The Aircraft


"In an interstellar burst I am back to save the universe!"
—Radiohead

At the airport, Sarah and I sat waiting for the announcement.  For the plane.  Over and over there was an announcement for a lost child:  would the parents please come and claim their lost child.  It had been lost for a long time, and it was crying.  I saw him, a little boy who looked like me, lost and crying.  I almost went to claim him, to take him home.  I know he would have gone with me.  I wondered if his parents had left him at the airport.
      "Do you think his parents left him here on purpose?" I asked Sarah.  She was rubbing her legs.
      "Whose parents?" she said.
      "The lost child?  The one they keep announcing."
      "I haven't heard any announcement."
      "They've been announcing it since we got here.  There he is," I said, pointing to the boy.
      Sarah looked at him, then leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.  "Probably just lost," she said.
      I had to beg Sarah to come with me to the airport.  I couldn't have done it alone.  We loved each other—or I think we did.  I wanted to stay with her anyway, especially now.  I wanted to fall asleep with her, to sleep through the announcement, to miss the plane.  I closed my eyes but didn't sleep.

*

It was raining hard when I got in the plane.  Everyone on the plane looked as nervous as me.  All adults, all about my age.  Outside it was dark and I was scared.  I heard people moan, heard some cry a little.  I did, too.  I couldn't help it.  No one looked at each other.  No one cared—they were all doing it.  Everyone.  We were all scared and crying and we wanted to stay in here in the dark, in the rain, we wanted to get out and get soaked in the rain on the ground and be safe, even though we knew we had to go.
      The plane lifted and lifted and went through the black clouds and into the bright sun.  I sat alone, next to the window.  A man started screaming when he saw the sun, and we all started screaming with him.
      The captain got on the intercom and said, "Settle down.  I know you're all scared.  Settle down.  There's a little turbulence, but it's all sunny and clear now, so settle down please."
      Attendants scattered everywhere murmuring, "Settle down.  Settle down."
      Later, when we were allowed out of our seats, I pretended to walk to the bathroom, but I really just needed to get up.  I meandered down the aisle, noticing that everyone had two seats to themselves, that they all sat alone.  I sat down next to a random person.  "Ever flown?" I asked him.
      "No," he said.
      "Me neither," a woman behind us said.
      "Has anyone here flown?" a man beside us said, standing up, holding his arms apart and his palms up.  We all said no, that we'd never flown before.  "Look at my palms and my gesture," he said.
      An attendant got up and walked in to the cockpit.  A few seconds later, the pilot talked to us on the intercom again:  "It seems this is an unusual trip.  All of the passengers have never flown.  All the airline attendants are new.  And I'm new.  I've flown a plane before, of course, but this is my first commercial airline."  He laughed a shy laugh that was interrupted by the intercom cutting off.
      The man next to me said, "I've wanted to fly before.  But not a plane.  I've wanted to be kidnapped by aliens.  Not to abduct me or probe me or any of that stuff you hear about.  Just to take me up and fly me around, smooth as a luxury car, fly me around the cities of the world, fly me around to get perspective.  The world would be nice from a distance."
      "I see," I said and returned to my seat.

