I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the safety instructions coming over the public address system from the eager flight attendant’s squeaky little voice. I didn’t want to hear which exit was closest to me, or how I was supposed to proceed in the event we needed to initiate emergency procedures.
What was the point of it all? If you fell from the sky in a thousand-ton metal coffin, the likelihood of needing either a life preserver or knowing which exit from which to deplane seemed moot. However, that didn’t stop her from completing her droning litany and ending with a nauseatingly perky “Thank you.”
After a few more minutes, we leveled off at thirty-eight thousand feet and the red seatbelt warning sign light went off. It was now safe to move about the plane. Thundering along at six hundred miles per hour, with two massive engines strapped to a long metal cigar in which two hundred people were milling about, was hardly a description of a safe, carefree environment. And yet, here we were, tethered souls on our way to Tampa; most already anticipating what they were going to do after landing, who they were going to meet or avoid at the airport, how they were going to get their baggage before everybody else and what was involved in the next logical step of their lives. A hundred years ago, this would have been unthinkable.
I unlocked my seatbelt in defiance of caution and wondered what the next fifty or hundred years would bring. As I made my way to the rear of the plane, I realized I had no urgent interest in finding out the answer to the point for two reasons. Firstly, I seriously believed I would probably be dead in less than forty years and, more importantly, I had a pressing need to go to the bathroom so badly I was practically gargling.
Dozens of faces glanced up to watch me pass their seats. Men and women and a few attentive children all wondering who I was and whether they should go to the bathroom now or wait until their urge was more insistent. Those who preferred the window to an aisle seat, and knowing that they would never accept the middle seat from the travel agent unless it were imperative that they made this exact flight, were more pressed than most others. They had to make more excuses to get out, if even for an emergency. No one liked the passengers next to window. I certainly knew I didn’t. They had chosen their seat, and most likely their position in life, at the expense of all those around them.
I passed the rear galley, a hotbed of non-nutritional activity. If the plane didn’t crash, certainly the food would kill us all. You had to wonder what had become of human decency when you couldn’t get more than a cold cardboard taco and an apple for a three-hour flight. Did the airlines really think we all ate like that, or was it just their senior executives that had a penchant for insipid cuisine? I decided not to take a long look at what inedible delights they were preparing; instead noting which of the female hostesses was bending over, my favorite pose for women, clothed or otherwise.
And what if I had made the next flight? I questioned as I advanced on the cubicle that was to become my cocoon for the next few minutes. I could have postponed the flight by a few hours or even a day. I could have taken many paths to consecrate my avoidance. I looked at the passengers at the rear of the plane. These last few rows always seemed to catch the dredges, the most disheveled humanity on earth. Men and women in more accentuated shapes, ill-fitting clothes cast about, legs spread-eagled, mouths open as they snored, and their space more cluttered and confined. They represented the refuge of last-minute thinkers, the pitiable planners and great procrastinators of our time. People willing to take a back seat, quite literally, to all the things that made this nation great.
I opened the door and shut it behind me. I slid the lock shut on the inside, which forced the Occupied sign into position on the outside of the door to the head and decided not to continue elucidating on my intractable contempt for this small band of forlorn voyeurs.
“What would have happened if you had waited until tomorrow, or next week? What was so damn important that you had to get on this flight?” Since there was no response from anybody in the head, I decided another approach. “What would you have done if it had happened to you?” Again, my conscience didn’t respond.
I stood there in the temporary safety of my confinement and unzipped my pants, one hand holding onto the plastic handle overhead for balance. Why did we all want to be so safe? What were we afraid of at forty-thousand feet? There was no one up here but Bernoulli demonstrating his concept of laminar lift. Without him, we would all be still looking up from Kitty Hawk. A warm yellow stream drained into the toilet as a fan-jet engine, so large a grown man could stand in its intake, whirred along not ten feet away. I finished relieving myself, zipped up, and flushed. A gunshot rang out in the confined cabin and a green swirl of blue liquid flushed away my well-earned waste. If I could see through the wall a foot from my face, would the dusty dark blue expanse before me bring fear to my heart? If I could reverse the engines, would that return me to New York where I would then have a legitimate excuse not to complete my journey?
