing this poor creature. She’d probably babble on to her friends at their canasta party next week about how she was unfortunate enough to sit next to a lunatic who made her trip a disaster. “I mean, look around you. Don’t you think it’s unusual for us to even be up here where birds don’t fly?”
“You’re not fascinated by the fact that we’re moving along up here against reason and rationale? A million pounds of people and metal, fuel and baggage shooting along at 600 miles an hour?”
She set the book in her lap. “Here,” she said, taking a complementary magazine from the pouch in front of her, “maybe you would enjoy something to read.”
“I’d enjoy being back in New York or, at the very least, on the ground.”
“You know we’re perfectly safe up here. I’ve read you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than having a flying accident.”
“I’ve already been struck by lightning.” Of course, it wasn’t true, but it did make her stiffen up a bit. “I don’t need any more excitement in my life.”
The little woman returned to her potboiler. I had turned my attention to my brother and his ever-deepening financial plight when I noticed one of the hostesses straighten out her stockings outside the forward galley.
She paid particular attention to the razor sharp line of her seam that stretched up the back of her calf into her thigh and beyond. Just as she dropped her skirt back down over her knees, she glanced up and caught my eye.
“Great legs,” I whispered, again attracting the attention of the dowager princess.
“Were you talking to me, sir?”
“Great light out there,” I said nodding to the setting sun, which was streaming in through her window. She looked back at me disapprovingly, as though she had caught a schoolboy with his hand where it shouldn’t have been. I’m familiar with that look too.