Story of the Week: Deliverance from Union Square Stories: A Fractured Novel. Read the text here by scrolling or go to the downloads page (link is above) for a PDF of the story. The complete novel is also available for download.
We're sitting in a huge shell winging across North America six miles above a glowing metropolis, maybe Cleveland or Chicago, one of those night lit cities sliced off by earthly darkness that can only mean a great lake. If I could stick my head out this window and start screaming without getting my brains pulverized by billions of atoms smashing my melon at six hundred and forty miles an hour, my voice would race ahead of this packing crate at more than a hundred miles an hour, so fast my first raging plea to unbuckle this sadistic constraint device could have arrived here in Cleveland or Chicago at least an hour ago, when this agony started somewhere back there over Binghamton, if I had screamed. Polite behavior stifles screaming when airborne, unless of course you're privileged to be a member of that under-age-three club. Unprivileged await deliverance silently.
Sixty rows of seats, six seats per row stuffed full of people, and some of those seats are literally stuffed with people. We're all strapped in, presumably because this rough air threatens to slam us upward against our overhead luggage compartments (no longer officially 'bulkheads') causing litigation inducing physical damages, particularly to those of us whose stuffing isn't violently wedged between and spilling over rigidly uncomfortable seat dividers. To remind us of our Capitan's concern for our welfare, small illuminated icons above our heads indicate that our constraints should be fully activated, implying that we may not move freely beyond our bondage. Specifically we may not walk from our assigned seating row to any station of comfort. Outside my continually beckoning exit window, wing beacon surrounded by moist red glow flap up and down. Flight attendants also remain bound or at least sequestered in safe zones.
Regardless of whatever sensitivities or motivations my aerial micro-culture may or may not share, two hours and more than twelve hundred miles into this flight, virtually everyone awake awaits an opportunity to eliminate waste. We invariably require, some of us with considerably greater urgency than others, basic removal of accumulated bacteria and/or toxic liquids from our systems. Otherwise we die, or worse. And it's not as if we can slip away into a dark corner, the woods or a rest stop for privacy. That closet, way back there at the end of a monitored aisle is our only option. Periodic loud announcements, usually triggered by attempted violations, reiterate everyone's agreement with our Capitan's advice to remain constrained. Most of us sit quietly monitoring our inner pressure, both physical and mental, and consider what attention we might arouse, what interpretation of our intentions we might confer, if we unbolted and bolted for a closet.
Wings stop flapping.
Icons dull, followed instantly by chaotic clicking, suggesting some cryptic Morse code transmission, as a hundred buckles release and passengers moved to move enter the aisle and turn. Parading anonymously toward closeted relief, they both declare and conceal their intention to commit an act of ordinary public outrage, an event normally hidden by distance, camouflage, subterfuge and euphemism, but now fully exposed to public scrutiny, particularly to compatriot suffers. They line up as if they intend to disembark or request a snack. We have no choice. We're going to Hawaii through an extended storm with limited visibility and uncertain opportunity.
All this would be significantly less stressful, if we could culturally suspend hygienic scrutiny and freely admit that our internal physicality functions as primitively as worms. Topologically we're all evolutionarily decorated donuts, toroid extrusions deformed by complicated surface features through which a tunnel extends from one opening to another. At one end our sensuous lips admit or resist life's necessary chemistry and pleasure. Throughout our inner exterior, we process those chemicals, breeding enormous populations, which accumulate and dehydrate, requiring controlled excretion, not unlike a simple worm whose inner processing tube also terminates with a controlling sphincter. If those billions of creatures within us continue populating and generating toxins beyond manageable scales, those of us who imagine we would rather die than take that humiliating aisle stroll might have our wish fulfilled, but this grandiose hypocrisy, that our digestive requirements are tidier than a worm's, keeps me buckled in.
Is it too much to ask that these people hurry? It is not as if they don't all know why this viscous parade has assembled. If our Capitan really harbored compassionate intentions he would announce that shaving, makeup adjustment and dental hygiene are absolutely prohibited until we're west of South Dakota.
This can opened its maw at JFK and concealing our accumulated waste, in we all crept. Hours passed and one by one we unconsciously moved our meals, our drinks and vast expanding populations of nurtured and cultured bacteria along their fated paths toward karmic transformation by final elimination. All we wish for now is a continuation of that process through various twisting stainless steel tracts terminating at mechanical exits, where, following ejection into frigid atmosphere and microscopic shredding by six hundred mile an hour winds, our breakfast and lunch by-products may gently drift back to earth and settle upon soils for redistribution among worms.
Which constitutes greater humiliation, standing for peer review or crunching with cramps in damp pants? If I risk reprimand and rush first class, how could local authority refuse a desperate plea after all that turbulence we passed through and no doubt will soon reenter? I could claim health emergency. I might require my privately administered nightly insulin injection. That's a lie I could live with and walking away from the crowd surely obfuscates my intentions. Enjoying our row's aisle seat, a thin man naps oblivious to my plight. One of the chosen with either an elastic bladder or no desire to consume decaffeinated liquids after noon, he admitted our mutual center seat neighbor to aisle freedom and promptly surrendered to wheezing through some dream. As one of the overlooked, in both bladder control categories, I'm considering how I might casually climb over him to join our bizarre aisle ceremony, which recently absorbed my center seat neighbor and currently offers a clear shot at First Class relief. Gripping a middle seat divider with my left hand, left sock foot on our vacant center seat, I raise my ass above my shoulders and begin shifting my weight toward my right hand with measured acrobatic deliberation until it grapples thin man's aisle armrest. As I initiate my tiptoe touch down in the aisle, my face passes slowly above his and I look directly down into his open mouth. We drop violently into an air pocket. He opens his eyes to what must remind him of a dental examination, because his mouth remains agape as I deliver my weight onto carpeted aisle floor and spin abruptly toward my medical appointment.
