Finally Gate 21’s up ahead. I can slow my hustle as I pass by the still closed concourse shops and kiosks. A café latte is more than a half-hour away since the Starbucks won’t open until six. There’s no agent at Gate 21’s counter either, however the digital marquee matches the big departure board at Ticketing, and promises that my 7:20 flight to Washington, D.C. will depart from here on time. Fingers crossed about that. You are at the mercy of the travel gods whoever and wherever they may be. There’s always the risk that they will change the gate on you without warning and send you scurrying frantically down the concourse sloshing your coffee all over the place if you have a cup. That’s why I don’t dress up for the airport. Well, at least it’s my justification. I see the other women all around me, young and old alike, business and casual, in their cute little outfits, their fashion forward shoes, run in those if you like and risk turning an ankle.
I could have, and rightly should have, flown up to D.C. last night with Stephanie, the project director and my supervisor. The principle investigators’ meeting is scheduled to start at nine o’clock this morning. But I really like waking up in my own bed even if that means waking up at 3:45 in order to be out of the house by 4:15, so that I am clearing Security by 5 o’clock. I like to get to the airport early because I’m really not one for mad dashes through airports if I can help it. Who needs that manufactured stress? Besides my presentation isn’t scheduled until 2 p.m. on the first day of the two-day meeting according to the agenda, so Stephanie is cool with me arriving later, plus it saves on the travel budget, as I reminded her when I was making my case for leaving this morning instead of last night.
“Lorna, you really do hate to travel,” she said.“Oh no,” I denied the truth. “I just got something I need to do tonight that’s all.”
I didn’t because I rarely did, not during the week anyway. I spent last evening cleaning my condo in preparation for my being away in case someone had to come in and handle my affairs because I get killed in a fiery crash or something. I cleaned and fretted about what to pack to wear on the second day of the meeting, in the more likely event that I live.
At this hour in the morning, I have my choice of seats in the empty waiting area. I plop down in a place across from a wall of floor to ceiling windows where I can watch the sun come up and keep an eye on the gate counter in case something changes. Like most travelers nowadays I come equipped with a briefcase/purse/ overnight bag/ and a size-wise rollerboard. I park the tote bag on the seat next to mine and park the suitcase in front of it. It will make a handy little table if I get a coffee later, and maybe a slice of banana-nut loaf. Based on my boarding zone number, which can sometimes feel like a lottery number, good or bad depending, I should be able to stow the rollerboard overhead. I’m a Zone Two, which means if I maneuver just right I should be able to board the plane right behind the premium classes. Ironically in this situation being at the back of the bus has its advantages. Maybe if I traveled a little more my airline class would improve. But really how is it that human evolution has come to this? The measure of a person being determined by a boarding zone.
In any case, I settle myself and take out my smartphone. I recheck the weather which is supposed to be clear up and down the eastern seaboard. Spring is coming. There’s no plane at the gate but I’m not too worried yet. It is early, very early. I suppose there could be some kind of equipment problem, as the airlines call it, but oh well. I’m satisfied with myself. I’m keeping my part of the bargain, and with a cushion mind you. If the flight is cancelled and I don’t get to meet Stephanie for lunch or even make it to D.C. at all, it won’t be the end of the world. She has a copy of my presentation and can give it if she has to. The Universe is in charge. Whatever is meant to be will be.
I begin to read today’s on-line version of the New York Times. I subscribe to several online news magazines and newspapers, free and not free, and the New York Times, well it’s kind of the intellectual’s must even though I’m traveling to the Washington Post’s home base. It’s primary season which means about a million candidates running for everything from the Oval Office to the Post Office. I skim these assorted headlines but opt for an in-depth read of the entertainment section. Politics at this stage is like a spectator sport in the early rounds. I decide once again that I can wait at least until the playoffs come to my state to really tune in. Besides I’m a government bureaucrat, so it’s best to remain neutral as long as I can, since I have a job to do regardless of election outcomes; and there is the Hatch Act anyway.
After a few minutes of reading book and theater reviews, the tiny black words on the small illuminated screen begin to blur a little. I’m tired. Cat-napping does not make for restful sleep. Between nine last night and three this morning I must have woken up fifty times to anxiously check the alarm clock beside the bed. Why do I do this to myself, I grumble in my head. If I had flown up last night I could be having a room-service breakfast right now, watching an I Love Lucy rerun on the Hallmark Channel instead of having to endure the CNN broadcast blaring from overhead behind me. I sit up straight, stiffening my back, but my eyelids are steel curtains closing down by their own weight, and pulling my chin into my chest. It will be so great to get on the plane. I’ll sleep the whole way, I bargain with my body, I won’t even have a coffee. But my brain doesn’t trust me and overrules my will. Okay, I surrender, I’ll close my eyes for five minutes, you know, to rest them.
