The Empty Air, and Filled

In my anxiety about traveling alone, I’ve come too early to the airport and must wait. Outside it is hazy, warm and humid, but inside the AC is blowing on me. I showed up carsick and unfed, and so bought food with a crumpled ten I found wadded at the bottom of a purse pocket. I eat a greasy, not nice, slightly desiccated pretzel and drink an ice-filled, sugary lemonade tasting strongly of dust and citric acid and regret. My stomach protests.  I shiver in my seat.
The carpet is supposed to be blue but you know it’s more ratty and stained than blue. I sit in an empty row of connected chairs, facing the window. Two of those retractable hallways block most of my view, stretching away from the terminal but reaching no planes– empty, like rigid sleeves.  I watch a little jet tooling around out there through the gap.  I am not inside my thoughts. The sound of voices. The people who work at gate A23, to my right. The couple directly behind me. The sigh of the woman with a styrofoam clamshell of beef teriyaki over white rice. Is that a TV? People on their phones. Why didn’t I bring a raincoat or sweater? I’d have them both on if I had them now.
I buy two books in the Hudson News; I’ve read them both, and liked them enough to recommend them, but they are not for me. I will take them to my aunt in the hospital, just as soon as I land. I consider buying a giant pink I-heart-NY hooded sweatshirt, for the irony or because I’m cold. I feel like I’m an asshole for even considering it.
We passengers fill the little jet quickly, and the captain tells us with surprise that we are next to take off. I can feel the acceleration, I think, and wonder if I’m going to be airsick, too. My father, in the middle of his career, traveled frequently, but liked to brag about St. Louis being so well situated, out there, smack in the middle of the country. It was the perfect hub to travel from. A two-hour flight to New York. Back then he would time his drive to the airport so he could park his car and walk straight through the terminal, and through the open doors of the jet-way onto a waiting plane, about to depart.
The slightly stooped flight attendant is almost too tall for this little plane. He asks, “What will you be drinking on our flight today?” I look stunned. “You’ll want something,” he continues. “It’s a two hour flight.” I consider a beer but settle for hot tea.
The turbulence. The squeals of a baby. The two coughs. Repeated. The tinkle of the hollow ice cubes in a real glass in first class. The roar of the plane. High, light, loud, white noise filling all the air inside the plane. Making the atmosphere inside seem almost visible. To be inside and high. High and moving forward.
The woman in 1D is too loud and too chatty. She wants to know if they have Jameson. The flight attendant doesn’t know. She’s on her way to Bonnaroo. She is starting nursing school and changing careers after 6 years in a psychiatric program. She settles for a Jim Beam and ginger ale. She says didn’t even vote in the last presidential election because she didn’t like the guy. And not voting is her right, you know. She seems too old for Bonnaroo.
I try to read. Another pair of squeals. The man in 2C is tapping his toe arythmically.
The sky above the clouds

Bonnaroo heads to the bathroom. I am offered more tea. 1C struggles to return his folded tray table to the arm of his seat. It is folded, but somehow still not fitting. The flight attendant is not going to help him; he is busy, behind a curtain in the galley, fetching my tea.  More table-wrestling from 1C. The curtain moves as 1C loses his temper, and begins bashing the folded table into the slot it doesn’t fit into. As the flight attendant dances around the curtain, 1C calmly refolds it. This time, it fits.
2C leaps to his feet and bolts to the bathroom.
Bonnaroo orders a cranberry-apple juice with Tito’s, and a water, on the side.
The book I’ve brought to read is too good and too rich to read more than a few pages at a time. I think about writing. I can’t get the crusty tick bite I found on my horse’s tail out of my mind. I tell myself to write about it anyway. “You have to write beautifully, even if your subject matter is the crust on your horse’s tail,” I write to myself. It is a joke. Asshole.
I find more money in a bank envelope in the back of my notebook. How high are we? 30,000 feet? I am up here, high in the air, finding money and thinking about my mare’s asshole. She is a gray, and melanomas are common in grays. But this is the cancer that killed my dad. It acts differently in horses. Grays. Horses, of a color, known collectively by that color. We try not to refer to people this way, when we don’t want to be assholes.
Chestnuts have a reputation of being nutty and opinionated, on account of their red-headedness. My chestnut is a beauty, and sometimes naughty when you ride. Or, should I say, when I ride, because he saves his worst for me?
Thinking about needing to pee when the seatbelt sign is lit. I write that secretly I think St. Louis gave my father cancer, not the sun. Or bad luck.
1C has noticed me scrawling. I resolve to develop a more inscrutable handwriting.
Another invisible bump in the air. From here I imagine we bounce all the way to the ground. Bouncing down the sky. The ground will be smooth. The captain calls the flight attendant. He listens at the handset, his eyes rolled up into his head, blinking.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the captain is advising us we can expect some rough air going in to St. Louis.”
He tidies the curtain under neat straps.
Bonnaroo returns her bag to the overhead bin, crushing mine underneath it.
I never did get up to pee. We will bounce down the air, to the ground. The captain himself announces, “Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for arrival.”
I look out at the farm pattern of the green and tan squares below. Neat, straight roads interrupted by dark green bits of forest remaining and then the wandering water of a mud brown river or creek. I ask Missouri silently to take care of my aunt. It’s in the mid 80s out there.
I see the Mississippi. Downtown. The new stadium. The Arch. I see Forest Park, Clayton. What does it mean to be from here? Who am I now? We are low above highways. I used to know all their names. I learned to drive here. Bump. We are down.

2 thoughts on “The Empty Air, and Filled”

  1. You convincingly re-create the experience of a domestic flight at this moment in time. In fact, you do it so well that I'm reminded of a news story I saw yesterday on HuffPo. An artist in Milwaukee pranks passengers in planes that fly over his studio by painting in big letters on his flat-roof, “Welcome To Cleveland.”

    Like

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