I glared at myself in the small mirror over the sink. I stood straight up, trying to reverse years of sloth and neglect and bend my forty-one year old frame back into the shape of my fondest memory. I pulled back my shoulders and tucked in my hardly noticeable gut. Nothing worked. I was who I was, nothing more or less. A man on a mission who, for the luck of the draw, might have wound up with the motley crew right outside his door.
My younger brother David was in a hospital in Tampa Beach. He had suffered with diabetes for many years and the day after tomorrow was going to lose his left foot because of how far the gangrenous state had advanced. I would have two feet. He would have one less. His two children were in grade school and would not understand what had happened to make their father such a different man. A man who could no longer be like their friend’s fathers, like their neighbors, like the proud referee he was at their soccer and hockey games.
This was his greatest fear. Not for himself, but for how his children would now see their father. For how they might see him as something less than he was. I was neither married nor had ever experienced the joy and torment of parenthood, so I was in no position to comment on what character he had inculcated into them to help them deal with such terrible early trauma. On the other hand, could any parent ever insinuate enough fiber in so young a spirit to deal with such an outcome? The eventuality of a child’s personality, I concluded long ago, was so much more of a crapshoot than some natural gift from the almighty.
I tucked my shirt into my pants, as though that would make a difference, and opened the door to a line of impatient travelers stretching back to the galley. Four women and two men—six exasperated passengers in all—who were not thrilled with the time I had taken in one of the three rear heads. I didn’t even bother to show any guilt. They should have gotten up when I did. Some forethought in life can go a long way. Now they had to pause next to the roiling masses in the back of the compartment—the toiling, groveling, filthy, swarming riffraff responsible for causing incalculable human discord and national unrest. Of course, this was melodramatic, rampant antediluvian nonsense. I suppose my summation was more reflective of my mood than any geo-social reality.
I squeezed by the unfriendly six, passed what was once a sea of meaningless faces and was now the backs of bobbing, canted heads. Different shapes and sizes with hair in every color; some with long, dreamy swept-back locks while others, mostly men who drew from the wrong side of the gene pool, sported bald sports on the top of their head. David had a thick head of curly blonde hair. He knew how this one characteristic had affected his relationship with women. How important it was to his wife. How she loved to run her fingers through it, tug at it when they had sex. Would a woman so shallow and easily transformed by something so nominal be less of a companion to a man whose fortunes included a prosthetic right foot?
I am being harsh and suspect of Teresa. She is a wonderful mother to Becky and Danny, and loves David with a sense of devotion I had always thought I would see in the eyes of the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Such misgivings are invariably more indicative of my own incapacity to love someone that completely.
Two men turned and looked up as I pass them. They occupied the window and aisle seats next to each other. Both men were heavy, fleshy, unshaven eastern European types in their late forties and dressed in poorly tailored suits; large and precipitous bodies with thick necks making considerable effort at being inconspicuous in seats meant for lesser forms. Their fleshy expressions were lifeless. They returned to their secret, diabolical dialog just as I move past them.
If I were casting a cheap spy thriller, I would want those two dolts working as monolithic henchmen for the villain who, in the end, by overreacting in a dangerous situation, exposed their commander’s intentions to the hero of my poorly defined film. Their only saving grace was that they are sitting behind a very a pretty blue-eyed, blonde woman who thankfully was wearing a skin-tight white tank top. Maybe she will walk over to my seat, introduce herself, and explain to me in pleading sincerity how long she has been searching for someone like me and sweep me off my feet and take me away from all this. Hopefully she wouldn’t be met by her boyfriend, girlfriend, or husband when we landed.
The woman sitting next to me continued reading one of the most recent bestsellers. I understand it’s about an attorney who conquered impossible odds (don’t they all), a threat on his life, jeopardizing his family and their collective future to press on with the case of pleading for some pathetic indigent who had been injured by a large faceless multinational conglomerate. Oh, give me a break. I, on the other hand, had brought little else with me but my optimism. No, that’s not true. It’s quite the opposite. My brother was ill and would never be the same. But that was, or would soon be, true to some extent of every one traveling with me in this space. Names and faces, making their way through life’s journey with no guarantee of success, and more than enough evidence of the possibility of catastrophic failure ahead.