When my eyes reopen the sky is all blues and lavenders with increasing gold. It’s dawn and so later than five minutes. Also I’m no longer alone in the gate area. Sitting sort of across from me, his laptop plugged into an electrical outlet, is a man in a wheelchair. He is busy typing, and I’m kind of embarrassed for sleeping. I hope I didn’t drool or make those goofy jerking motions you make trying to keep your head upright. I fidget around now, dabbing at the corners of my mouth, checking to make sure the breast button on my blouse is as it should be.
Not that the man would notice. He’s on one side of the waiting area and I’m on the other, and he’s oblivious to me. Only the time and our destination make us companions. His obvious work ethic impresses me and almost shames me into taking out my own laptop. I could double-check my presentation, maybe make some speaking notes. But what I end up doing is checking him out and making some mental ones.
From the waist up he looks good. He has dark hair which is cut short, and there’s this Ryan Gosling kind of beard supplying a dark trim along the edges of his face. Probably because he gets a good workout rolling the chair, he’s got broad shoulders. They look nice in his tweedy brown blazer. His white dress shirt is open at the collar right now but a tie would perfectly if he put one on. He looks all right from the waist down too. His jeans are faded yes, but in the way I like, from wash and wear, not the acid kind. Dark brown Oxfords make his feet look quite normal except for the fact they’re sitting on the metal footplate attached to his wheelchair, and they never move. Do they make people in wheelchairs take off their shoes to go through Security? Maybe the chair is enough to get him an expedited pass. It is a for real one, black, even the wheels, and it has a low back. It also has the look of forever.
I used to have a neighbor who was a paraplegic. Tammy. Her chair was forever too. Her husband shot her and then killed himself. At home Tammy could sort of walk with crutches. I used to try not to watch her dragging her flaccid feet across the floor, wearing out the toes of her sneakers. In public she used her wheelchair, and that was the only time she would wear her heels—when she was in the chair. She bragged about having nice looking legs. She said she was pleased with her slim calves and delicate ankles. Seated she would cross them with confidence despite having to use her hands to pick them up to do it. But I suppose they did look nice.
When Tammy and I went places together I’d fold up her wheelchair for her and put it in the trunk of her car. She always insisted on driving. Maybe it was about control. Tammy was kind of bossy but I let her get away with it, and just took it in stride. Kind of like the way she took her disability. Her life wasn’t easy, but her crazy husband had failed to keep her from living it. You read about these kinds of things happening all the time. It’s always in the news. But I for one could never quite get over it, that love could turn out like that. It made you think and it made you leery, even if Tammy was an inspiring if cautionary tale.
I can’t stop watching my fellow traveler. I wonder what his tale is? Was he born that way? Was it due to some lover’s rage? Or just a happenstance encounter with a drunk driver? What time did he have to get up to catch a 7:20 flight?
Based on nothing really I decide he’s the type who has TSA Pre-Check status. No amateur travelers with bottles of water and unwieldy baby strollers for him. I know his kind I tell myself somewhat smugly. He’s cute enough to be cool in spite of the wheelchair. I can’t see his left hand but I bet there’s a ring. Hot guys his age—which is probably about the same as mine—are always officially off the market, even if they do play around in it. For sure somebody brought him to the airport this morning and kissed him goodbye. Freddie, my cat, hadn’t even gotten off the bed to walk me to the front door.
Suddenly I’m feeling very frumpy, and I tell myself that if I tried harder I might be able to get a ride to the airport sometime, or at least a kiss goodbye. I know that’s what Mother thinks. How in the world did she raise a daughter who’s more Marshall’s than Macey’s, when she herself is the Lord and Taylor type? I could do better. I’m not poor. I’m curvy but not ginormous. But of course there’s only so much you can do in the thirty-minute window I usually give myself to get ready for work, travel day or not. Fortunately, my office has pretty laid-back vibe. How well you work is more important than how good you look, and that’s all the excuse I need. While other women are fussing with their hair and perfecting their make-up I am generally sipping my coffee with Freddie on my lap and listening to NPR.
