listen to this story
When the engines stopped – the four propellers spinning now from the press of air – murmurs spread through the cabin. And we could hear the murmuring, this was something people noticed right away. Flying was silent, suddenly, and effortless. What a joy! Chatter grew to whooping and cheering. The day was bright, the sky cloudless. In all directions was ocean, pink and finely rippled like a clam shell beneath us. Seat belts snapped open like popcorn.
In row twenty, the college student who’d been very cautious placing his guitar in the overhead plucked out his earbuds. He looked to the passenger on his right then the passenger on his left, looking as if to recover a missed explanation. Both passengers smiled back and the student started laughing.
The elderly sisters seated in row twelve paused in their knitting. In unison, they held at arm’s length long needles webbed with rudimentary scarves, and together they admired the way their matching hands brought yarn together.
A ballerina unfastened her seat belt, which had hung heavy and cold across her lap. In her tutu and satin toes, she turned pirouettes down the slanting aisle.
“I’m really glad that you and I are taking a vacation together,” I told Emily. “Did you ever travel with him?”
“Once,” she answered, “a road trip to Montana. We went camping. You? Did you ever travel with her?”
“We did. Paris.”
A business man in the very first row smoothed out his newspaper on the tray table. Methodically, he folded page one into a pirate hat.
A teenager, skin inflamed with acne and polished with grease, switched off his video game. He peeped out from his puff of hooded sweatshirt, eyes small and blinking.
The captain emerged from the bulletproof cabin doors. We passengers all clapped. He took a sweeping bow, and at the point of maximum obeisance, his pilot cap fell from his head. The captain picked it up, but instead of putting it back on, he plopped the cap onto the head of a boy sitting in the second row. The visor fell over the boy’s eyes and what could be seen of his face deeply blushed. The captain stripped the plastic wings from the boy’s sweater, which he had conferred only hours earlier.
“In exchange for your promotion,” he explained, as he stuck the wings to his own chest.
The boy, looking serious now, straightened the cap so it would sit on his ears.
A glint off of the airplane’s wing called notice to changing angles. The flight deck tilted dramatically. Round objects, pens and oranges and tea cups, started a run on the cockpit. Sunlight, shaped into beams by the portal windows, swept through cabin, browsing my face, browsing Emily’s face.
“Oh, isn’t this great?” said Emily. She squeezed my hand. “You and I will have our own adventures.”
I squeezed her hand back and said, “You and I are going to enjoy this.”
We were falling into weightlessness. Up floated purses and magazines. Up floated airsick bags and peanut bags. Up floated evacuation plans and in-flight catalogs. Up floated people, out of their seats. A fat man in a tweed suit, weightless now among ‘No Smoking’ and ‘Fasten Seatbelt’ signs, did something like a dog paddle. He giggled, pursed his lips, and spit an imaginary stream of water. A flight attendant, after rummaging through cabinets and carts, among soda cans and sealed lunch trays, found a bag of jelly beans. She ripped it open with a burst of atomized color. She then demonstrated a new way to eat by floating down the aisle, legs together, arms against her sides, her toes pointed, neck straight, twirling slowly as she gobbled a constellation of red and green and yellow.
“Emily,” I said, her hand was still in mine, “you and I were really lucky to meet each other. After her, I’d been worried that it wouldn’t happen again.”
“After him,” she said, “I just didn’t feel pretty.”
In row fifteen, a business woman in a white blouse and dress skirt sat typing in her laptop. It had taken her far longer than the other passengers to notice the change. She looked up and her forehead furrowed. She slowly closed the laptop, and as if it were connected to her mouth by strings and pulleys, the lowering lid pulled up the corners of a smile. She took a makeup bag from her purse. Using a small foam brush daubed with blue, she drew clouds onto her blouse. Using rouge and eyeliner, she painted a red sun and black birds. She unbuckled her seatbelt and floated up to join the aerial party.
The boy in the captain’s hat chased the business man in the pirate’s hat around the cabin.
“Ruffian!” shouted the boy. “Mutinous traitor!”
“You’ll never stop Bluebeard!” called the businessman.
The boy captain’s little sister, however, wearing pig tails, her mouth stained with jam, floated by herself, quietly clinging to a headrest. The business woman in the makeup mural floated over to her. She twisted up a lipstick and handed it to a little girl. The little girl looked uncertain. The business woman smiled and pointed to a blank spread on the back of her blouse. The little girl drew a little girl holding the tail of a kite.
“That’s right,” said the business woman, “give me the whole park.”
The aisle ran vertically now. Passengers congregated at staggered heights, acting like fish of different gravities in a well with carpeted walls. The college student had retrieved his guitar from the overhead and he strummed a weightless song. The ballerina demonstrated for the elderly sisters how to gently stretch their arms and backs. Emily and I floated out of our seats. We swam deeper into the well until we reached the bottom. We wriggled at the cabin doors, which opened like a vent of blue light. We grabbed onto each other, stuffing one another into the airplane’s cockpit.
The dashboard lightbulb were cold glass, the needles still. I nibbled the skin at Emily’s clavicle. She pinched my ear lobe. We tussled against switches whose flipping toggled nothing. We pushed against levers, which shifted nothing’s gearing. We rubbed against knobs that tuned nothing’s tone. Beneath us, the approaching ocean was incredibly bright.
“Look!” said Emily.
The ocean waves were the glass surface of a mirror, and in the silver backing was an echoed plane. Seaweed tangled its propellers. The nosecone was rough with fire coral. Holes punched throughout the fuselage were illuminated by the glowing eyes of eels. Behind the airplane spread a black, wet plume of oil. The windshield had shattered and mussels encrusted the bent metal frames.
I closed the cockpit door and strapped myself into the pilot’s seat. Emily buckled in as the copilot. We held hands across the dark dash. Our planes aligned perfectly, nose leading to nose, wings echoing wings. In the dark plane, there was captain and co-captain: worm eaten bone cove sockets, eye-less, with open mouths tongue-less, their fleshless fingers clutching control columns, their matching vests spilling rib and rot.
We shall meet at the ocean’s surface. Sky shall dive in water and water leap into sky. The mirror will touch itself.
“Yes,” I said to Emily, “it is so lucky that we are so happy.”