Posts Tagged ‘Planes’

People on Planes

By Kaitlyn Knudson

            The three sit next to each other absorbed in some conversation mixed between what you might hear longtime friends or strangers exchanging; and though none would care too much for the other outside the plane, they care for each other very much in it. Words exchanged are like hands held during takeoff, chairs that turn into floating devices in case of water evacuation, oxygen masks that fall from the ceiling (“please put yours on first before you help someone else”—that always bothers the man sitting in the middle seat).

The man in the aisle seat begins to talk about death. He doesn’t mean to bring it up. Though he has flown so many times in his private jet that he’s temporarily wore it out, his palms still sweat and his heartbeat still picks up before, during, and after takeoff. But he had nearly dodged death while driving down the 85 that morning, and he finds himself talking about the helpless cars that had piled up on it, one body after the other like a sinister Rube Goldberg. The row of seats shakes a little when he says helpless but he can’t tell if it’s from the wind or his nerves. The shake doesn’t seem to bother the woman near the window as much as it bothers the men.

“It’s just a little shakiness from being in the clouds. That can happen on the colder days, due to ice more easily forming on the wings. But don’t worry, the pilot is equipped to handle it,” she informs them before she officially closes the book that she was hoping to read, sliding it into her stately Oxford bag.

Shiny, rich-looking cars the man in the aisle makes a point of saying, shiny, rich cars all scrunched up. Damn shame, he says. Eight cars crunched; one Aston Martin and a Porsche. Maybe four people killed.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here with us,” the man in the middle says with his typical warm smile. His shoulders are broad, but he folds them up into his arms to make space for the others, which makes him look smaller than he is.

The man in the aisle looks over to the lady at the window, who’s looking out of it. She feels his eyes on her neck, and adds, “Yes, that’s such a horrifying situation. I can’t imagine.”

“I can,” the man in the middle says. “I’ve never been in a wreck in my life”—he gently taps the serving tray that’s folded up in front of him with his knuckles—“but some good friends of mine have, and their stories give me chills. I imagine it’s difficult to recover after so much loss, and man, all those images seared into your mind. Do you know if it was officially four? I wonder if anyone else was seriously injured?”

“I think just four,” the man in the aisle says, his eyes on the young attendant who’s come to take their drink orders. “Amaretto, little miss,” he says, grinning. The flight attendant smiles at him; it’s forced. But he’s immune to forced smiles now; he can’t tell the difference between them and the real ones, nor does he care to.

The man in the middle wants nothing. He instead says to the attendant that her accent is warm, and she must be from Texas, to which she smiles (a real one) and nods.

“Water, please,” says the girl by the window, because water is healthiest for you. Scritch-scratch, it’s written down and the lady trots away in her heels. The man in the aisle turns and watches her walk. He stretches his arms out, and another lady asks him if he needs anything. He shakes his head. He likes being in the aisle because he has room and because he can grab the attention more easily when he wants an extra bag of peanuts, or something.

“I guess we get lucky sometimes,” he says. He wishes he were in first class seating, and he was cursing when they told him they were sorry about the mistake. But after seeing how pretty the girl was (he loved a girl in glasses; it was always a fantasy of his to marry a bookish type, together they might be unstoppable)—he willingly sat down next to them and was glad to hear the two weren’t together. The crew had thanked him exactly eleven times for his willingness to sit in a more uncomfortable spot than he was used to.

“So where are you headed?” the man in the aisle says, straining his neck to look at the lady by the window.

“Back home. I was at a conference,” she says. Her voice finally shifts for the first time, into a higher tone.

The man in the middle interrupts: “So am I! I mean, I’m going to a convention, not home. What sort of convention were you at?”

“I’ve just gotten back from a TED Talks conference, on the paradigms of education. It was quite brilliant.”

“I’ve heard that’s a real hit, I’ll bet you had a great time.

“I did. And you’re headed…?”

“Oh, me, I’m headed to a charity ball, to represent a company. My company, I guess. I’ll spend my weekend begging for money, you know, that sort-of thing,” he says, still smiling. His smiles seem to never stop, which some people find quite annoying. But they are always genuine, pulled from that something within (maybe a soul, chakra, “good” genes), and they make him more interesting than he would be had he not smiled all the time.

“How about you?” the man in the middle turns toward the man in the aisle.

“For pleasure,” he grins.

“To take a break would be nice,” the man in the middle admits. The woman also nods.

“After we stop in good ‘ol N.Y., I’m headed to London,” the man in the aisle says, and just loud enough so a few more rows will know. He doesn’t really belong on a regular-class plane, you know.

“I’ve always wanted to travel,” the lady by the window admits.

But teachers have a tendency to get stuck in one spot, unless they are headed to a conference, or they are not working another job over summer break to afford keeping the cable. In fact, they are usually thinking about letting the cable go—too much TV is rotten for your brain, and even the History channel is trying too hard to be entertaining rather than accurate these days.

“I’ve never been out of the country, but I’ve always liked the idea of going to Africa,” the man in the middle admits.

“You guys should go,” the man in the aisle says, waving his hand as the attendant strides toward him. “Seeing other parts of the world is something everyone should do, no excuses. Sorry, where are our drinks? Alright. Just making sure you didn’t forget there, missy!”

The man in the middle adds: “I agree; we have a real sense of entitlement in this country and it’s really important to go see that there are other people out there. I mean, there’s other ways of living that are far less selfish than this viewpoint we have in America.” He taps his fingers and feet against the aircraft’s insides.