After a while I guess my friend finally senses me staring at him. He looks up. I try to send my gaze somewhere else but he’s quick and I’m caught. He reads me a moment, and I don’t look away. I deserve his irritation. People must stare at him all the time. But then he smiles. It a nice smile. I feel forgiven. He is wearing glasses with black frames, very retro. They fit him. He looks urbane, smart. Very Clark Kent. Superman in disguise, just too much kryptonite. I wear glasses too. Mine are rimless and maybe a little passé. I’m not brave enough or blind enough to do contacts, although Mother swears that I should, but maybe it’s at least time for new frames. I smile back as my face heats up. He’s got that kind of gaze, the kind that works even across a room. Thankfully my complexion and the distance between us is working in my favor to hide the blushing. It’s so silly.
“Morning,” he says.It’s just the one word but it invites me. It fills my head.
“Hi,” I say back, suddenly shy, like when the gorgeous guy asks you to dance and you’re scared to death. My companion stretches his arms up over his head. The open jacket reveals a relatively flat belly. I’m thinking he definitely works out because it looks like a decent chest under that white shirt. Some people are just naturally lean. They don’t have to work at it, fight it, just to maintain the way I do.
“Should be a law against seven a.m. flights, right?” he says.“At least we beat the rush,” I reply, wishing I had something clever to say, as he lifts himself a little in the chair, the way Tammy used to do. For circulation. His dancing days are over.
“True,” he agrees.
I don’t have anything else to say. It would be awkward to make conversation across the room anyway; and nothing in me empowers me to get up and move closer to him. Maybe if he weren’t tethered to that outlet. Maybe. Maybe. But that’s it. He goes back to work on his laptop and I look down at my phone again. Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses. Or wear flat practical shoes and comfortable cardigan sweaters.
I don’t look at him anymore, well I don’t stare, because I do keep glancing. All morning long, until the crowd grows large enough for me to lose him in it. He’s doing something important. Maybe he’s a Washington attorney, a mover and a shaker. I’m a program coordinator who reads the entertainment section of her New York Times because she can’t be bothered with politics. He’s definitely Zone One I soon convince myself, maybe first class. Don’t let the faded jeans fool you. He’s the understated type with nothing to prove, because his success is obvious. In any case people in wheelchairs get to board first regardless. I don’t begrudge him that. He’s entitled to a break. I’m just ridiculously sorry I’ll never know him. It feels like I’m missing out something. I’m sure I am. And all the while the airport intercom system keeps welcoming us and reminding us not to leave our baggage unattended.
Chapter TwoThere it is, ready and waiting for me, the damn aisle chair, and its minions, the over-eager, seldom helpful sky-caps. They send a team of two in cases like mine. This time one is a man and one is a woman. The woman’s on the burly side too because someone has equated size to strength, in case they have to lift me. They don’t. I park my chair close to the aisle chair and lock my brakes. He- and she-man keep watch. Check the attitude, Abbot, I tell myself.
“Do you need assistance with your transfer, Mr. Abbot?” the woman asks.Okay. Maybe she could handle me. Or anybody else who gets in her way for that matter.
“Nah,” I say. “Just be sure you got the wheels locked on your dolly.”
Oops. Attitude seeping through again. But I’m just making sure. Nothing like winding up on your ass at the end of a jet way being grabbed at by a bunch of frantic airline crew. I like it better when I can board the plane in my own chair. Usually I can. Usually I’m in first class. But Hal’s emergency meeting precluded planning, and Cindy couldn’t get me a first class seat. It’s going to be Coach today, and my chair won’t fit down the aisle. I had hoped that if I got to the airport extra early and for an extra early flight I’d have a shot at getting an upgrade. But it turns out everybody and their Aunt Biddy has to be in Washington today. Must be some sort of secret rally. The gate agents were asking people to sell their seats for a voucher and a later flight. Nobody was biting. The flight’s going to be packed. We’ll be crammed in there like sardines. So much for airline deregulation. My guess is they’d sell standing spaces on flights if they could, which would leave me out, unless maybe they attach me to a meat hook or something.
“Yes sir!” the woman chirps, grinning like we’re filming a commercial.Fly the friendly skies.
“Great!” I match her grin for grin.
I make the transfer and straighten my feet on the footplate before sitting back so they can strap me in. I’ve got good core strength and fine balance because I work at it, so I’m not going anywhere, but I suppose the airline just wants to make sure too. I can’t fault them for that. I know the drill. I’ve done this maybe a thousand times or so it feels. In my line of work travel is required. Admittedly it was easier before—hell it was an adventure before.