I glanced across the dowager’s chest to the window at her right. Billowy white puffs passed by only to re-form, as we all would, sometime later into a new life and life form. We cruised along at six hundred miles per hour while all around us remained serene. However, nothing could be further from the truth. There are other planes up here, with their own passenger list and their own relevant truth. How we stayed up here was a constant reminder of the wonder of nature and man’s tenuous conquest of the fringe of that awesome power. Out in the distance another plane moves beyond the horizon toward another destination, to another time.
“Are you frightened?” the woman next to me asked.
“Just thinking about what keeps us up.”
She glanced out the window as though I had just discovered an ominous cosmic relevancy. “Why would you want to know that?”
“Because it’s a constant fascination to me how we’ve conquered the air.” I found myself enjoying terrorizing this poor creature. She’ll probably babble on to her friends at their canasta party next week about how she was unfortunate enough to sit next to a frightened paranoid who made her trip a disaster. “I mean, look around you. Don’t you think it’s unusual for us to even be up here where birds dare not go?”
“Oh,” she began. The serene sheen on her face was shattered by my observation. “I don’t want to know what I wouldn’t understand.”
“You’re not fascinated by the fact that we’re moving along up here against every reason and rationale?”
She set the book in her lap. “Now you mustn’t think about such things. It will only get you upset. Here,” she said taking a complementary magazine from the pouch in front of her, “maybe you would enjoy something to read.”
“I’d enjoy being back in New York or, at the very least, on the ground.”
“You know we’re perfectly safe up here. I’ve read you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than having a flying accident.”
“I’ve already been struck by lightning. That was quite enough for me.” Of course, it wasn’t true, but it did make her stiffen up a bit in her seat. “I don’t need any more excitement in my life.”
With some questioning reluctance, the little woman returned to her potboiler. I started to turn my attention to my brother and his ever-expanding financial plight when I noticed one of the hostesses straighten out her stockings partially outside the forward galley. Now my seat doesn’t present a great view of that galley, but it was quite obvious, I guess to no one but me, that the tall brunette had taken some time to straighten out her black fishnet stockings so they showed the sensual curve of her calf. She paid particular attention to the razor sharp line of her seam that stretched up the back of her calf into her thigh and beyond. Just as she dropped her skirt back down over her knees, she glanced up and I caught her eye. She didn’t smile or look away. She held my gaze as I held hers. I sat up as though I wanted to enhance an impression. Finally, and clearly with no one watching but me, she stood up and went back to preparing dinner for the first class passengers.
“Great legs,” I said, again attracting the attention of the dowager princess.
“Were you talking to me, sir?”
“Great light out there,” I said nodding to the setting sun, which was streaming in through her window. She looked back at me, frowned in disbelief as though she had caught a schoolboy with his hand where it shouldn’t be, then returned to her novel.
We shared a moment together then slowly drifted apart, as do most at one point or another in our precarious lives. I couldn’t get the hostess with the great legs out of my mind. I didn’t want to. It was as if she were giving a private performance for me. One to soothe and satisfy me during the trial of this journey that I knew was going to end in the culmination of a difficult time for my brother and our family.
At one time in high school, David was considering going out for the Olympics in track and field. He had been a star athlete since grade school and was good enough to win several state championships in the four hundred meter, mile, and javelin. He was intense and dedicated and, if he hadn’t been so interested in architecture and received a college scholarship to pursue his studies, he might well have taken the time to train for the Olympics. Now he was preparing for an even more difficult struggle. One in which he knew the outcome. One in which he would have to lose before he could ever win again.
I was trying in vain to get comfortable in my seat when that very same hostess moved passed me. She pressed several fingers into the top of my jacket as she went by then disappeared into the rear of the plane. I turned around to make sure I wasn’t having one of my frequent hallucinations. You know, the kind you get when facing the impossible and you feel you’re ill equipped to deal with the most meager realities of life. The curve of her hips and buttocks and perfect seam on the back of her fishnet stockings tracing the movement over her calf was no hallucination. I quickly glanced around. Looking up and down the aisle, no one seemed to notice the obvious or, what I thought was so tantalizingly clear.