Our Capitan either didn't see that one coming or compassionately allowed recess to continue, but meteorological forecasts must have shifted from benign to grim, because icons everywhere once again flash warnings that passengers must reapply their restraints. Repeated announcements confirm, but this is a crowd stimulated to disobey orders. Flight attendants materialize from their mini-kitchens moving with practiced authoritarian expression toward assembled masses, which are equally determined to resist discipline. A tall Aryan type attendant, sporting a classy uniform with scarf/apron color coordination, advances on Economy's civil unrest from First Class and stares threateningly into my eyes. I smile, nod and suggest with an ambiguous hybrid of one-handed prayer and traffic direction gesture that I am meekly returning to my appointed bondage. She slips past, allowing me to turn and accelerate for a First Class closet just vacated by a cowardly First Class passenger carrying a leather case who probably succumbed to his fear of shaving in severely turbulent air, a risk that tantalizes more adventurous minds.
Door locked, privacy assured, I imagine that I may still need to lie about why I've broken every rule of airborne class privilege, but relief is underway and frankly I don't mind if they require me to leave this bus at the next stop, because the next stop is Honolulu. What are they going to do? Restrict my snacks? Deny me beverages? I commit myself to embracing both those punishments.
Her door knock has that sharpness of a parent's presence who smells chlorophyll smoke coming from their child's room and knows they're not smoking lettuce. I mumble "excuse me", in my least intelligible German accent, hoping that a foreigner's language response might justify misinterpretation of class privilege on a sovereign airline, or at least prolong my current opportunity, but this attendant must have counted the empty seats in her class and discovered that number to be exactly zero, because she seems to have honed her edge. She accompanies a second series of sharper raps with a list of violations based on seating assignments and weather hazards. I ask her if I may dispose of medical sharps in situ or if I must return with them to my seat, again with incomprehensible enunciation. This affords me time to reassemble my clothes. After brief consideration, she requests that I retain possession of all medical appliances and reduces her violation list to weather hazard related injuries, and politely informs me that flying conditions are destabilizing rapidly, and safety is always her primary concern. I take her point as I'm violently slammed against a stainless steel sink, which I might add is considerably larger than what I had expect to shave in as we approach our mid Pacific destination. Sliding my closet's door lock from 'occupied' to 'vacant' seems to satisfy our First Class' hall monitor, because she is apparently more concerned with a rolling cart that threatens to begin snack and beverage service without her than she is with discovering my identity. Naturally her acceptance of my presence creates a conundrum, because genuine First Class passengers never acknowledge biological needs. They tacitly agree that anyone exiting one's seat and moving around one's privileged cabin space does so solely in order to stretch one's legs, adjust one's makeup or practice biometrically designed in-flight Yoga. Bouncing back to steerage, I encounter several concerned looks that can't be entirely accounted for by my violent collisions with their seating. It occurs to me that my successful completion of their First Class matron's examination may have mysteriously established me as a different class of passenger, not some hapless parvenu, but someone, perhaps a successful proctologist or corporate accountant, who deserves First Class, though due to regrettable karmic circumstances has been denied, and subsequently assigned limbo. I try to adopt a posture of confidence and regret whenever my sudden impact with padded headrests solicits inquisitive glances.
Perhaps decent snacks and beverages remain an option.
Outside water rushes by me. We're flying through water, though less like a vast lake than multiple cloudy explosions below a really tall waterfall, and I'm watching turbulent electrified cascades flowing in every direction. Wings flapping violently, water racing past my window, thick liquid/vapor clots blotting out wingtip beacons, whole sections of night suddenly glowing as unconstrained electrons blast around out there. It's nature stabilizing her imbalances of negative charge, debit exchange so violent it rips open sky and emits light. Sounds thrilling, but unless you're not afraid to die or vomit all over your knees, it's primarily black and not that interesting after five minutes.
Presently I don't want to look anywhere other than out this window, as turning my attention away from this magnificent storm strikes me as too great a risk of encountering his stare.
Although my aisle-seat neighbor seemed to be sleeping when I returned from First Class relief, his mouth clenched in that determined not to open under penalty of observation sort of way, lack of eye movement indicated that he had not yet achieved REM sleep depth, which deterred any squeezing reentry. During that moment of casual observation, accomplished by locking our across-the-aisle neighbor's headrest into something like a half- nelson strangulation, my center-seat neighbor nudged him into consciousness. She apparently concluded, somewhat hesitantly I thought, that she would need to get out, if I remained determined to get in. And why wouldn't I? A severely inconvenienced and recalcitrant minority of Economy passengers, apparently suffering hearing loss or language comprehension issues, refused to surrender their parade position, which resulted in continuous announcements insisting that everyone must immediately return to their seats and buckle up in reparation for increasingly inclement weather ahead. Polite suggestions had become demands that gradually morphed into pathetic pleas repeated ad nausea. Evidently flight attendants had settled into their own constraints and like our drowsy neighbor expressed no intention of staggering into an aisle filled with hostile need. Eyes and mouth firmly clamped, he conceded only to twist his legs rather than vacate his seat.