Back then I was on the road so much my apartment was like a post office box with a bed that I only occasionally slept in and I loved it. In those days I had an address out of necessity, so I could register to vote and get a driver license. If I was home long enough for guests what they found was a refrigerator stocked with not much more than hummus, Guinness, Tito’s Vodka, and Healthy Choice frozen dinners for the nights I got home too late to pick-up takeout. Things are different now. Before they discharged me from rehab my apartment lifestyle was upgraded to condominium level. The scant décor was no longer so much a matter of personal taste as it was a matter of physical convenience. Plus, I was about two feet shorter forever and that had to be accommodated.
Three years later I’m finally getting my mojo back. I have spent a lot of time back in the minors so to speak, reading about the big boys—and girls—drafting plans for what I could do for them. Lots of low-budget, low-level local and state legislature campaigns, grassroots organizing, as if I were fresh out of college. It's not how many times you get knocked down that count, it's how many times you get back up. Or so said George Custer before his last stand. Eventually I proved myself to everybody, myself included. And now I’m back in the majors again. Yeah, I don’t have the body anymore, but I still got the brain. I’m a master strategist. I can figure out anything. I know how to move the polls. On the radio or at a cable news desk I can sound and look pretty normal. And what matters most is that I know how to get results.
Never mind that travel is a little complicated now. I can’t take anything for granted. One missed flight connection, a venue without a ramp or with an out-of-service handicap toilet and I’m stuck like chuck, strategy or not. By and large the firm looks after me well. Cindy, who handles travel logistics for the senior staff, rarely misses a detail. But sometimes there’s just no room at the inn, or no seat in first class.
“I’ll take those,” I say reaching for my seat cushion and backpack.
The male sky-cap hands them to me and I hold them against my chest like the precious cargo that they are. Besides it gives my hands and arms something to do while I’m being hauled onto the plane like a piece of baggage. As they cart me away I take one last look at my chair, and try not to imagine the worse. It’s just separation anxiety. The former enemy is now the faithful friend, and more than that. I’m like a cyborg and that critical example of essential technology the baggage man is nonchalantly tagging for the cargo hold, is a part of my body, a part that works. I cannot afford to lose it.
My crummy seat is nobody’s fault, I grouse to myself as they roll me pass the first bulkhead, through first class, pass the second bulkhead, to my seat on Row 24. I’m in the middle of Coach. The belly of the beast, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Video conferencing is great but it doesn’t take the place of face to face in person. In our business we need to read people, take it to the third and fourth dimensions. Right now the political landscape is a hand to hand combat zone. Armies are at war all over the country. It’s beginning to feel like old times for me again almost. I’m up for it. Come November we get to rest a little, taking some time to pat ourselves on the back or lick our wounds, or both as the case may be. For now, any and every day we can be in crisis mode. The firm generously cut me some slack when it first happened, and gave me time to adjust to it, to become the new me I was forced to be. I don’t expect, need, or want that kind of break anymore. I can pull my weight or wheel it anyway.
At least I’m in the aisle seat on Row 24. Passengers A and B will have to crawl over me. That’s life. I toss my seat cushion in my seat and put my backpack in the middle seat for the time being. Then I sit passively as Mr. Sky-Cap unstraps me. I can do it but I have learned that these folks want to do it themselves. Maybe somebody sued. Maybe it’s just their job. Resistance is futile. Besides I’m no different. Help is four-letter word too. I place my feet on the floor and pause a couple of seconds readying myself for the transfer. Normally I’m smooth and fast when it comes to making transfers, but this is Coach and not much room for error. I still have a 6’2” frame. My legs are long and my feet are big. The sky-caps are probably a little nervous too. If I go splat—well I just won’t. That’s all there is to it. You’re almost home-free, Abbot, I say in my head. Do not screw this up. I don’t, and once I’m confident my ass is securely situated I focus on getting my feet right in the tight space. So far I haven’t had a spasm and I’d like to keep it that way.
“I can stow that for you,” the woman offers, pointing to my backpack, meaning she’ll put it in the overhead bin above my seat.Yeah, right.
“That’s okay, I’ll keep it here,” I reply. “It fits under the seat.”
“It can’t be in the way of your feet,” she reminds me officiously.
I almost laugh. My feet are in the way of my feet. If there’s an emergency evacuation, Passengers A and B will be almost as screwed as me, and not because of some wrongly-placed backpack. But I keep it together though. Mrs. Sky-Cap is clearly serious about her work.