And she was pretty—very appealing in an earthy way, with dark brown eyes, which always was an added attraction. The shapely, full-figured, dark featured Mediterranean types easily seduce me. She was all of those and more as I had first noticed when she and her bland companion walked through the waiting area toting their black luggage dollies behind them in the airport. She couldn’t have been more than thirty. Thirty-two tops. Every once in a while you see a woman who for no reason—nothing about her figure or face is outstanding except for what she represents and possesses—is so fascinating and enticing that your pulse speeds up, as does your curiosity. Except that, this woman had the figure too. I wanted her name to be Virginia or Christiana or Alexandra, something slightly exotic, but not too experimental.
I decided to get up and introduce myself to her. I looked furtively up and down the aisle, as though I was being watched by all two hundred passengers. I started to get up, actually skulking out of my seat, when I noticed that beyond the curtain that separated the peasants from the peacocks, the door to the cockpit was wide open.
At thirty-eight thousand feet, the cockpit was the center of the known civilized world. Maybe it was empty. Maybe we were flying on automatic pilot. Maybe the crew had a collective heart attack and this was nature’s way of testing my metal. I took a few steps toward the front of the plane. A young couple got up and squeezed past me. The man was tall and rangy and had severe body odor. His girlfriend was plain and impossibly indifferent to (if the brunette was any indication) my brooding, incapacitating sex appeal. I was a few paces away from the curtain, half expecting some fractious, long-stemmed blonde hostess to shut it in my face, but the front of the plane was as quiet as the rear. People were getting on with their lives and paying absolutely no attention to me. I walked the final few paces into the first-class cabin and stood in reckless abandon at the door to the cockpit. The co-pilot turned, acknowledged my presence and invited me in.
“I’ve never been inside of the cockpit of a commercial airplane.”
“Nothing that complicated. Just a lot of dials,” he announced.
The captain turned toward the engineer sitting at a small console at my right. “And sometimes assholes.”
“I flew a small Piper Cub twenty or so years ago,” I said. “A hundred-eight horsepower high wing.”
“You fly now?” the captain asked.
“No. It was nothing like that. I had enough money left over after a skiing accident to take up flying lessons.”
“Makes sense,” the co-pilot agreed.
“It did to me at the time.”
“You want to take the controls?”
I stared back at the captain. The man was ten years and a world of gray hair older than I was. “You’re kidding?”
“Of course he is,” the co-pilot gestured with a reproving grin.
“I’ve always wanted to ask a passenger that question,” the captain said laughingly, and returned to the forest of instrumentation.
The view forward was so different from the little box windows from which passengers were condemned to view the world. The sky was an endless expanse of blue studded with white to the edge of the horizon. The sun was brighter, more believable. “What would you have done if I’d said yes?” The captain made some adjustments to the controls on the console to his right. The co-pilot was speaking into the headset. The engineer continued whatever he was doing. “So, who is the brunette with the fishnet stockings?”
All three turned at once, but it was the co-pilot who answered. “Nice rear-end eh?”
“Great rear end,” I replied.
The captain seemed annoyed at my observation. Apparently, I had encroached on his territory, though the wedding band on his hand would indicate otherwise. “She’s the daughter of the guy who owns the airline.”
“Good looking but very uptight,” the engineer added in a very disengaging manner.
“You know if something happens to all three of you, I could probably take over the controls and land us safely in Tampa.”
That caught the captain’s attention. He swiveled his head, looked me up and down. “Well, that’s very reassuring.”
Okay, so it sounded ridiculous. I admit to that. But, at least I said what I wanted to say, and that was more than most people could claim for themselves. The trip back through the cloistered first class passengers with their fattened free drinks and wide genuine leather seats and pulsating air of aloofness was made without incident. At least that was what I thought. What I didn’t know was that at that very minute a twin-engine plane was taking off from Birmingham, Alabama and was locked into an east-south-east heading toward Savannah, Georgia. The pilot, one Philip Alexander—his friends called him Skip—was flying his three year old supercharged Cessna to Savannah to pick up his niece and bring her back to college in Georgia where he lived. He was about my age but he kept himself in considerably better shape. We shared very little in common except the one incident that was about to change our lives forever.
