Strangers on a plane

The windows at 30,000 feet are cold, even through the thick panes of glass. Or is it plastic? The sky is blue, deep blue, with only a hint of light. Soon all will be dark. And the cabin too. The flight attendants are scurrying back to the rear of the plane, hiding from those of us still awake. How do they see us at this stage of the flight. Tiny blankets stretched awkwardly across a large man’s chest. Sleepers, mouths open, noses up. Lumps of flesh, big babies – don’t disturb them or they’ll want to be fed. Nursed, perhaps. Like my wife. Her head knocks against my shoulder as though she’s not comfortable resting against me. I need to pee, but I can’t disturb her in her selfish sleep. Peace and beauty. Which does she prefer? She’d rather sleep uncomfortably and look beautiful than sleep soundly and appear unkempt. Perhaps I’m unfair.

I notice things more clearly when she is still. Her nose is strong yet delicate, a feature  that lends confidence to every other feature of her face. Her long ears hide behind sweeps of chestnut hair, which is thick and shiny. Don’t tell her I used that word. Shiny. I said it once. She thinks it means greasy. How else am I to describe it? They never taught me how to compliment a woman. If I say she looks nice, it’s not strong enough. Amazing? Too insincere.

I still need to pee. She’s still in my way.Why is this human being stopping me from going to the bathroom? My chest tightens and my face becomes flushed. I rip my seat belt apart and lunge into the aisle, across my wife, straddling her like a gingerbread man. She gasps awake. Looks up and frowns.

The bathroom is like all airplane bathrooms. Tiny, noisy, and smelling of that blue liquid that nobody understands. My reflection frightens me. He looks more real than I feel. I place my palm against the glass and imagine trading places with my mirror-image. He can take the cramped seat next to my wife and I can stretch my legs in the mirror world. If this were the case, would I be the mirror-image in all mirrors, or just this one in the airplane bathroom?

The cabin appears darker in contrast to the fluorescent lights of the bathroom, and I unsteadily stumble down the aisle. I turn towards the windows and slide into my seat. I smell lavendar, or something that women wear. It’s not the scent of my wife. The woman next to me is smiling in her sleep. I hope she’s asleep. Two rows ahead my wife is awake. She turns her head down the aisle, maybe looking for me. I study her carefully, again.Where did the peacefulness disappear to?

There are a few more hours in the flight and I have no will to move. I catch quick glimpses of the stranger’s smile until, greedily, I stare at her face. What will she look like when she wakes up?

The airplane shakes and jumps and I clutch both armrests. The woman next to me is now alert. “What are you doing here?” she asks in a shrill voice. I turn around, turn forward, and adopt an exaggerated attitude of confusion. “I’m sorry, wrong seat,” I mumble. She frowns as I squeeze out towards the aisle and return to my real seat.

“Where were you?” my wife asks. I grab her hand. “The turbulence frightened me, so I had to sit down.” She squeezes my hand. I squeeze in return and close my eyes.


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