Bodies on Planes
As an adult, whose life includes experiences, I know perfectly well that there is no stack of letters idyllically accumulating beneath the threshold of my doorway. I know that there is no comforting mid-century stereotype of a mailman, cocking and shaking his head, shoving said letters into the inaugural square foot of my apartment, privately wishing me well. I am well aware that every card I’ve received that’s not from Papyrus was the result of someone who sort of knows me standing in the candy/holiday/clearance aisle of a Safeway and congratulating himself/herself on selecting a card with exactly the right amount of condolences and a trendy-but-muted envelope color without all the cursive and religious stuff for less than $6.95. I am entirely conscious of the fact that their half-baked grievances are stacked and rubber-banded at the Devon Avenue Post Office, waiting to be retrieved by yours truly from an extremely condescending postal clerk at a time and date of my choosing.
But the joke’s on them, because I am not coming. I am halfway down the gangplank of a 747 (or whatever nondescript commercial airliner) and I am knee-deep in Everclear and Welsh Corgi, the two most notable purchases I’ve made in the past six hours. The latter is masquerading as a service dog, although what service an animal with six-inch legs could possibly perform is a glaring mystery, while the former represents a strategy to end my miserable life aboard the aircraft. It bears noting that the former is strapped inside the adorable service vest of the latter, and that sloshing vials of pure alcohol are best transported under the veil of sheer fucking cuteness, which has yet to be corrupted by the assiduity of airport security.
Halfway to my seat, I am presumed to be blind. It’s an incidental but logical development, brought on by a perfect storm of general clumsiness, an indoor animal, and Ray-Bans. I wade through a sea of crime novels embossed with their half-cooked, punny titles, and locate my seat, absolutely no one perplexed that I didn’t need Braille to identify the seat number. They’re too busy congratulating themselves on the idea that they’ll speak elegantly and helpfully hand me something, should the occasion arise.
I open a bottle, cagily unscrewing and sipping, feeling the flashbacky shame of a junior high hayride, wondering if I should have sprung for first class. I find myself desperate to hold something. I pick up my dog, this heavy, warm, shivering creature. Obliviously content, he licks my hand. The damp fur around his neck suggests that I’ve been crying, silently, onto the top of his head for hours. I detach the remainder of the quarter-bottles of Everclear from my little dog’s vest - I have just now decided to name him ‘Yes,’ like the hero of a never-to-be-made festival film - and load them into the seatback pocket like ammunition.
With a rush of acute regret I realize, for the first time and with sinking dread, that someone will be seated next to me. That my endeavor to suck down grain alcohol until I convert to a corpse may not be apropos. On the heels of my anxiety, this someone presents herself in the shape of a modest, earnest-looking brunette who obliquely introduces herself via a pandering hello to my dog. “Small for a guide dog,” she says, to me. This woman - let's call her Elle - is fully on board with the impression that I am completely and definitely blind. I cannot look her in the eye; not doing so is easy - all I can think of sincerely is what happens to a dead body aboard an international flight: whether its seatmate is spared from the carnage via some rare protocol involving a stilted announcement and a well-meaning set of waifish flight attendants demurely hauling the corpse to the rear coffee station beneath a clean white sheet from the forward cabin, striving to conjure some makeshift dignity, scrambling for whatever wisdom the employee handbook might have to offer on the subject - and it is this brutish melange of panic and pity that Elle mistakes for romantic interest.
Yes in my lap, Elle stroking his paws, her fingertips trailing mock-absently to my knee, I look through my purportedly blind eyes to these objects I’ve named, feeling gut-sick. Elle is kind, ripe, oblivious - she is a sudden perfect ten, dripping with the unleashed confidence of a woman addressing a blind man, to whom all women are equally beautiful.
We converse for an hour, of which I remember virtually nothing. I register that she is a real person, obviously – someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, very likely someone’s wife. I memorize everything with rigor and forget it immediately. We are flying to Colombia for our own plausible, unremarkable reasons, which we mutually pretend to find fascinating. For my part, I am a farmer, a sudden and alacritous liar; the season has been favorable; eggplant is tricky, but rewarding.