My center seat neighbor, sidestepping around our aisle seat neighbor, but failing to avoid entanglement with his knees, fell victim to sudden aerodynamic violence. I received her with a powerful embrace, a gesture she might have misinterpreted, if she had not been flailing with both arms in search of some anchor that could arrest her sudden lateral acceleration. I suspect she intended to secure her brace against our across-the-aisle bulkhead, above my head, but settled for wrapping her arms around my head as my face plunged into her bosom. She was a tall and ample woman. Rebounding off our across-the-aisle neighbor's headrest resulted our in rapid aisle transit, not unlike an impromptu ballroom maneuver that gracefully rescues an unintended break in a carefully choreographed Rumba routine. Unfortunately arresting our return required assistance from our aisle seat neighbor, who, I briefly noted just prior to our quickstep recovery, had opened his eyes and mouth with an expression once again suggesting imminent dental examination. Our routine concluded when my
center seat partner's ample posterior collided with his gape. Calm set in. I disengaged, gliding around both my neighbors into my window seat, where I disentangled my constraints from my dance partner's and politely positioned hers, with its additional length extension, so that when she returned she could avoid sitting directly on it, thereby avoiding a retrieval struggle similar to what I had witnessed when she first found her seat back in the world of civilized furniture.
A wasted courtesy. Foul weather returned immediately with such intensity that my center seat neighbor suddenly chose to sit in the aisle, where wrestling with various structural seating components, she began a loud conversation addressed to our aisle seat neighbor concerning various advantages and disadvantages of exchanging seats with her. When he concluded that he would find more comfort in a center seat and shifted his semi-comatose frame, I discovered how fascinating flying through a waterfall cloud at six hundred miles an hour in pitch-blackness can be.
Sleeping after one leaves Earth poses ethical problems for me. Generally I avoid it, because it sets a bad example for ninety to a hundred trillion creatures for which I take immediate responsibility, a population including all varieties of microbes living on my bodyﾕs inner and outer exterior surfaces. On Earth we constitute just one more symbiotic ecosystem over which my consciousness presides. Off Earth, I, like all celestial beings before me, may have my position projected onto the Celestial Sphere, astronomyﾕs theoretical shell of arbitrary radius rotating upon an axis identical to Earth's. Using Celestial positioning, I may be projected into direct relationship with Kepler 22b, a candidate for becoming another life bearing planet just six hundred light years away, or a theoretical black hole at the center of this galaxy, which we human gods will ultimately populate. I accept that my god function, with regard to my endlessly multiplying cellular subjects, increases in proportion to my personal Celestial Sphere's radius, my radius currently measuring roughly six miles, a responsibility I currently regret, because falling asleep, even feigning sleep would solve this problem of my new center seat neighbor's inquisitive stare - a particularly venomous visage reported to me by window reflections framed in absolute blackness interrupted by brilliant auras, very disturbing auras I might add, because as startling as it always is to suddenly encounter a face you recently became intimately familiar with, that face is exponentially more frightful if it pulses with electrical halos in colors generally reserved for demons. Recall blinking red wing beacons and periodic re-balancing of electron debt.
I am convinced that a water landing is not probable, but I don't discount it as a possible solution for relieving this tension. Average water landing survival rate exceeds eighty-eight per cent and that's averaging down severely, because hijackers compromised Ethiopian 961's landing in 1996 by attacking their pilots while attempting a textbook water landing after running out of fuel just five hundred feet from shore, resulting in a dismal twenty-six percent survival. Even children can paddle seat cushion flotation across a soccer stadium filled with tropical water. What kind of idiot hijacker attacks a pilot during a landing? US Airways 1549ﾕs Hudson River landing in 2009, one hundred percent survival, definitely rates as an all time high-tension breaker. Geese guts clogging the engines, George Washington Bridge cables and absence of twin towers looming ahead, pilot swoops around and points his nose at Lady Liberty, setting his ship down just west of Grants Tomb. People walked around on the wings, paying zero heed to those little red warning stencils that read 'Do Not Step'. How excellent was that?
If we do an aquatic ditch, thin man here will sink for sure, if he can't control that habitual silent scream grimace. Not that I want him to sink. Just saying, it's getting very unpleasant trying to keep an eye on this storm with his reflection exposing all his fillings whenever conditions brighten up out there.
We should change seats. Six months ago I booked this window, because I wanted to see our continental Pacific coast twinkle; wanted to gauge how far north electric weed had spread by checking its glowing bloom, but that's not happening. So why not let this dental patient watch a red light blink for the next five thousand miles. His neck seems fixed in that twist. It's possible that his gaping gaze and cervical rigor mortise resulted from his recent collision with ample fleshy parts. Unlikely. I survived an equally fleshy collision with no ill effects, and my neck absorbed considerably higher g-forces. Plus, I lacked his advantage of available backward motion, and assistance from his aisle armrest, upon which most of her butt settled. I maintained posture with nothing but shear strength and my ass wedged against our across-the-aisle neighbor who, I might add, established crushing resistance. Temporomandibular disorders usually result from stress related clenching, tooth grinding, or socket osteoarthritis, though maxillofacial surgeons do occasionally see victims of whiplash or violent head trauma exhibiting jaws locking in open or closed positions. Did injury or stress issue that drop jaw right face order? Is it legitimate cervical dystonia or habitual descent into bad manners? Maybe he really needs to look out my window for psychological reassurance. Maybe he was struck by lightning as a child and remains fascinated by electrical checks and balances.
