No howling infants in front. No kids kicking the back of my chair. I’ve won the air travel lottery. To top it off my seatmate is pure pulchritude: freckles, thick auburn hair and gem-shaped nostrils. Her tank-top says: “I’m the imperative. What’s your tense?” I don’t normally initiate conversation with strangers. But, after the plane levels off, I point to my chest and say, “I’m the subjunctive.” She looks at me for a moment and says, “Who the fuck asked you?,” and rings for the flight attendant to find her another seat.
He manifests, as though lamp-rubbed, biceps rippling in an inky farrago of tigers, dragons and skulls. I have a mad urge to claw the skin off his face and show him what a real skull looks like. But, mostly, I want to rip open his polyester shirt to see the entirety of that inky hellscape. To know if he thought it up or cribbed it from a catalogue. To gauge the extent of his imagination. Sometimes the universe presents us with these tantalizing mysteries. But we are never ready for them. Because he’s already long-gone down the aisle mewling in mocking falsetto, “This ain’t no fucking cage lady, take any free seat you want, Jeez.”
She gets up to leave. I want to say: Wait, don’t go: give me a rewind. You’re not going to find someone else who’s swallowed and bucked lightening, whose heart is a mighty trebuchet that will fling yours past the gleaming stars, a heart, too, quivering with expectant birdsong, where the lion lies with the lamb…But it’s impossible. Some things can’t be said. Perhaps, it’s for the best. But it’s excruciating and baffling. Like trying to explain to the hare that the hungry hawk circling above it is actually a good thing. This impossibility that keeps me from saying what I want is my personal tragedy.
Which is when I glimpse hers.
That she’s been born in the wrong time and should have married some mighty barbarian, a bearskin-clad Gaul chieftain, a dashing courtier, or been an empress herself. And, as she passes by, I give her my best Knight of the Garter, Court of Saint James bow. I don’t know why. To tell her: Yes, I see your pain, too? To cue her to look past my off-the-rack, crumpled suit, middle-aged paunch, all the way to my high-heeled shoes, silk stockings, leather doublet, feathered cap and pearl-earing? But all this reaps is a hostile glare. So, now I’m free to speak at last and play the clown in this sad disconnect.
I say, “Go in peace my serene queen, my sweet Impedimenta, my indomitable Boudica.” She throws her drink in my face and vanishes.
Happy now? I ask myself. Because all I’ve done is deepened her justifiable prejudice against every cringy, middle-aged loser who dares to just glance at her. But I insist on clambering up my greasy pole of delusion. I will go after her, beg a thousand pardons, then convince her to sail the seas with me, to sing the songs of Omar Khayyam on star-cranked dulcimers tuned to the motions of the planets, to grow our hair long and feast on kelp, bream, ambergris and oysters spiced with wild honey, myrrh and nard…which I’m too stupid to know is just another version of the same lame fantasy every asshole who’s wanted her has promised.
The world spares me this embarrassment. Because the earth below writhes in agony. Full of grinding plates, fissures, faults, and convection currents governed by baffling laws. Where butterfly wings harvest tornados and menstrual moons regulate the movements of ocean tides, howling dogs, and slurring lunatics. For now, we are in free fall. A massive air-pocket’s swallowed the plane whole, like a whale a bit of krill. Or some livid sunspot has toasted its electronics. People are screaming. My butterfly heart at last meets its crushing wheel. I’m on the floor. Light blazing across my eyes: a star getting shredded in a blackhole. The attendant flaps about like an escaped parrot not sure where to fly to, squawking, “Is there a doctor on board, help, help, help?” Perhaps, the plane has corrected course. For there is only silence as still and ominous as a dead fish’s eye. I wonder why the moon smells like lemon. Regret laps at my heart, threatening to drown it. I’ll never see another sunset nor learn what lurks behind that polyester shirt. Something warm, wet, and salty, like a dolphin’s nose, nuzzles against my cheeks.
The last thing I taste is her mouth over mine.
David Luntz: Work is forthcoming or appeared in Pithead Chapel, Vestal Review, Reflex Press, Scrawl Place, Best Small Fictions (2021), trampset, X-R-A-Y Lit, Fiction International, Orca Lit, Atticus Review and other print and online journals. https://twitter.com/luntz_david
image: Jade Hawk is a meat popsicle.