My eyes are closed, my body is warm and the soothing white noise ubiquitous to air travel makes me feel like this reality is, in fact, a dream. I’m awake but I haven’t opened my eyes yet. I can tell that the lights are low beyond my eyelids and in moving my head here and there without really being aware of it, the various shades of non-black that I can see transition seamlessly before me. I’m wading in the shallow clouds of sleep but they evaporate as my blood begins to circulate more vibrantly. Just then, in the delusional logic of a disappearing dream, the concept of darkness and warmth seem one and the same. But then it’s gone and I can’t understand it anymore.
This very well may be a dream, and were I not so normally grounded in the physical sensations of what one might call objective reality, I might be able to convince myself otherwise (when I was in preschool, my teachers told my mom that I was a tactile learner - I like to feel things). So I feel the slack muscles in my legs growing sore from their since unbroken position, my right elbow digs uncomfortably into the side of the armrest, the headphones have made my ears unpleasantly warm, I have a painful erection that must have manifested itself in my sleep and I feel an itch blossoming from my crushed oily hair against the leather seat. All of these things tell me I’m awake. Tactile. I can open my eyes now.
The click of the tape player was what woke me up. The tape stopping that is, and the sound of the play button jutting violently back into its idle position. Some of the tape’s last words are recovered from my memory as I transition into the land of the living. What do you see? My dad’s glowing skeleton asked himself. I take the headphones off but the echoes of those words still bounce around in my brain. What do you see? Well, skeleton dad, I see the empty cabin of the plane in a low light ubiquitous to nighttime air travel. It’s empty. I lean my head into the aisle to verify this emptiness. Check. Behind me? Also empty. The rows of seats are all punctuated with dark windows that show the various shades of non-black in the night sky. What do I see? I’m the only passenger on the plane…
I was a bit confused when I went to hand my boarding pass to the check-in agent. My quizzical look was enough to prompt an expected response to my unasked question. “A statistical impossibility, if there ever was one,” she said with a wink and knowing smile. I looked back at the empty terminal blanketed in the gloom of the evening sky, backlit by the otherwise busy walkway. I looked at her again, hesitant to move. She nodded, eyes closed, and showed me the way with her comically gesticulated arms. Looking back up at me she asked, sincerely, and in verse:
Can you think of anything
Through the air
That should not pass,
Than a massive bird forged
Of metal and glass?
I might have been able to, but I lost my answer in the ghostly echoes of flight announcements behind us. So the rhetorical riddle won. A smile was all I could come up with.
I went down the empty fluorescent-lit corridor, hyperaware of my existence. The space reminded me, as I communicated with it in the low hum of my luggage rolling on the ground and my aimless tapping fingers on the walls, that I was alone. Bizarre. But before I could get too existential, a male flight attendant graciously saluted me as I boarded the plane and I strode down the narrow aisle to have my pick of the seats. The first row has legroom, sure, but having that blank wall in front of me always seemed a bit…oppressive. So with comparable legroom and a greater expanse of space, the emergency exit row was my top pick. Aisle. In the case of this empty plane, that is. Window, of course, had there been other passengers. But my unique situation afforded me a view of the sky and priority access to the perpetually vacant restrooms.
Instead of drawing attention to my strange situation, the flight attendants went about their pre-flight performances as normal, which was perhaps even more strange. Throughout their routine, I caught them looking at people that weren’t there and feigning phantom motions to the same non-existent people to put their tray tables up and get their seats into the fully upright and locked positions. A female flight attendant approached me, finally, to ask if I was willing and capable to perform the necessary tasks in case of an emergency evacuation. “I need a verbal ‘yes’ from all of you,” she told me with a cool glassy stare. Yes…Felicia. Smile. Exit right.