Still no food and beverage service. I look back and see darkened aisles with everyone apparently content to bounce in bondage. Hideously small movies discolor their faces. Hideously uncomfortable earphones muffle screams from age-privileged fliers by inserting inane dialogue ostensibly written for adults, yet mysteriously comprehensible to age-privileged fliers. No one would notice if I stood up on this preferred window seat and braced my shoulders against our bulkhead, allowing my center seat neighbor to pass behind me as I side step into his previously occupied center seat. Possible negative outcomes resulting from losing bulkhead pressure and pivoting over window seat headrest could include: plummeting into anterior sleeping passengers, kicking temporomandibular disordered seat mate - resulting in either further injury or optimistically, corrective jaw and cervical realignment - personal injury, and/or difficulty returning to center seat due to limited access past enormous sleeping aisle seat neighbor, who misunderstanding how I managed to present myself from the aisle, without having passed her going out, could conclude that I had rotated over her as I did our previous aisle seat neighbor and, harboring hostile memories of our last dance, refuse to awaken. Leaving me rebounding with no safe haven from headrest to headrest around a forbidden zone, perhaps physically touching, even speaking with, or coughing at strangers. I don't think so. Situation deteriorating, six more hours of gape and aura present an equally untenable risk. I glance left quickly and find my center seat neighbor comatose again, head back with mildly abnormal lack of clenching, but no sign of neck dysfunction. Regrettably his reflection or visage, mouth gaping, continues appearing in random illuminating flashes as if walking back and forth along the wing he periodically leans over and peers in. I just wanted privacy and a view of the great western electric garden before venturing out over a vast ocean inappropriately described as pacific.
Perhaps continuous observation of this storm produces paranormal results.
Is it possible that heavenly vehicles harbor undead spirits? People do die in flight. How confusing would that be to die and find one's self already part way up? Like sleeping past your subway stop and awakening alone, parked in an elevated terminus for the first time? Terror produces a tendency to not descend into darkness, a tendency to watch and wait, followed by a tendency to panic and forget how to get out, and, if it's the last train for that night, a tendency to get crazy and stomp around and throw things and yell and bang on locked doors or windows with desire and motive to inflict damage and pain. Haunting involves attachment to places and things, but seldom, by my experience, do physical laws of mass and energy apply to inhabitants of ghastly realms. Wind for example would exert no more effect on ectomorphic visitations than it would on holograms. So what I periodically see out there, if not him, could be, what?
This is nonsense. Time to disengage from worn out lines of discourse; time to consider snakes.
To begin, why would anyone want a pet reptile? They have no sense of gratitude. They are never excited to see you, unless they're considerably larger and hungry, and even then it's not so much that they're excited to see you, as they are excited to smell/taste you. That tasting from a distance is a particularly noxious reptilian trait. Detecting perfume even sweat may demonstrate appealing sensitivity, but scrutinizing individual identities by licking air? Grotesque behavior conjuring demonology, lack of moral and ethical brain function, and limbic motivations, deep basic brain stem motivations only slightly more neurologically evolved than shooting out your tongue if a fly passes, all good reasons to keep our mouth shut when we chew food or sleep on planes. Why herps? Possibly because keeping deadly creatures in cages demonstrates some level of power over dark forces, an ability to control instinctual impulses to strike and kill, constrict and consume. Private herpetology suggests mastery over impulses to unleash cruel pre-bipedal instincts without regret or guilt, lurid stuff lurking down there in our stems. That's why wimps keep turtles and feed lettuce. Real men keep King cobras, snake eating snakes, or Burmese pythons, anything-that-moves eating snakes. Manage the threat. Feel the power. To their credit though, they eat rodents, small furry mammals, household pets, children and other reptiles, so they seem to be doing some sort of public service. Not always wisely, though, reptile greed can be as self-destructive as capitalist greed. Recall photos gone viral of a sixteen-foot Burmese, exploded inside out by a six-foot gator that in spite of intact claws and scaly tail, it just had to swallow. Reminds one of holiday get-togethers with my Aunty Maim.
I'm not looking at that face, but that face remains peripheral. I can smell it - typical odor of another world leaking through our normalcy barrier. Smells like cystic acne or candidiasis. Pressed against my widow, nothing but a couple of plastic layers and air separating us, it demands synesthesia. It's far too complex for one sense, demands a forked sense organ, preferably one brain stem deep and one high on cortical neurons, both stimulating and feeding back looping memory. Possibly angular gyrus misbehaving; temporoparietal junction malfunction possible; self/other distinctions getting a bit murky here. If we're not careful, we could end up wandering out there looking in. With that face still out there? I think not.