*

I slept for a while.  And we flew.  And I slept.  And we flew.  I don't know how many hours.  I finally realized why I was scared of the flight, why everyone was scared.  We didn't know where it was going.
      We talked to each other a lot, the passengers.  We had plenty of time to, and there seemed to be a bond between us all.  Though, when we were done talking, we were lonely again.  We tried not to be lonely—pairing up in seats, fighting over the window seats, pairing up with someone else, always ending up alone.
      Then we'd pair up again.  Then alone.  Then sleeping.  Then more flying.  I don't know how many days.  I didn't know where we were going.  Some passengers guessed where we might be going.  Australia, that's far.  Or maybe the pilot got lost.  I don't know how many months.  By now, some people were sure where we were going.  "Paris will be lovely!" one lady kept saying.  "I just know Paris will be lovely!"  "How do you know?" I finally said to her one day and she cried all over my shoulder.  I didn't try to comfort her, but I was myself comforted by the mucus on my shoulder.
      People weren't behaving very well.  One day a man came up to me like he had something very important to say.  He was nervous about it.  He was sweating.  "I don't like pennies," he said.
      "You don't?"
      "No, I don't.  I don't like how they look—the copper, the ugly color.  I don't like the way they're dingy.  I don't like their shape or their feel.  I think they're just gross.  I have to deal with pennies sometimes, of course, but I'll grab them on the edges.  I hate that, too.  I'd rather handle cockroaches."
      "We probably don't need them anyway.  Too small a value," I said.
      "That's not the point!" he screamed.  Then he looked around to see if anyone noticed he screamed.  No one did.  No one cared about him and his pennies.  I didn't either.  I didn't care about anyone on that plane.
      I started sleeping more and more.  I slept more than I was awake.  I stopped talking to people.  I sometimes lay in the middle of the aisle until an attendant asked me to get up.  I had sex with one of the attendants, in the bathroom.  I had sex with lots of attendants after a while, lots of passengers.  You didn't have to talk to much, just have sex.  I had sex with plenty of male passengers, not really noticing.  It was usually dark, at least in the bathroom, and I never felt very well.  And started sleeping even more.  And having sex even more.  Just flying, and I don't know how many years it was, but it must have been a long time.

*

One time I knew I was going to Ireland, I just knew it.  I knew I would visit a little pub where they played darts and the old men were jolly and they read stories-in-progress aloud to each other and they drank beer.  They drank ale—that's better—and they slapped me on the back a lot and let me sing songs with them.  And I taught them a few.  And they said they were the best songs, and I was the best friend they ever had.
      But I gave that up eventually and just believed that we'd fly forever.  Fly and sleep.  For years, many years, and one day the pilot, the pilot who had not spoken in maybe forty years, said on the intercom that World War III was happening down below.  He laughed and said he hoped we had really good insurance.  We all thought that was funny, especially since it was true about World War III.
      I was happy to hear the pilot speak, to know someone was still flying the plane.  Because even though I wanted off the plane, I didn't want to crash.  I wanted to keep flying.  I don't even think anyone wanted to land.

*

I was paranoid those days.  I would walk in the aisles back and forth and watch to make sure my feet didn't hit the lines on the floor.  There were lines on the floor, in squares, and I walked and didn't touch them.  Then I thought that was silly, so I walked on them deliberately, always looking behind me, not wanting people to steal my drinks or my peanuts.  Everyone hated me.
      "I don't hate you," the positivist said.  I called him the positivist.  I forgot his name.  He tried to forget about the plane by being positive.  "I don't hate you," he said.  "I think you are a wonderful person.  I like you."
      "You make me vomit," I said.
      "Good," he said.  "That's a healthy thing to do sometimes."
      I punched him in the face.  And again.  He was smiling.  I punched until he said, "That's enough.  I quit."
      "Quit what?" I said.
      "Quit being positive.  Tired of it."
      He was my new best friend after that.  He sat next to me in my chair.  Lots of people were dead on the plane, but surely there were more below on land.  I asked the pilot how many people were dead below, and he said that World War III had probably killed most of them, but it was hard to tell.  I asked him why we couldn't land.  It had never occurred to me to ask before.  He said he couldn't land.  He couldn't land any more than I could.
      He switched on the intercom and said, "Would you like to say anything to the people?"
      I picked up the microphone and said, "Hello.  You all know me.  I'm in the cockpit now with our pilot.  We won't be landing anytime soon.  But that's okay, I think.  I'm thinking about it."
      The pilot took the microphone from my hand and said, "That's good, son.  Would you like to sit next to me?" I did, and the chair was comfortable.  It was the co-pilot chair I sat in, but there was no co-pilot, just our pilot.
      "Can I die here?" I said.  It was so comfortable.
      "No," he said.  "You'll have to go back in a minute.  Besides, these seats aren't so great after a while."

