Flash Fiction By Sam Dineen
A neon orange cigarette and a soft beeping signified the years of airline travel gone by, the law had prohibited smoking on planes over a decade ago, but the light still blinked to let you know, no matter what, you couldn’t light one up.
Shuffling, I pull at the rigid belt around my stomach, pressing my temple up to the thick glass window and letting the vibrations of the mechanics shake the brain inside my skull. Below, the clouds look as if they may soon part, revealing miles and miles of unending sea.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we hope you are enjoying your flight …. We are currently travelling at 41,000 feet and there are blue skies ahead”
Looking 41,000 feet below the sea was a mirror image of the sky, blue and hazy, stretching as far as my eye could see. Something about the lack of all other kinds of object set me off, and my heart rate raised as I felt my eyes dart around in my head like a swarm of bees, desperate in search of a coast, or even a boat. Eventually one rolled by- a tiny white rectangle with lights and sails, I’m sure, but to me it was un-detailed and abstract. Thinking about it, the people on that boat probably have a similar sense of dread- of being the only thing in sight, floating around alone in their conquest to be elsewhere. I thought about the things I had read about the world way back in its early days, before the plates started moving apart, how it at one point, was all one big chunk of land. I thought about it until my head hurt, indecisive of whether or not that would be better or worse for travel. I thought about it until the little boat rolled off further into the sea, beyond the section of it I could spy from this window. I pictured the people on board pointing up at me and sighing with relief as I fly overhead, a reminder that they are not the only things left in the world, their collective heart rate slowing down to a steady, reassuring hum.
That’s the thing about flying, it’s so lonely. You have the kids crying and the drunk men shouting, maybe even a snoring seating partner if you’re unlucky enough- but everyone on board is everyone there is for a few hours. Once the preparation for landing begins the loneliness disappears, replaced with cliff edges, mountain tops, beaches, toy cars buzzing down motorways, patches of turquoise blue if you’re travelling somewhere hot enough to tolerate outdoor swimming. And all those things mean people. Likely to be people you’ve never met and may never meet, who are busy with their own hikes and sunbathing, driving, swimming, living, and by the slightest chance they may look up and see you fly by with a puff of white behind your tail, and they may wonder if you’ve come from some place remarkable.
The people on the boat won’t see the coast for a while, and when they do it will be less out of the blue and “Oh, here we are!” and more slow and steady, watching the skyline un-blur into focus in the distance. They see more detail at the end of it all, their ship enclosing into the docks as the neon lights or thatched cottages of whatever place they’ve arrived at get closer, maybe they see carnivals, or dogs on leashes, loved ones waving hello- or, like us up above, maybe even perfect strangers by the shore. All those kinds of things make those last ten minutes on board longer, the awkward toe tapping wait to get off, to be let loose somewhere new and work out the nooks and crannies of the ground your feet have landed on.
I walk through the airport, my suitcase rolling behind me, sounding like hard beating rain. People ran to each other, men in suits stood with signs written in Spanish, French, German- all ending in the names of whoever they have been employed to pick up. Kids ran around the cafes and stores, parents waving fingers at them and telling them off in a language I could not comprehend. Slipping through the rotating door and into the world outside, I felt the hot air on my face and took a deep breath, gazed around at all the people I had never met, and prepared myself to get lost in it.