How do pilots and flight attendants cope with the daily horror? Watch the stewardess pour coffee at the front of the cabin. See that? Ever since we lurched into the air, she’s had this thin vertical line in the middle of her forehead. She knows something’s wrong. She heard a noise, smelled smoke, caught the pilot shooting up in the service nook, something.…
Panic leans heavily at the door of my consciousness, held at bay by the trembling benzodiazepine chair crooked below the knob. Dammit, gotta keep it together. Hours to go still. I hold my bottle of pills up to the tiny overhead light, assess with a critical eye. Off with the top. Delicately, I bite away half a lorazepam tab more. Drop the remainder down into the vial. Sit back into my semi-reclined seat, awaiting synthetic Zen.
Beyond the anxiety at the forefront of my mind, I’m feeling a little bad about ditching Overly Talkative Werther’s Candy Eating Lady, from whom I’d stealthily disengaged mid-aisle when I saw the empty seat next to Ken Follett Novel Reading Man. And speaking of KFNRM. He’s proving to be my kind of airplane buddy: he barely looked up when I sat down, and now he’s already asleep, tome on his lap. I glance past him, noting the view through the window—something I wouldn’t dare without drugs. But there’s nothing to see. Clouds obscure all, we’re completely engulfed.
I’m thankful. I hate catching sight of that tiny airplane shadow cast upon the earth. It makes me feel so helpless and insignificant. You know, more so than usual.
I peek to my right, stealthy. Not too sure about businessman-looking guy there. Carefully coiffed. Reading Forbes magazine in coach class, pfft. This is the breed of human who makes me feel like a perpetual child, even though we’re the same age. He’s got that swallowed-the-corporate-Kool-Aid aura, mixed with an insistent self-important vibe, know what I mean? Rhetorically fidgety. Like he’s gonna try to talk to me, just so he can namedrop the brand of car he drives or the suit he’s wearing or the company he works for, and I’m not even gonna know what the hell he’s talking about anyway, that’s how far removed I am from his whole thing, but I’m supposed to act all nice about it, and it’s just easier on my nerves to be polite anyway, and… yeah. I don’t like him.
He looks at me and smiles. “I think it’s intended for you,” he says.
Face hot, I think, Dammit! and I look down at my hands. “Pardon?” I manage to say, with no other clear course of action.
“Your little friend there.” Forbesy nods forward and I look up: from atop the seat in front of him, a plush pink pony stares down at me. I can see a little kid’s face through the crack between the seats, staring. As soon as we make eye contact, the kid squeezes her face into the crack and stage-whispers, “Do you like horses?”
“No, I don’t,” I say. In my peripheral vision, Forbes peers at me with a curious expression.
The fuzzy pony ducks back down, to my relief. Kids are so… what’s the word. Clinically psychotic. They blissfully exist on their own mental plane, divorced from reality, unaware of the trials and tragedies of humanity surrounding them. I mean, come on: I could be a traumatized crime victim back here. A plague sufferer. A conscienceless semi-mercenary on the lam—but never mind my problems. All she cares about is whether I’ll play horses with her. How I wish I could go about life in such an oblivious state, a Werther’s candy firmly placed within each cheek.
Forbesy goes back to his magazine, KFNRM snores softly to my left. Excellent: I’d hoped for an opportunity to write a few things down ahead of time, maybe prep some ideas for that class my cousin talked me into taking with her. I reach into the backpack at my feet and wrestle a worn, weary notebook from the front pocket. I bought it a couple weeks after the breakup, and it’s already nearly full. But I have a feeling none of the dark-hearted crap in here will be deemed appropriate for our class. “Three Steps Toward the Dissolution of Writer’s Block,” please. I know what to expect: a no-grade pud course geared toward soccer moms and retirees. We’re talking estrogen-oozy memoirs and sparkly-angel poems and journal entries and touchy-feely shit like that, just shy of full-on scrapbooking. Whatever. At least I’ll have a forum to refine my ex-Eddie source material, in whatever Dr. Phil-approved shape it must take. I put pencil lead to thin college rule. Proverbial nose to the grindstone.
“Are you drawing?” comes a familiar chipmunk voice.
I capably squelch a flare of anger with the help of big pharma. “No,” I say.
Pony fan’s face is squished against the seat crack once more. “Then what are you doing?”
“I’m writing. Aren’t you supposed to be taking care of your horse?”
“My horse is sleeping, silly!”
“Got it.” I focus on my notebook, moving my pencil with stage-drama-level I’m working now body language.
“I writed a letter to my grandma before.”
“Ah. That’s. That’s great.”
“Are you writing a letter?”
Here’s a social problem paving the path to cultural meltdown: lack of child supervision. Where are the parents? I assume this kid’s mom owns the hairdo above the seat in front of me, but that hair hasn’t budged a whit in reaction to this discourse. If she were my kid, you bet I’d be taking up the lecture opportunity, working hard to instill a sense of respect for people’s privacy and solitude. “I’m actually kind of writing a story,” I say. “But you wouldn’t like it. No horses involved. No pictures.”
“I can draw pictures. I’m pretty good.” The kid sticks her tongue through the crack—purely as a spontaneous tactile experiment, no semiotics attached as far as I could tell.
“Hey,” I say. “If I tell you something to draw, will you work on a picture for me?”
The kid bounces in her seat. “Okay!”
Jackpot. “Great. I want you to draw a picture of your house, like, really big on some paper. And then draw small pictures of your favorite toys inside the house. And your whole family. And your pets. And trees and stuff in the yard. Got it?”
“Okay!” The kid turns to the hairdo and asks for crayons.
If this kid will draw anything I ask her to, she’s gonna be nice and busy for the rest of the flight.
I can come up with some doozies.