This time the passengers in coach greeted me with a visible mixture of contempt, from those who thought I had no business going forward into the first class cabin to praise from those who felt that there should be no class distinctions in life. Personally, I was all for class distinction as long as whatever class I was relegated to was at the top of the food chain.
I stopped for a moment in the hope that my fishnet dreamboat would emerge from wherever she was hiding and rush into my arms. I plunged back into my seat and pondered the next two hours of my life. The dowager princess remained occupied. She obviously did not appreciate who she had been fortunate enough to sit next to and was missing an opportunity to learn insights about life that surely would have enhanced her future and all those with which she associated. Even if she wasn’t alert to the obvious, I wasn’t very interested in small talk or, now that I realize it, any conversation that did not contain the sentence, “Apparently our prognosis was inaccurate and we won’t have to cut your brother’s foot off.”
“This is the captain. I just want you to know that we will be diverting our flight pattern several hundred miles to the west in order to avoid a small storm front moving inland from the Atlantic. We will be delayed twenty or thirty minutes from our scheduled landing time in Tampa. We apologize for the delay. If any passenger has to make a connecting flight, please speak to the hostess who will radio ahead so that you will be able to catch the flight. Again, thanks for your cooperation and enjoy the rest of your flight.”
“He didn’t sound quite contrite enough,” I declared. The dowager princess didn’t budge. No one turned their head to see who had leveled the scathing indictment. However, the brunette did walk over to my seat and kneel down next to me.
“I couldn’t help noticing you looking at my legs.”
Without hesitation: “They’re beautiful.”
“Thank you. That’s so sweet of you.”
“I’m a master of the obvious.”
“I jog five miles, three times a week.”
“What a coincidence.”
She put her hand over my arm and gave it a squeeze. “You jog too?”
“No, but I go to the park to watch female joggers run five miles, three times a week. It’s a little hobby of mine.”
“I’ll stop by later,” she said with a deliciously flirtatious wink.
She walked away leaving a cloud of perfume in her path. I watched her disappear behind the curtain leading to the first class cabin. Except for the fact that the pilot wouldn’t let a man who had flown eight hours in a tiny one engine plane twenty-five years ago and who hadn’t flown since fly the plane, this was turning out to be one of the more positive aspects of an otherwise terrible trip.
The two suspicious looking thugs in the rear went to the bathroom followed by a slight woman in her early seventies carrying a large black knit purse under her arm with red hair. I mean the woman’s hair was red. She was obviously a spy too and was going to the rear compartment to hand-off a slip of microfilm she had procured from another deep agent working in Vienna whose specialty was submarine missile firing codes. It’s amazing what you can find out with a little observation and simple deduction. They stood in line together waiting for an available bathroom. I knew instinctively that this was where they would make the exchange. If all three packed themselves into one bathroom, I would have questioned the rationale of my conclusions.
By this time, we were only a few hundred miles northwest of the twin-engine Cessna heading to Savannah. Philip ‘Skip’ Alexander was radioing into the Savannah airport control tower to confirm his position just as our co-pilot was doing the same. The air traffic controller in Savannah got the frequency confused giving each pilot the wrong instructions. Not twenty minutes later, the dowager princess to my right closed the book after finishing a particularly clichéd chapter, looked out of the window to her right and noticed a dark distant dot in the sky. It was not coming directly at her; rather it seemed to be moving across our line of flight. She thought nothing of it. She squinted once, twice, and gasped at the fact that neither our plane nor the smaller object was making any adjustments to avoid each other as the dot grew more distinct.
The dowager continued her vigil until she could make out the form and size of the small aircraft as well as realize she was the only one on board the plane who was aware of what was happening, and what was about to happen. Instead of screaming, she simply closed her eyes and lifted her book to her chest as though it would protect her from the inevitability of her now diminished future. Seconds later, the entire plane shuttered and, in a blinding flash, the plane lurched to the right then left, as I believe the captain tried to maintain level flight. The plane shook violently then lurched to the right again. Ice-cold air gushed into the cabin sending passengers and their baggage in all directions.