My mind is on white white white white lilies. Beautiful, hackneyed, no-prefix standard fucking lilies. I am wondering whether they’ll use my wife’s flowers for me too, or if the timing will be off. I'm forgivably hazy on the longevity of lilies. I think of wanting to be buried inside her casket, of the way that our bodies fit - do I have any crazy allies on the ground who might pitch this idea? is there a precedent? - and feel a sudden wash of nausea and ridiculousness at being so far away from her. I wonder if I've left anything out of the will, handwritten, on the island table, the way one wonders about leaving the oven on.
Among the bright hollow sound effects communicating the urgency of fastening one’s seatbelt, I hear Elle say, “I'm going to use the ladies’ room,” her mouth fondling the words in a bout of unmistakable over-articulation.
I aurally register the metallic click of her seatbelt, like an actual blind person. Looking out the window, I feel her sympathy warm on the back of my neck, her flushed remorse for the blue sky she thinks I can’t see.
There is no romantic drinking oneself to death, only scientific drinking oneself to death.
Mentally logging my bouncing baby aphorism, I pluck a bottle from the seatback pocket, liberating it from its niche behind a neglected safety manual featuring cartoon people at an airplane crash-themed waterpark. In the 90 seconds I estimate it will take my seatmate to compose herself, I drink the entire bottle. Feeling my esophagus shed its internal fascia like a snake, I appreciate what those fellows at carnivals must feel, swallowing the sword.
With a swift kiss delivered to the top of Yes’s head, the gentle directive to ‘Stay,’ I wade through four meters of air that has become molasses. I wonder (sort of, not caring) whether this inching forward by gripping strangers’ seatbacks, alternating footsteps with the lax confidence of hoping for the best, loosely resembles the behavior of a blind person.
I knock on the bathroom door, like an amateur. And then, by magic, I am inside and hearing the door latch, Elle’s hands guiding mine the way you would pilot a blind man’s hands. Everything is pure, extravagant texture, clawing its way through eviscerating numbness.
I try to remember if this is the first time I’ve ever had sex with sunglasses on, and decide that it probably is. Elle is biting my mouth; grappling with my belt; likening me, for some indiscernible reason, to a bloodhound. I don’t understand what this means, so I stay silent. With the sensation of having swallowed a nail salon, I pick her up and shove her against the mirror, positioning her on the narrow counter beside the sink. I am forgetting everything.
And then, unlocked, she is breathing all the wetness of her lungs into my ear. She is whispering whatever name I told her was mine, her long, slender legs tangled like vines around a condemned building.
She comes in an elaborately silent scream against my neck, and I wonder, fleetingly, how such an indisputably uncomfortable thing has become a cultural phenomenon. I bite her collarbone, lift her gently from the countertop, then come in the sink, like an old pro.
Her kiss lands and evaporates on the corner of my mouth, and I hear the plastic door click open, then shut. I turn and vomit instantly: 600 milliliters of pure alcohol spill over my lips into the most translucent bodily fluid any human has ever produced. A bright, courteous ding requisitions one to return to one’s seat with one’s seatbelt fastened. I finish undoing my suicidal handiwork, flushing the short-lived attempt into oblivion. I wash my hands, shaking, staring into the streaky mirror. The ding, again, the polite command to remain in one’s seat, with one’s seatbelt fastened, until the captain has turned off the Fasten Seatbelt sign.
I take off my sunglasses, rub my temples. I begin to cry violently. My body racks and aches, primally confused. I put the sunglasses back on. To my surprise and disappointment, I look great. I look blind.
I open the door to the little bathroom, stepping back into the stiff, cagey air of the cabin. To the right, toward the coffee station, a pert flight attendant looks back at me in horror. Mentally, I gather the frayed threads of an extemporaneous defense of my bathroom tryst, but soon realize that this is not why she looks horrified. At her feet, near her uniform blue pumps, a body lies covered in a white sheet, stretched out straight, with makeshift dignity, beneath the coffee station.
I cannot believe it. I was right.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“Thank you,” she says.
We look at each other, our eyes glazed with the weirdly mistaken, grateful sadness of not being this fellow beneath the sheet.
I return to my seat, stepping over Elle, making no further pretense of being blind. Yes bounds onto my knees with a kind of blithe, directionless urgency, a history of present moments coiled in his small limbs. My mind is generating names, hundreds of names, none of them permanent, none of them mine. The taste of bile and Everclear fresh in my mouth, I order a cup of coffee and survey the slick blue-green ocean, punctuated by boats like divots in glass. With the bright, doomed hope of a hundred little impending deaths, I begin to wonder what Colombia will look like.