Spiritual confirmation is only one disturbing property of OBE. I also include presence of Others as legitimate Out of Body Experience, because as far as I can tell by personal experience, they're all out of my body. Clinicians tell me this. Stimulate any random angular gyrus with a little tickle of electric pulse, doesn't matter if they're unemployed crossing guards or corporate financial officers, and they'll report the presence of Others, Others that aren't in the room with research clinicians, or doctors, or concerned family members who listen politely and make notes. Therefore, they continue, knowing someone else is in my room with me must be generated within my body, ergo; it can't exist out of me. Rather, they say, it exists in part of my body, to be precise, my brain. As far as I can tell, however, they share equal 'out of' with anyone else in here or out there. To be precise and timely, why is that face still out there? Could be my old angular gyrus just can't handle modern technology and electric imbalance. Reminds it of ancestors who took their directions from their ancestors, their dead ancestors. A little tickle and memory fills in some information voids. Next thing you know that other presence in your room, unobserved by all your friends, is grandma, offering advice. Five hundred generations ago that could have been a good thing, telling you what to plant, where to get water, and what reptiles not to keep as pets. If you admit to anyone these days that you're listening to dead ancestors, some PHD candidate begs to write a book about how your angular gyrus gyrates, begs to stick needles through your skull, and begs to ask you if you feel anything unusual. "Well yes doc, I feel the unusual presence of needles sticking through my skull. Oh, and grandma seems to be standing behind me with a comforting hand on my shoulder, except oops, she dead, been dead for twenty years and knows next to nothing about rotating crops or planting at a fifth full moon after our darkest day." Deaf and blind will lead the blind and deaf. So why is that face still out there? I believe in demons about as much as I believe in PHD candidates, but it looks pretty evil and if it starts talking, I wouldn't want to be a center seat neighbor listening to me talking back. I wouldn't even want to occupy seats in an adjacent row.
I can see he's asleep and he planned to be asleep for our entire flight. His clothes could be pajamas. Normally people wear these suits for exercise or to appear as if they exercise. Bright colors blend matching tops and bottoms, with energetic pinstripes across shinny surfaces neatly tailored to suggest that sloppy comfort implies a sense of style. Could I actually wear something with a dye scheme conjuring fluorescent amphibians or molded plastic toys?
And my aisle neighbor, she's already dressed to disembark into tropical paradise and mix with either native couture or public park plantings. I believe that floral print relies primarily on hibiscus and gardenia with a hint of night blooming jasmine. Contours capable of easy adaptation to any underlying surface or free to flutter with faint breezes, suggest style designed to accommodate inflation. If we go down, she will float surrounded by an aura of flowers.
He will sink like a plastic squid lure scaled for Moby Dick.
Barring imminent water landing, something must change. Looking out this window presents murky yet present danger. I require distance and isolation from electrical and spectral imbalance. He seems to have passed beyond his REM stage into semi-comatose torpor, possibly resulting from exceeding his recommended dose of some in-flight medication, presumably a benzodiazepine class drug. Xanax, my personal favorite, astonishes me with its effortless ability to relieve my anxiety about shopping and death in general. Interesting question, do hibernating type creatures like fat-tailed dwarf lemurs self medicate naturally to relieve anxiety and induce peaceful sleep? Yes, they do. Genetically evolved pharmaceutical of choice? Opioids mixed with metabolic inhibiters. Slow down and dream. Which, I propose, is a strategy Mr. Squidlure's brain intends to pursue, because he has contentedly drooped across our mutual armrest divider and threatens to settle on my left shoulder. That posture oozing my way, combined with threat of gaping and thin drool line formation will certainly produce tremors, possibly screaming if new seat assignments can't be arranged. I'm guessing a comfortable rest against a haunted window would benefit both Mr. Squidlure and what ever else might be out there requiring attention, attention that I refuse to supply. The problem is simply that his ass needs to move twelve inches north.
If we're receptive to opportunity and courageous in face of adversity amid crisis, solutions invariably prevail. A cloud of Hawaiian Luau floral motif suddenly responds to internal desperation, defies authority, squeezes out of circulatory constricting armrests and rises into aisle freedom. Ponderous and determined she pinballs west toward a solution for what is obviously an imminent threat, leaving behind her seat belt extension.
Following a simple procedure of disengaging Luau's extension and Squid's buckle, I reunite them creating a generously lengthened belt, which I slip beneath Squid's sleep paralyzed knees. Moving with reptile stealth, I increase tension on the belt causing it to slide under his ass, providing significant mechanical advantage for moving said ass without shoving and waking said ass. Another delicate procedure, balancing his medicated tilt while folding our mutual armrest up into the crevice between seat backs, requires strength, patience and a will to maintain abhorrent physical contact, something unthinkable under mutually conscious conditions. Armrest tucked away, I straddle his pseudo-athletic knees, balance his listing head and shoulders with my left arm, and slowly pull the extension upward with every ounce of strength remaining in my right arm and shoulder. His shinny exercise suit doesn't resist until it reaches the breach between seats where it threatens to wedge. He is essentially a thin man with a bony butt. Spanning the breach with a conveniently located in-flight vacation magazine, whose glossy surface promises substantial reduction of frictional coefficients, allows his ass migration to continue smoothly. I appreciate every advantage of sliding amphibian slick fabric across polished paper, which in turn slides nicely across ass polished seat fabric, because my patience, impressive thus far, wanes at the sight of Luau advancing. Leaning Squid's head and shoulder against the demonic window, albeit at somewhat exaggerated angles that promise some degree of future cervical discomfort, I disengage my legs and gently shift his knees. Throughout our entire procedure, I am nothing if not gentle. A final ass nudge with coordinated head and shoulders tweak concludes a mutually satisfactory seating rearrangement. I step into the aisle, flourish a gesture indicating my reassignment of Luau's extension into a broadened seating chart with armrests retracted and Squid compressed, which, if she is paying attention, promises her expansive opportunity, once she returns to her previously chosen center seat position. No more vascular endangerment from vicious armrests. Her quizzical expression conveys neither gratitude nor understanding of how my thoughtful and carefully executed plan would benefit her comfort and health, so I leave her to ponder her options as Squid's neighbor in her original assigned seat. I turn east for First Class.