“It won’t be,” I tell her.Proving it I stuff the backpack neatly under the seat in front of me, leaving ample space between it and the tips of my Sebago Oxfords. I look up at Mrs. Sky-Cap like the smart-ass school boy I used to be, turning on the charm with a big smile no deeper than my lips.
“Okay,” she says beaming down at me, actually tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “Looks good.”
Reaching into my breast-pocket I pull out two five dollar bills and give one to each of the sky-caps. They thank me and are on their way back up the aisle. Alone at last I blow out a big sigh of relief. I text Hal that I’m on the plane and should be at the office by ten-thirty. The lucky son-of-a-bitch is probably just now getting up. It would be easier if I moved to D.C. worked out of the home office, but I didn’t move before because I like being close to my folks. And now I also don’t want to move because my rehab center is primo. If there’re going to be any miracles they’re likely to happen here or get here pretty quickly. And if something else happens to me it’s probably best be close to Mom and Dad, and Nancy, my sister. I don’t like having to think like that, with conditions, but as I tell my clients, you got to recognize your limitations and deal with them.
A few rows up towards the front of the plane, an elderly couple is settling in their seats. The wife sits by the window and she’s in charge, telling the husband what to put in the overhead bin, what to keep with them in their seats. I have to laugh. They remind me of my grandparents. Grand-dad’s old school, and allegedly head of household, but I suspect across his chest there’s a tattoo that reads: Yes, dear, I’ve heard him say it so much. But he doesn’t mind it I don’t think. Maybe I wouldn’t either. I used to think I had plenty of time to settle down and a lot to offer when I did. I admit to playing the game with the aces I’d been dealt. I enjoyed myself. But my hot hand got complicated too. Grand-dad and Gran who are way up there in years have been together their whole lives. They started out young, so that they’re like one person now, and greater than the sum of their parts. I suppose that's how it's supposed to be. Maybe that's good.
The rest of the passengers begin trickling down the aisle. It’s the stream before the river, and a deluge of loosely defined carry-on luggage. That was me before too. If I could carry it on then it was carry-on. These days I check my bags for obvious reasons. The current fills the first-class section, and begins to flood Coach. I’m kind of hoping that 24’s A and B board sooner than later to get the hard part over, but I’m dreading it. Wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t show up at all? Maybe Cindy should have reserved me a window seat. Maybe it’s selfish on my part to take the aisle. What if they’re old and decrepit or something? It’s not fair to make them climb over me.
In the slow-moving, stop-and start parade of passengers I spot Sleepy-time- gal. She was the first person at the gate this morning, but I see she couldn’t get an upgrade either. She stared at me all morning now I’m watching her. Turnabout’s fair play. She makes her way down the aisle. At about Row 20 she stops, and pretty impressively swings her rollerboard up over her head and into an open bin. She’s strong, and not burly either. And bonus: lifting up the suitcase pulls her black sweater up revealing a nice ass. Not quite a Beyoncé butt, but definitely in that league. She’s fit. I can see her in a Zumba class. I bet she likes to shake that rump, under the guise of exercise of course. She looks too goody-two-shoes to be otherwise.
Her bag stowed, Sleepy-time-gal continues down the aisle towards me, and we make eye contact. She smiles a little. I smile back a little more. She’s probably embarrassed for gawking at me from before. She has no idea I liked it. It’s one thing to get the freak look and another to get the look. When I first got out of rehab mainly I got no look. People averted their eyes or looked over the top of my head. That still happens but I try not to let it bother me or deny me what I want. Sleepy-time-gal’s look revealed the kind of curiosity a guy is usually interested in exploring. And I’ll be dammed if she isn’t stopping at Row 24. I didn’t make her for a first-move kind of girl, but hey, maybe...
“I’m in B,” she tells me.She smiles again, still just a little but it brightens her eyes. I can see it despite her glasses. She’s nervous too. Something about me flusters her in a good way.
“Okay,” I say.
I can’t stand up to let her by but she knows that. She carefully tosses her huge tote bag into her seat, says a quiet “Sorry”, and quickly steps over me.
“No problem,” I say.
For the instant that she straddles we could have been face to face but she keeps her head down. I smell the sweet scent of vanilla. I like it. I hate sitting next to women drowning in heavy perfume, especially now. The old me would have probably put my hands on Sleepy-time’s waist pretending to help her, like a warped and purely selfish boy scout. But the old me could have gotten up to let her pass. I keep my hands on the arm rests.
