Sunday Storytelling is a new series where I post a piece of fiction each Sunday. It might be a complete short story, a snippet of a work in progress, a character sketch, a response to one of the thousands of creative writing prompts I’ve collected through the years. Most of them won’t be polished or “final,” so feedback and criticism is welcome, but please be constructive in your comments.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we’re gonna have a full flight today, so please make sure to stow purses, small bags, jackets under the seat in front of you and leave overhead bin space clear for suitcases and larger items. Still plenty of seats and bin space in the rear of the plane so if you’re looking, head on back.”
Is it ever not a full flight? she thought, trudging down the aisle, trying to hold her carry-on suitcase directly straight in front of her, so as not to bump seats or her fellow passengers.
She hated flying. Not that it frightened her. She just had an extreme dislike of being stuck in such close quarters with so many other humans for any extended period of time. With no escape.
Smelly humans. Loud humans. Humans with no sense of personal space. Humans who interpreted headphones on, book in front of face body language as “please strike up a banal conversation with me.” And worst of all, humans who appeared to be fully functioning adults but were apparently incapable of walking down a narrow aisle, selecting a seat, and properly stowing their suitcase in the damn overhead bins.
She used to daydream about randomly sitting next to a handsome stranger.
* * *
He would – like her – be clutching a paperback, looking around smugly as the flight attendants asked everyone to power down all electronic devices, “anything with an on/off switch” for take-off. No on/off switch on Little Women here. Suck it, e-readers. They’d share a knowing look and quick grin before going back to their books. She’d peek over and notice he wasn’t reading Dan Brown or James Patterson or, worse, the latest “How to be Rich and Successful Like Me” bestseller with some businessman’s photo on the front, as if he had actually written a word of it, instead of a ghostwriter.
No, he’d be reading something like The Art of Fielding. Freedom. Maybe a collection of Emerson or Chekhov. Even Hemingway would be acceptable.
They would read through take-off, taking the briefest of breaks to recline their seat backs just the tiniest bit, enough to give them the illusion of more space without infringing on their neighbors’.
When the flight attendants started walking down the aisle, taking drink orders row by row, he would seize his opportunity, flipping to the back of his book and removing the most sought-after pieces of paper by all travelers – the free drink ticket.
“Excuse me, but would you like anything?” he would ask, keeping his voice low. “I’ve got an extra, and they’re going to expire tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” she would demur, thinking God yes! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
She would order a gin & tonic; he, a Jack & Coke. She’d thank the flight attendant and then him again once the drinks were presented. They’d cheers with their little plastic cups and smile. He’d ask if she was enjoying her book, a simple question that makes it clear he has no interest in pulling her attention away from it for longer than a moment or two.
She’d tell him it was really good, a little slow at the start but now it’s getting close to the climax. And she wouldn’t feel awkward about saying “climax” in front of him because he, obviously, knows she is referring to the climactic scene of the book where all the shit hits the fan and not to anything sexual.
“Well, I’ll let you get back to it then,” he’d say, with a grin because he knows exactly how she feels, how the imagined world of the story becomes more of a reality than the physical world she’s actually in.
And she’d read another chapter or two, reach that climax, start to get to the gradual denouement where the characters faced themselves for real for the first time ever and started picking up the pieces and figuring out what to do next. Then she would turn a page, notice movement from the corner of her eye, and realize his attention is starting to wander ever so slightly from his own reading to the scenery outside. She would crane her neck just a little to peek around him, getting glimpse of mountains or farmlands below.
“Sorry,” he’d say, leaning back.
“Oh, no worries.” Casual, cool. A small smile. The subtlest flicker of her eyes down to his hand to confirm, no, no ring. Bonus – no giveaway tan line. Of course. As if he were the type to believe a trip, whether for business or pleasure, meant a time out from his committed relationship. “Enjoying that?” She would nod towards his book.
“Mmhmm. You ever read it?”
And she would answer honestly, yes or no. “I loved it” or “I’ve been wanting to, though.”
And that would break the ice; they would ask where the other was from, if they were departing or returning. Maybe they’d discover a possible mutual friend; he would have gone to school where a friend of hers went, or she would have relatives in his hometown. They’d talk about their mutual disdain for flying, for airports, for TSA. Or a shared love for a certain movie or TV show. They’d share travel stories. He’d be active, but outdoorsy, not in a gym rat way. He’d love his family. And he’d be a dog person.
And then, after they landed, after they’d waited for all the incompetents ahead of them figure out how to gather their belongings and disembark, she’d grin and say good-bye, it was nice talking to you, and he’d say likewise, and they’d split up on the way to baggage claim because she would have to use the restroom, but he would find her as she waited at the carousel, tap her shoulder or nudge her gently. “I’d love to see you again,” he’d say. Straightforward, honest. No bullshit lines. “Can I have your number?”
And she would say sure and recite her number. He would tap it into his phone and type something and look up. “I just texted you. I’ll call you.” And he would mean it.
* * *
She found an open seat, miraculously below a bin with juuuust enough space for her suitcase. She sat down and pulled out her book. Within a minute, a male voice from above asked, “Is this seat taken?”
“No,” she said with a quick shake of her head.
“Thanks.” He started unloading his jacket, his laptop bag, garment bag, and briefcase on the seat, causing a back-up in the aisle behind him. Finally, he shoved his suitcase, which appeared to be significantly larger than the carry-on size limits, into the overhead bin, sliding other bags out of the way. The bin now full, he tried closing it, only the latch wouldn’t catch because he suitcase was still sticking out a few inches. After four or five tries, he gave up, leaving the bin open, his suitcase sticking out, and sat down. “How’re you doing?” he asked.
“Fine,” she said, her eyes leaving her book for the tiniest of instants.
“What’s that you’re reading?”
She tried not to show how tense her shoulders were getting. As she looked up to answer him, in a voice that was just barely on the proper side of polite, her gaze passed by his left hand.
There was a tan line on his ring finger.
Comments, feedback, and constructive criticism welcome…