Wrote this on an Airplane
This is totally unedited and un-spellchecked. Just wanted to give a fair warning that this is definitely a first draft!
She is wearing black, standing like a skeleton, the lines around her lips engraved from scowling at a thousand men. Her nose, pointed, from her father’s mother, French and prominent, who left her with a passion for moderation. Her waist is thin, not from dieting, but because she unwaveringly declines desert with a polite, no, thank you.
Her phone, slim, with three hundred and six contacts: first and last name, home, cell, fax, address. Tiny, precise motors vibrate against her leg to signal the arrival of a message (SMS) from her brother, dont forget dads birthday. She does not reach into her pocket, does not read the message. Her brother is a successful CTO of a company out of Austin that has somthing to do with overseas manufacturing. He is the one who taught her how to read SMS, check email, add contacts. He is the one who bought her phone, delivered to her December 27th of last year (two days after Christmas). One phone for her, one phone for dad, so they can call each other.
It is 2:50pm on Wednesday, October 12, 2011. She is standing in line at Chicago O’Hare airport (CHI), in line on a flight to Denver (DIA) on United flight 909. Her ticket is for boarding group two, since she declined to upgrade to first class twenty minutes ago when the self-serve kiosk asked her if she wanted to. She did not fly first class DIA to CHI; she tells herself she does not want to spend the money. Her wallet, thin, holds one credit card, one debit card, two business cards, two dollar bills and six pennies that have been in her purse since February, when she bought postage to mail a card to her father, get well soon, I love you.
The plane boards: platinum plus members, first class, group one, group two (she is in line), thank you please have a nice flight, group three (she is on the jet bridge). The flight is full, do you want to gate-check your bag? She declines. Her bag is small. She is sitting in the middle of the plane, center seat: to her left is a young (japanese?) businessman, reading a book in characters top to bottom; to her right is a large man, who, upon sitting down, falls asleep before the flight attendant even has time to demonstrate the safety features on this Boeing 737-200.
The doors are closed, please turn off your cell phones. Hm: a text from her brother - later. She holds the off switch until the phone asks her: turn off? She gingerly thumbs the glass, yes. The phone buzzes and dies, letters on the screen falling into blackness, reflecting her face, her French nose, her pursed and wrinkled lips. When did she get so old-looking? She tells people that she doesn’t pay attention to her age (she is forty eight and three months). She puts the phone in her pocket. She does not carry a handbag.
Welcome (again!) aboard United flight 909 to Denver, says the captain, his voice out of the movies - confident, male, speaking network english with a soft midwestern accent. He has fifteen years of flying experience, and gets all of his licences renewed one month before they are set to expire. It reminds her of her father when he was younger, before her brother had perscribed him to the nursing home near Minneapolis. For a moment, one fifteenth of a second, she remembers that she has not talked to her father in nearly six months. But the expirience leaves her with nothing more than a strange hollow feeling in the area under her heart and a recollection of sadness.
She does not fall asleep on the flight, nor does she watch the in-flight entertainment (The Office), instead watching out the window as the towers of clouds roll tumultuously by. The plane makes a 20-degree turn to the left to avoid a weather pattern (Can we talk you into 25 to avoid the yellow? United nine-oh-nine.) (Go ahead United none-oh-nine, twenty-five degrees to three-three-zero) (Roger, Chicago, United nine-oh-nine g’day) (g’day). She orders a glass of red “house” wine from the cart, for her health. She is thinking of her tasks at the office (she is secretary at a county courthouse) and the new color for her apartment. She decides on Beige, like the plastic of the tray table in its upright position.
The captain comes on over the loudspeaker to tell the passengers that there will be some turbulence on landing, we’ll give you about twenty minutes to get up and stretch your legs before turning on the fasten seatbelts sign. She doesn’t like to use the bathroom on planes. The fasten seatbelts sign goes on. She sits, almost trancelike, as the turbulence rocks the plane, turning her stomach, shaking her brain. The ground below the plane is covered in circles on the land where crops are driven into the dirt and then yanked out again, year after year. The plane tilts back, the flaps extend, the back wheels touch, the engines roar and push her forward out of her seat, the brakes are applied, the plane curves off the taxiway. She turns on her phone.
Three missed calls from her brother. Hey, it’s Dan, I just got a call from the hospital, they say dad just passed. I… (pause, for three and a half seconds) this is really sudden, I know. I think you’d better call me to set up the funeral. I was going to call him yesterday, I feel bad - I got so busy at work. Anyway, (two seconds) yeah, gimme a call when you’re off the plane. (She presses 7 to delete the message) Hey, it’s Dan again, I just got off the phone with the hospital, they say he went peacefully, so I guess that’s good. Oh, shoot, Aunt Margaret is on the other line, call you back. (7) Hey, Dan again, Aunt Marge says she wants to help with the funeral, give me a call when you’re in Denver so we can organize your tickets. (7)
She feels no emotion - no sadness, not even a lack of emotion. Just, that’s the way things sometimes go, I guess. She puts the phone in her pocket, she’ll call her brother when she’s at home. Meanwhile, she has to get to the store to pick up some beige paint on her way home.