This left the cabin empty. Flight attendants where I couldn’t see them, the tinny disembodied voice on the intercom gone and the pilots behind closed doors. Empty. I was alone. Had I known this was going to happen, I would have been a bit more at ease. Instead I was a bit more anxious. Like sitting at a beach and watching the ocean recede hundreds of feet into the distance. Serenity punctuated by terror. Where were the other passengers? Did they know something I didn’t? My mom bought me the ticket, what did she know? Have I walked into a trap? Were these people terrorists who set up phony flights to off Americans one by one? Probably not… My anxiety decreased in a perfect inverse relationship to the plane’s increased elevation and we both achieved a peaceful equilibrium at the cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. You can now turn on your approved electronic devices. The flight attendants are about to make their rounds for drink orders. Perfect.
In yet another example of the eerie normalcy of the air travel routine, I watched Felicia come down the aisle with the drink cart in careful calculated steps as fluid as if she were walking underwater. She pulled up and smiled as if we hadn’t already met and formed a verbal contract that I would save her life, should the occasion arise.
“What’ll it be…” she said, searching for my non-existent nametag.
“Greg. Scotch would be great.”
“Scotch for Greg, billionaire jet-setter who buys out entire flights to travel alone.” Finally someone pointed it out. Clearly it was tongue-in-cheek, and I gave her a smile to commend her wit. But up until then, I had almost convinced myself this was some complex hallucination. Did my mom drug me?! No, no, we’re done asking those questions.
From the hammerspace of the dark interior of the drink cart, Felicia produced a Scotch glass and a bottle of Macallan 30. It took all of my strength to not blurt out "Holy shit," but in my widening eyes she could gather the sentiment all the same. I inspected the glass atop the drink cart as she reached further into its depths and I was impressed at the attention to detail. Thick glass at the bottom and an overall shape that curved slightly inwards from the base to the lip.
"How do you take it?" she asked, done with her rummaging.
"How about a little extra flare?" She showed me an orange she got from the drink cart, framed in her hand by iridescent, sky-blue nail polish.
"Sounds good barkeep."
The bottle looked new and this was verified when she twisted the cap with a little extra force to break the seal. It snapped, satisfyingly filling the empty cabin with its sound. Bottle opened, she poured the perfect amount into the glass, exactly the thickness of the base. She pulled a small knife from some unseen pocket on her hip and grabbed the orange to cut off a slice of its rind. She gave the rind a little squeeze between her thumb and forefinger and then rubbed the released oils around the rim of the glass.
“Expertly prepared.” I smiled.
“Let me know if I can get you anything else.” There was a breathy quality to her voice that struck me as unusually erotic. Those blue fingernails. Quick flashes of us fucking in the bathroom came and left my imagination as I said “Thank you.”
She walked away as smoothly as she came in and handed me the bottle behind her as she did so. I returned my stare to the magnificent drink on my tray table and the bottle of Macallan 30 in my hand. Brilliant. I peeked back at her receding form to see what her hips had to offer, lest my imagination need more accurate detail. But a click from above distracted my attention and I looked up to watch an overhead compartment slowly open by itself. Felicia didn’t look back, continuing to give me a show, but I looked up again to see if it was where I had put my luggage. It wasn’t there. But a Siamese cat jumped deftly from the compartment onto the floor in the aisle of the cabin. It stopped for a moment to look at me but decided I wasn’t worth wasting time on. It blinked, licked its outstretched leg a few times and followed Felicia into the cockpit, imitating her gait.
Felicia’s delayed scent came to me after she vanished from the cabin. Biting and floral. I inhaled deeply and focused intensely on the aroma, enough to give me a little buzz that returned the fresh eroticism of her presence. Sky-blue fingernails. After a few pumps of blood made its way into my erection, I returned my attention to my drink. I picked up the glass, noting its satisfying heft and looked at the etched logo in the center. The airline’s logo. A stylized contour of a top-down view of an airplane within a perfect circle. With the glass so close to my face, I lost all sight or concept of space. The whiskey, a glistening copper sea. The glass, an invisible celestial sphere. My hand, God’s hand, witnessing his glimmering handiwork. I took a sniff above the rim of the glass and the citrus oils became more intoxicating than the alcohol. Seeing that I had plenty more in the bottle I placed on the middle seat, I greedily gulped the delicious drink and poured myself another. I told myself that I would be a little less hasty with this one.