“I would love to be in London for the history,” the woman by the window says, as she turns to look out it again. “Imagine stepping where so many great poets, scientists, philosophers studied. I do believe I would be star-struck over dead people.”

The man in the middle grins at her, but she doesn’t see. Then they both look helplessly down at their palms as if they could read them, to find out whether or not they would ever travel.

The man in the aisle leans back best as he can in his chair, his face turned upward toward the ceiling where the heat is tunneling out. He yawns and closes his eyes, wishing he could already be on Kensington High, smoking a cigar and searching for his second home. He didn’t care how much it cost him; he wanted a house with real character. He hadn’t owned a house with real character before, one shaped and crafted in such an original manner—one in various cream colors, warm browns, and little nooks that people would refer to as “charming”. He never managed to find a house with “character” in his home city, but he figured he could find one in Kensington. He enjoyed London and he heard Kensington was a wealthier part.

The woman by the window sighs (but it’s only heard by the man in the middle. He has good ears that hear the faintest of sighs). He sends her a smile but she doesn’t see it. So, he reaches for his New York Times in the pouch in front of him and quickly asks, “Either of you any good at crosswords?”

The man in the aisle’s eyes open, and the woman looks away from the window.

“I was just trying to complete this one before we made our stop. But I can’t for the life of me figure out four down,” he says.

The man in the aisle peeks over at the paper. It’s another language, this scrap of paper. He pushes away the little heater on the ceiling from him. He recalls the last time he rode his jet, when he was trying to solve one of these. His girlfriend was sitting by him, that Journalism undergrad he briefly dated, and she was watching him watch those boxes, and he was begging them to reveal themselves. What she had really been doing was reading a book next to him, but he thought she was secretly watching him, always watching him. Maybe that’s why she left him; he could never fill in those empty big cream boxes with characters. It’s just a damn piece of paper, he had laughed after forty-five minutes of staring at three across.

Yes, that’s all it is. Just a piece of paper.

The woman in the window reaches into her Oxford bag and pulls out a red pen. She snatches the paper from the man in the middle, her left hand scratches over it aggressively.

“The title is ‘Mark my Words’,” she points out, stabbing her finger into the top of the paper. “You see here?” She asks but does not wait for a response, and the men’s eyes sprint to find her fast fingers. “You’ve got this one right, and seventy-two down is easy, I’m surprised you didn’t get it. Early 20th century in British history, that’s of course the Edwardian Period. But it doesn’t fit, right? It gets a little tricky right here, so I can understand where you might be stuck. This is where you have to pay attention to the title, see? They give you hints if you pay attention.”

She scribbles “Edwardian” into the box, with one blank box left underneath it.

“See, it doesn’t fit—”

“Hold on now, pay attention to the title, remember? ‘Mark my Words’. It’s a hint, see?”

She takes the red pen, pokes the center of the box with it, and pulls the paper back and laughs, a giddy, high-pitched giggle.

The men stare at the paper for a while, and she pulls it back onto her lap. Finally they understand when she fills in, right underneath it, the answer for one-ten across: Co-founder of Death Row Records, which is of course, she says, Dr. Dre. The rest of the missing bits of the crossword are revived with connectors like commas and slashes and periods.

“It’s a miracle, hallelujah!” the man in the middle jokes, causing the woman to blush. The man in the aisle sees that the man in the middle makes her blush, and he cannot keep himself from exclaiming, again, that “it’s just a piece of paper”.

“Oh but she has to have set some sort of record,” the man in the middle says, still smiling at the woman. The woman by the window studies the man in the middle as he talks to the man in the aisle. She sees for the first time how his smile is real and his hair is a nice, warm brown and quite long. She has an unexpected urge to stroke it, hide her fast fingers in its nooks. They hold eye contact.

The man in the aisle strains his neck toward the two, leans forward onto his stomach and lets his safety belt cut into him for the sake of remaining in the conversation.

The woman by the window forgets that the man in the aisle is still watching her. She has never made eye contact with anyone as long as she has made it now with this man in the middle.

“Hey, you’re brilliant,” he tells her, in the softest voice he’s used all evening.

“You’re too kind,” she smiles, a genuine smile of hers she’s been saving.

The man in the aisle fakes a laugh, as if he was still a part of the conversation, and irritated, at that.

“What was your name?” the woman by the window says.

There is a twitching, a buzzing in every passenger’s nerves as seats begin to shake. The plane lets out a horrible groaning sound, as if it were just now aware of its own exhaustion. Traveling thousands of miles every day, being stepped on, and carrying everyone’s baggage can take its toll.

Then, over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentleman, please stay in your seats as we turn on the fasten seatbelt sign. It looks like we are going to be running into some unexpected turbulence before we get ready to make our final descent. Again, please stay in your seats.”

This time it’s not fear, it is the wind that’s shaking them, the man in the aisle thinks. What was that thing that the lady had said? Ice on the wing? The pilots are equipped for it, she had said.

All three faces are pressed forward; the crowd grows noisier with filler words, nervous laughs, and angry woahs.

The plane gives another weary dip, stomachs are lurched downward, and a baby starts to scream. The woman by the window shuts its cover over it, and finds that her other hand has grabbed onto the hand of the man in the middle. The man in the aisle has also grabbed onto the man in the middle’s other hand, but before he’s embarrassed enough to pull away, the plane trembles again, the man in the middle lets out an upset woah and shuts his eyes, and the two next to him clench harder.

We’re almost there, just a little more turbulence to get through, the man in the aisle thinks. The pilots are equipped for it.


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