First Class' hall monitor would be so attractive, if her freckly face and pony tail of tangled curling auburn tresses perched above an athletic build in black leggings and cross trainers topped by a fluffy pink down sweater, but she's nothing like that. If she looked like that she'd probably be a teenager in a movie for morons. What she does look like is Ms. Hawthorne, vice principle in charge of discipline and physical education at Grover Cleveland High School. She also moves like Ms. Hawthorne with long stiff legged strides. From her facial features, though difficult to read due to unnatural skin tightening around her eyes and mouth that I normally attribute to surgical compensation for aging vanity, I deduce another possible similarity. Apparently they share a propensity for irritability after hours without sleep, a trait I frequently observed during visits to Ms. Hawthorne as well.
I know how disturbing it must be to find me here again in her presence with warning lights practically throbbing above my insubordination. Once again a remarkable similarity emerges. To set her mind at ease and take a little strain off that dermal stretch, I point first to my wrist, as if I had a watch, second to my tweed coat pocket, as if it contained medical supplies, and third to a recalcitrant line of people once again waiting for access to privacy thirty-five rows behind us. I execute a shoulder shrug, palms up, followed by an index finger to closed lips and a glance around, shoulders still raised indicating tension and concern for oblivious First Class customers who might be offended by my presence beyond this curtain barrier that defines their heavenly gated community, if I disturb them. Arrested at row five she considers my silent plea. I place my palms together over my heart.
One easily overlooks a mime's fundamental advantages. First, eloquent argument is impossible. What nonverbal rejection exists beyond head wagging? Barring signing for hearing impaired actors, complicated explanations or defenses for rejecting mime language simply don't exist. Second, miming extracts meaning from deep brain tissue retained by thousands of genetic generations. Our universal language for inter species communication, still in use by primate research PHD candidates, would presumably function among Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons, Denisovans, Homo Erectus in general, and twenty-somethings seeking mates in foreign youth hostels. Third, miming demonstrates urgency, threat and often emergency. These are traits not easily ignored even by uniformed monitors with color-coordinated ensembles.
Once again a memory of Hawthorne's scarf emerges.
She raises a hand, palm toward me as classic stop sign, converts it to index finger pointing up as classic wait sign, and staggers back to check lavatory vacancy and general conditions among her clan. She waves me forward followed by index finger to lips, an unimaginative display of non-verbal communication, remarkably similar to what I might have expected from Hawthorne following one of my eloquent explanations of circumstantial misunderstanding.
I usually shave in my shower without mishaps. Shaving in First Class proves both tantalizingly dangerous and satisfying. I require smooth skin distinction. Back in row sixteen a window reflects an unshaven face. As wings convulse my razor slips into my upper lip just enough to scoop out a soft divot. The sting of metal slicing through nerve only lasts a few seconds. Taste below my lip and I know it isn't deep. I continue clearing last night's stubble, feeling for pain without finding it. Remaining sensation awakens dim memory of past and future wounds. Remembering wounds we expect to endure reduces our shock and anger when we are finally injured. I frequently employ teenage memories of my chest crushed by a horse's hoof, casualty of a small battle, no more than a few hundred foot soldiers armed with spears and a dozen mounted knights. A quintessentially useful past life wound memory applicable to car crash, water landing, heart attack, burial under
earthquake debris or avalanche, ceiling collapse, fall from moderate heights, or by historical example, discovery by Hawthorne in masturbatorial circumstances following ceiling collapse and moderate fall.
That was quick. She is already knocking, as if she knew an appropriate duration for intravenous medical application or guessed, probably accurately, that it requires less time than shaving. Clothing rearranged, I exit to discover a First Class passenger standing outside, wearing one of those humiliated expressions that practically screams, 'My makeup's a mess and I can't stand it a minute longer'. We do not make simultaneous eye contact. I can't tell if she admires my fresh shave and flushed skin tone, but she appears mildly interested in my moist appearance, as if she's considering the possibility that strenuous in-flight Yoga functions in spaces as confined as a First Class water closet.
This is why mythmakers produced their most fascinating stories with lesser gods. Zeus or Odin had immutable boring First Class seats with views of each other in altitude attitudes or a toilet closet. They had to imitate lesser beings for any semblance of intrigue or fun. We the lesser actually enjoy access to First Class more, because we can't get tickets. We imagine a few more cubic centimeters of water in a sink and some champagne with fruit and cheese improves existence, because we're sick of long lines and Cheezwhiz, but we realize what father gods don't. Basically we're all in the same can ferrying our individual populations of dependent creatures along a Celestial Sphere's imaginary trajectory toward paradise.