I saw my cassette player and headphones that I had stashed in the pocket in front of me and bring them out onto the tray table. I put the headphones on, large ovular ear pads that should have cupped my ears but instead compressed them against my head. I adjusted them to fit snugly, closed my eyes and listened as the world went silent. My fingers blindly found the play button and I heard its short muffled click, waiting for the imminent hiss of blank tape. I opened my eyes to find my drink in front of me and then looked around the cabin to see the Siamese cat sitting in the center of the aisle staring at me. I lifted my drink to toast the mysteriously materializing feline and sunk my nose into the orange scented glass. I took a slow sip, letting the intense nutty and fruity notes caress my tongue. It finished more smoothly than any whiskey I’ve ever tasted. Felicia’s scent came back, augmenting my intoxication and returning my erection. I took a look back at the cat and then closed my eyes. The drink took me into the arms of sleep and my dad’s distant voice played in my ears while I dreamed.
As we make our final descent into Kansas City we’d like to thank you for choosing Ultramarine Air…
My eyes are open, my lap is warm and the white noise ubiquitous to all sleeping cats comes from the dozing Siamese dreaming on my knees. I idly stroke its body as it purrs vigorously on my slowly decreasing erection. Did you know your body produces testosterone while you sleep? The good thing about waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle, as I just did on the plane, is you get to be awake for this hormone rush and it does wonders for the libido. Of course, in the long-term, poor sleep patterns like this will kill your libido, but it’s fun every once in a while. At any rate, it doesn’t do much good for me now, though. The cat on my crotch kind of kills the whole thing. I’ll probably regain some of my vigor when I get home, jerk off thinking about Felicia and get back to the sleep that I lost on this flight.
Someone must have come over and cleared the Macallan and the glass while I was dozing. They took care of my tray table and seat too so I was ready to properly descend. Maybe it was Felicia. Maybe she accidentally brushed her open palm over my crotch while she was cleaning up. Sky-blue fingernails. I peek out the window to see Kansas City in the nighttime landscape. The patterns of streetlights and nocturnal buildings make me think of some bioluminescent octopus adrift in a dark midnight sea. As if reacting to my flowery thoughts, the Siamese cat wakes up and nimbly walks over to the window, clearing the armrests like hurdles, to catch a view herself. She looks back at me with eyes more remarkable than I remember. Cerulean marbles with a quick slit of black down the middle. An opening to a darker universe cradled in a clear blue sky. Serenity punctuated by terror.
“I never caught your name.” I tell her. She looks away, out the window.
“Kridsada,” I hear. But of course the cat didn’t say this, right? I check the headphones at my neck for phantom noises, look at my inert cassette player and try to hone in on some peripheral conversations the flight attendants might be having to find a source for this aural hallucination.
“Kridsada.” I say to myself. She looks back, licks her chops and leaps under the seats, gone away to entertain some other poor sap in another dimension.
I lift the armrests in the seats and shuffle over to the window to get a better look of what was keeping Kridsada so acutely aware. Behind the wing billowing storm clouds were beginning to plot their course into the city, preening themselves with ostentatious flashes of lightning. The idea hadn’t occurred to me before now, but this is the first time that I was seeing a thunderstorm from above. As with the empty plane, I tried to focus my attention on the rarity of such an occurrence and appreciate every molecule of it. Felicia ruined it, though.
“Greg!” I look back at her. “Seat belt.” She mimes putting on a seatbelt in a show of unintended condescension.
“Right. Sorry. I, uhh…forgot this wasn’t my private jet.” She didn’t seem to get my referencing her former joke. She watched me fumble my way back into my seat and secure my seatbelt as if it were contractually obliged, which she probably was. Wide eyes and fake smile, she seemed to know every illicit thought I had about her, but was forced to stay to ask, “Anything else?” Her hand rested on the seat in front of me. Iridescent. Sky-blue. Nail polish.
“Whose cat is that?” She looks around her, then back at me, scoffs and walks away to torture some other poor sap in a darker universe.