Once she’s in her seat, she manages to get the tote bag beneath the seat in compliance with airline regulations. She straightens up, straightens her blouse, and adjusts her overhead vent. I’m a little chilly but then my thermostat doesn’t always work as it should. I do see tiny beads of sweat along her hairline. She should take off her sweater, but I’m guessing that won’t happen.
I pull out the in-flight magazine from the seat pocket and begin flipping through the pages. I could give less than a damn about what to do and where to eat in D.C. I’d rather make conversation, just for the hell of it of course, with Sleepy-time-gal, whom I now christen Miss B, but she’s muy occupado with her Blackberry. I really should do the same.
The passenger river has slowed to a trickle again and the window seat is still vacant. I can’t make up my mind if I want it to stay that way. The extra space would be nice, but I don’t mind having Miss B next to me. Maybe she’s only trying to make up for the staring at me earlier but she’s conscientiously giving me all of the arm rest between us by holding her arms tightly to her sides. Unless she’s one of those types who behave as if they’re deathly afraid to touch a gimp, like we’re contagious or something, or cursed with some bad juju. But I don’t think that’s it. She’s just being extra polite, and the gesture smooshes her full breasts together so that a pair of soft looking chocolate mounds crest just above the top of her blouse; a pretty nice reward for every side sneak-peak I steal. I’ll lose that if she moves over to the window. Miss B is hot in a simple, wholesome way; a plain canvas that would dress-up very well.
When Mr. A finally shows up, he’s loaded down naturally with his carry-on. “I got the window,” he informs me and Miss B. “Mind putting this on my seat?” he asks thrusting a beat-up canvas bag at the two of us. I take it and pass it to her. She takes it and places the bag in the waiting seat. Window Pain, I immediately decide to call him, still needs to stow his over-stuffed rollerboard, and very few overhead bins remain open. He starts opening the closed ones and slamming them back down in frustration. What’s with people? Very quickly it looks like Window Pain will be checking his bag, something he should have done in the first place.
The clock is ticking, threatening the on-time departure. A flight attendant rushes up to Window Pain to see what can be done, as another attendant is announcing that the forward door has been closed, “In preparation for take-off, all passengers must be in their seats with their seat belts securely fastened before we can push back,” she says. And here’s Window Pain standing in the middle of the aisle with his big suitcase, the big dope. Still another flight attendant arrives to assist the first one. “Give it to me,” I hear the second attendant snap a little too loudly and sharply for it to be friendly customer service, and she grabs the rollerboard, charging back up front with it in her arms.
“Sir, please take your seat,” the first attendant now says to Window Pain.“Please make sure your seat backs are straight and in the upright position and your tray tables are stowed,” the intercom attendant tells us.
Window Pain returns to our row and stands waiting, towering over me. I guess what he expects me to do but that’s not going to happen.“It’d be easier if you two step out and let me in,” he says to me and Miss B.
That it would be, and Miss B is already up on her feet in an effort to create some space.
“You’ll have to step over me,” I say.
This irritates him. He’s a big man. It’s not going to be easy for him. If he crushes one of my toes I could be battling spasms all the way to D.C.
“Come on, man,” Window Pain insists. “Get up and let me in. You’re holding up the plane.”“We can’t leave ‘til everybody is seated,” intercom attendant repeats as if to make his case.
Now I’m angry. I’ve done everything right but he’s blaming me. Like I have a goddamn choice. I focus my eyes on the seat back in front of me, and I’m counting the way they taught us in rehab. Four…Five…Six…
“Dammit man, move out of the way so I can get to my seat,” Window Pain says.
Nine…Ten…Eleven…But I’m breathing too fast. If this gets any uglier they could throw us both off the plane, only they’d have to haul me out. That kind of delay fucks up everybody’s day.
“What’s the matter?” I hear a flight attendant ask. “Sir, please take your seat.”
“I’m trying to,” Window Pain replies his voice raised. “But this--”
“He can’t,” Miss B cuts him off. “Just. Step. Around.”
I don’t look at her, or at him, but the situation’s different now. She has changed it. Muttering something furious and profane Window Pain squeezes himself passed me, putting his denim-covered ass in my face in the process. Seconds later I hear the metal clicks of seat belts being fastened. I’m coming down now, breathing more evenly. The plane pushes back. I’m embarrassed. How was Window Pain supposed to know he had asked me to do what was impossible? I didn’t have a temper before. When things got hinky most of the time I’d shrug it off, and if need be I’d just walk away. I think about saying thank you to Miss B for her intervention but I keep hearing her words in my head: He can’t.