By that I don't mean to imply anyone in this canned crowd realizes they're lesser gods of billions. Most of them think Honolulu is paradise and don't even realize they're eating Cheezwhiz between wafers of processed grain with FDA acceptable levels of rodential fecal matter. They only intuit their godly responsibility like a hunger and a need to evacuate burdensome populations, a desire to keep life moving along its conduit of reincarnation. Speaking of moving life along is apparently what my hall monitor is engaged in currently. Judging by a pinkish color flushing across her face, I deduce she seems to think I wasn't listening to her speaking of moving, which I am now doing, backwards with nods and gestures, as if infliction by a disease requiring injections is not enough and I'm deaf and dumb as well. Dumb in an IQ or mime sort of way.
My aisle seat is empty. Luau's center seat is empty. Odious aroma emanates from the window seat, where happily only one reflection of a face appears. A colorless face pressed against plastic into cervical improbability, out of which I carefully adjusted it only minutes ago, sleeps like it's dead. Could account for the fragrance.
Observing her belt extension still attached to center seat constraints, I settle into aisle freedom and await Luau's return, at which point I intend to be so profoundly somnambulistic it will require intense physical prodding coupled with loud noises to bring about conscious response. I have practice with this behavior. I imagine myself a viral parasite attached by complex mechanical bonding, my belt, to a cell, this airbus, whose trajectory, AA 296 from JFK to HON, carries it through terrain uncharted and unknown to me, mid-Pacific Ocean via North America. I imagine existence itself depends on clinging to this cell at this locus. I imagine that roar of atoms rushing by does not signify water wind over aluminum accompanied by engines screaming, but vital fluids coursing through tissue accompanied by a heart back beat and a nervous system droning high frequencies. I become one tiny multi-cellular creature fighting for its right to survive in a vicious bacteria eat bacteria world where loosing your place means loosing your meal, your transportation and your right to practice reproduction. Luau, your mechanical bond lies there, between center and window seat. Settle your amoebic floral print and attach.
Fine intention, but too late, she returns suddenly catching my determined rehearsal stare rather than my eyelids clamped. Graciously rising to her occasion and grappling myself to a nearby headrest in secure aisle posture, I offer her every advantage of broad based comfort affordable in center seat Economy, but as is so often customary reflex with parasites, she attempts attachment at her earliest possible convenience, in this case my aisle seat. This strikes me as foolish and ungrateful until I realize that her doughy folded features do not convey hostility or instinctual determination to nest, but raw fear, window seat phobia. She presses against, oozes over, my aisle armrest. With eyes fixed on my razor sharp trouser creases in the vicinity of my knees, she blindly searches for her belt extension by petting and patting the unoccupied center seat. Hopeful that she intends to resume occupying her assigned seating, I silently encourage her to lean or look in a windowly direction, because her reach, pathetically short of its goal, needs guidance. Defeated by disproportionately short arms and her obstinate desire to crowd into aisle space, she concludes her search with discovery of the closest retracted armrest, which in lieu of extended flight restraint, she forcefully wedges down into folds of hip like flesh.
As suddenly as Luau appeared, Ms. Hawthorne's doppleganged flight attendant materializes behind me. Luau begins horrifying her with shamelessly exaggerated descriptions of her claim to an aisle presence based on allegations of bad behavior and unacceptable stench. Hawthorne's angry gaze fixes on me as both of us cling like limpets at high tide to opposing headrests. Braving several violent vertical surges and subsequent descents, I free one arm to extract my ticket stub from my inner jacket pocket and innocently point with my thumb to 16F, irrefutable proof of my right to occupy a window seat, which is now by mutual agreement occupied by a gentleman whose ability to sleep soundly has virtually liquefied him. Observing his knees jammed against his magazine pouch and his head propped against plastic at that peculiar otherworldly angle, Hawthorne's angry tint bleaches. She asks Luau in uncharacteristically quiet tones if she thinks he looks ill. Luau's response indicates to me that she also experienced haunting, because she categorically refuses to shift her gaze from my trousers, muttering she has no opinion, a response I encountered repeatedly from PHD candidates who clearly witnessed OBE Others, but refused to acknowledge their observations due to cowardly fear of scientifically rigid peers. Hawthorne calls to him. He seems to have adopted his own version of somnambulistic trance. Augmented by gaping mouth, grey pallor and a boneless sort of slump frequently associated with brain trauma and drowning victims, his impenetrable unconsciousness impresses even me. I should definitely discover his technique for desaturating his complexion. Self-induced vascular constriction could account for it. It is disturbingly convincing, to the point that Hawthorne withdraws her application for his attention and asks Luau how long he has been in that posture. Luau abruptly launches herself toward First Class in a blimp leaving its hanger sort of launch and without a word of apology to me, Hawthorne drifts off after her providing occasional assistance from behind as she careens from bulkhead to headrest to bulkhead to headrest and on through the dancing First Class curtain.
Comfortable in my aisle seat once more, I take up the problem of what gifts I might want to acquire that are advertised exclusively in magazines, which repeatedly leave earth. Because I have never seen any of this pet equipment or lawn and garden tooling, doesn't mean I might not need it, if at some future juncture in life I chose to acquire a pet, lawn or garden. Evidently these items can be purchased while tracking across the Celestial Sphere, a particularly attractive attribute, if mentioned in passing conversation. "Where did you purchase that charming garden gnome, Home Depot? No. I bought it six miles above the Pacific Ocean while transiting Orion's Belt.'