*

The fire started without anyone knowing, and the attendants murmured "Settle down" happily, as if gaining purpose again.  Everyone seemed to gain purpose with the fire.  Everyone seemed to want to do something.  The pilot said to calm down, and went over crash procedures.  This was it, I thought.
      But I didn't want to crash.  I didn't want the fire.  People were grabbing for parachutes, parachutes I'd never noticed, parachutes that probably weren't supposed to be there, because—parachutes?  I looked out the window and saw the fire blazing.  I couldn't let them go out there with the fire, it would kill them.  As they charged for the exit with their parachutes, I stood in front of the door with my arms outstretched as wide as they would go.  I was calm.  I said, "You can't jump.  The fire will kill you.  You must stay inside.  Remain calm like me."
      Everyone listened and sat down, taking the seats they originally sat in.  I remembered.  Every one of them did.  The same exact seats, and the attendants kept saying "Settle down" and the pilot finally left the cockpit and held a drink to us, toasting, "To us!  To us!  To us!"
      We kept falling.  The fire must have burnt the engines.  We were falling.  Faster.  The fire was brighter.  I knew the fire had to go out for us to live, for the plane to keep on flying.  I prayed for rain.  I prayed for more rain than the rain the day we left, the day I don't remember well, that no one does much.  No one remembered rain but me, I think.  I didn't talk about it anymore.  But now I prayed for rain.  Rain from anywhere.
      The former positivist stood up, my best friend, and started chanting, monotone:  "Be comfortable.  Don't drink so much.  Do some pushups.  Quit eating only peanuts.  Stop looking behind you thinking people are going to steal your peanuts.  Take a bath every day.  Wipe your child's behind.  Don't stamp out ant beds.  Join a club.  Don't cry in public.  Don't cry at all."
      I kept praying for rain.  I don't know who I was praying to, but I prayed for rain.  I looked up and saw a man grow wings.  He grew green, dirty insect wings.  He just grew them.  "No parachute for me," he said.  "I'm helping myself."
      There wasn't really a man with wings.  I was imagining this, hallucinating a little.  "Help yourselves!" I screamed, because I thought it needed to be said.  "Help yourselves!" I kept screaming.
      "How?  How?  How?" everyone said.
      I looked out the window, past the fire.  It grew dark, very dark.  We were in storm clouds, we were down low, in the rain.  It must have been raining all along, and we were back down in it.  Back in the rain!  The rain put out the fire.  All the lights were out in the plane.  I couldn't see anyone.  I thought I went deaf because I couldn't hear anyone.  Then I heard the sounds of the aircraft falling.  I heard the windows shatter, felt myself being sucked out.  I was flying through the air, grabbing for anything, hoping especially to grab people, to touch what was left of others.  I wanted hair, skin—I clawed for it.  I got nothing.  I was alone.  I felt the rain.

*

I saw the fire go out on the plane, the plane in the distance.  I was falling alone now.  Everyone else may have been dead, like I knew I would be soon, falling alone.
      I felt it.  Then saw it, but felt it first.  Vibrations, shaking my body, conquering even the sensation of wind as I was falling.  Then saw it:  the burst of light.  Very bright, but not frightening like the sun was so long ago, many years ago.  The burst of light, like a new universe exploding into being, and out of it came the bus, this Greyhound bus.  Rain was coming from the Greyhound, and this new rain poured on my head.  I felt it over the rain of the clouds.
      The bus got closer, the light closed up behind it, the bus driver reached out and pulled me in, picked me up gently, lovingly, kissed me on the forehead and placed me across the seat of the bus.

*

I woke up in the ocean, near the shore, the aircraft a mess around me.  Everyone else was dead.  Everyone had died in the crash.  Sarah was there, she saw me and pulled me out.  But it wasn't Sarah.  She looked like Sarah at first, then her hair grew longer and turned colors and her face changed.  She wasn't Sarah, and I wasn't sure who she was exactly, but I knew her anyway.
      I was feeling good, but I couldn't move, and didn't want to.  I just let the woman caress me and then the men came and put me in the ambulance and it felt good to be moving on wheels and road again.  The woman sat in the back with me and held my hand, told me stories, said she loved me and knew she did, said she was sorry.
      I imagined what I could do now.  I imagined she and I doing anything—making love, talking about nothing, reading books, eating at restaurants, calling our parents long-distance, sharpening number two pencils, taking pictures with disposable cameras on the beach.  I thought of it all and hoped for it all, in the ambulance.
      And imagined this:  that I was dangling over a precipice, staring at swarming darkness, laughing at it, feeling the security belt around my waist.  Just looking over the precipice, laughing.  Feeling good.  This was the universe.  Saved.  
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