Shopping pleasure fades as an advancing olfactory assault strikes bearing bitter news. Squid believed those wretched icons. He must have had deep humiliation fears, deeper than my own, because it seems he intended to sleep through his lesser god responsibilities, but his plan failed. Deep in trance state, paying little attention to his managerial duties, his cultures must have rebelled and initiated territorial expansionism without his awareness. In short, he stayed in his seat and relaxed a little too completely; serious hazard associated with benzodiazepine class drugs.
Suddenly it becomes transparently clear to me why 16E does not meet with Luau's approval, why she was so interested in my perfectly pressed trousers and why Hawthorne accompanied her to First Class despite of her shockingly inappropriate taste in First Class clothing. Luau is a super taster and mistakenly suspected that her destination and my own are identical and by that I don't mean Honolulu. I mean Hoolulu ka ulu, Kona's breadfruit festival. She's a chef, a breadfruit chef. Naturally she feared my perfectly appointed attire and gracious offer to expand her seating implied I must be an ulu judge who recognized her. My creases stunned her into that error in judgment. What a terrible choice she had to make, expose her invaluable professional sense to this abusive cloud emanating from our narcoleptic neighbor, or quarrel with me, whom she imagined to be her future judge. So, lurching off to First Class for commiseration with Hawthorne following pleas for administrative advice must precede a swift return with apologies and an expression of gratitude for my thoughtful rearrangement of row 16 seats D, E and F. Careful examinations of this cloud for metallic lining reveals a shining secret that could produce champagne, fruit and Gruyere. Hawthorne now knows, albeit mistakenly, that I represent an august tradition of native culinary talent, the ability to distinguish ordinary from exquisite ulu cuisine.
Hawthorne emerges from behind her FC curtain alone. Draped over her arm, if I'm not mistaken, she carries my 72-inch silk-styled vinyl garment bag, which prior to departure I had specifically requested she hang in a First Class clothing closet due to its unusual length and delicate waterproof surface. I explained its importance as the only envelope that I could trust to protect my Dumbarton Glenroyal tweed suit from Polynesian humidity. When she objected, I pointed out that, yes, it was of overcoat length, but since only a moron would bring an overcoat to Hawaii, it was empty and therefore would require virtually no space or create any inconvenience for other First Class garments. She agreed to honor my request. So why? And where are my Luau chef and my apology?
Hawthorne's explanation made absolutely no sense, at first. Why a sovereign airline would offer to purchase my personal overcoat's protective enclosure for the equivalent of twice its retail value and, when I didn't reply immediately, would offer in addition to reimburse me for my entire round trip ticket including my connecting flights to Kona Hawaii, baffled me - at first. She disguised her offer as standard airline policy extended as courtesy to passengers engulfed in embarrassing situations. It required quick discerning examination before I could see that her deferential tone and apologetic behavior stemmed from questionable motives, which dropped a wrench into my ordinarily well-lubricated ethical gear train. Hawthorne intended this as a bribe on Luau's behalf. Admittedly Luau should not have to wear a clothespin on her nose, figuratively speaking, to protect her culinary talents on the eve of her competition, but wrapping a sleeping Squid in a moisture proof envelope, my moisture proof envelope, seems a bit extreme and expensive. Admittedly his godless accident generates a continuous flow of noxious vapor, but imagine his humiliation if he awakens to his stench, compounded by the fact that someone has wrapped him in a black garment bag, albeit an extended length Hydrolux garment bag. I struggle silently with my dilemma until Hawthorne offers an opportunity to visit her First Class kitchen for champagne, fruit and Gruyere while Economy flight attendants arrange his enclosure.
Now, following her through FC's curtain, I decide my personal standards require that I explain. Luau overflows a fold up seat, presumably one occupied by Hawthorne during takeoff, turbulence and landing. She is already enjoying champagne and understandably avoids looking directly at me. Hawthorne silently supplies me with First Class amenities before rushing off to assist what appears to be agitated Economy passengers in rows 15 and 17. Despite my earlier dialect ruse, its possible complications and my enduring inability to express myself verbally, I fully intend to explain immediately upon Hawthorne's return that although I will be attending Hoolulu ka ulu, I will not be presiding as an official judge, unless pressed into service. Naturally Luau will listen. Comprehending that she assigned me erroneous status, resulting in financial awards for me, but no advantage to her, may cause her some distress. If she reflects a bit, she may come to realize it might not have been an unmitigated mistake, because after all. I sacrificed my Dumbarton's protective membrane in order to solve a significant dilemma, that of preserving her olfactory integrity and Squid's dignity. Once Luau's chef stress is nothing more than another file stored in her culinary cloud, she may come to realize that small thoughtful sacrifices, such as mine deserve reward. As examples of good will they encourage us to effect better management for our faithless populations. Or she may not. Lesser gods leaving earth ascend from a world measured by human metrics into versions of reality ordered by laws extending beyond their clay-footed dimensions.
Projected upon this Celestial Sphere we arc from paradise to paradise ferrying our personal tumbling universe of uncooperative unbelieving creatures, billions of creatures clinging to their shell. Capsules of limited consciousness whirling through space-time, we all expect an orderly exit. We can't believe anomalies would hijack us. Even served what we deem disaster, we expect to walk on wings. Witness undead faces and we will mis-believe, because we do not accept that our fate invariably evokes elimination. Within a sacrificed garment bag's black hole, bound securely to seat 16F, an expanding universe has overthrown its lesser god.
For notes appended to stories that are part of the Union Square series, download the PDF of Union Square Stories: A Fractured Novel.