Instantly the plane filled with screams pungent with terror. Above and just behind the magic curtain was an opening through which you could see an expanse of bright blue sky the size of a small van. Whoever was standing or moving about near the rupture was quickly sucked out of the gaping opening. Passengers who were not buckled in were jerked from their seats and tossed around, howling in panic and confusion.
The dowager princess let out a slight yelp as her book was sucked from her lap. She crossed her chest and prayed but it was to no avail. The worst was yet to come. Before her prayer was completed, the fuselage on both sides near the rupture, split wide open. The two pieces of fuselage, the forward and aft section, separated and began their seven-mile plunge to earth. As usual, the forward section in which the first class passengers enjoyed a higher level of service went first.
Clothing and bodies and food and other particles of life flipped and rattled about the metal coffin as we began our descent. I looked out of the window, but nothing had changed. It was still blue and white and magnificent and oblivious to the calamity that had befallen my flight. Something struck my right shoulder sending a sharp pain into my back. But the pain was only temporary. I tried to turn around but the seatbelt held me back. The wind blew away all other noises. Or was it only that I could not bear to hear the anguished cries of those souls about to perish? I was right from the beginning. Knowing where your closest exit was or where and how to get into your life preserver wasn’t going to be of any value. Especially to the engineer whom I spotted floundering about thirty or so yards outside my window.
I could no longer restrain myself. If I was about to die it wasn’t going to be as a helpless spectator. Something, or someone, flew by, but this time I ducked, avoiding injury. I unfastened my seatbelt and floated away from the princess who had passed out—or had a heart attack—and died. I will never know. I was buffeted about, but slowly maneuvered my way to the front aided by the suction from the difference in air pressure. Others in front and behind seemed not to realize they had to take control of the situation and get as far away from the fuselage as possible. At least that’s how I would have instructed them. By the time I grabbed onto the curtain and pulled myself from the fuselage, I could no longer see or hear what was going on behind me. If I had turned, I believe to this day that I would have seen a hundred people praying, a hundred people dying, and others in some state of disbelief.
There was a moment of peace, as though I had finally extracted myself from a chaotic and dangerous situation that might have certainly gotten much worse if it weren’t for my quick and resourceful thinking. The impact of the cold air rushing up to me made it difficult to breathe. Not that there was much breathable air at thirty-thousand feet. I moved my hands and legs about and knew that my right shoulder had been more seriously injured than I’d first believed. After a while, I stabilized my tumbling fall and was able to breathe without fighting myself. I quickly glanced about. The world was a very beautiful place from twenty-five thousand feet, now that the trappings of technology no longer encumbered me. I had always wanted to skydive, always wanted to feel the world around me rush by while I, at the last minute, pulled my ripcord only to cheat death out of another impecunious victim. But I guess that and much more was not to be.
Bodies, pieces of plane, and cold tacos floated down around me. Some of the bodies were lifeless; smears of blood crisscrossing them. Other were crying or screaming while most were flapping in the breeze trying to get a foothold on heaven. The two pieces of plane were about five hundred feet above me, and falling end over end. At this rate, I would be crushed under their combined weight less than a second after I struck the ground. Yet there was no panic. I had been more discombobulated by the brunette leaving her hand on my arm than the loss of the plane.
I recognized a few faces as we fell together. The two spies were widely separated. I thought to maneuver myself over to one then the other in the hope of stealing back the firing codes they had procured from the double agent. Instead, I spotted the brunette with the fishnet stockings not forty feet away. She was falling feet first. Her skirt was hiked over her head revealing the tops of the stockings, the thick smoothness of her upper thighs and curve of her delicious buttocks. I fluttered about a bit, but was in no rush to change my view. She looked over at me and gave me wide, wonderful and completely reassuring smile. It warmed my heart to have found someone so special. Another body—I couldn’t tell if it was man or woman—struck her from the side, sending her spinning further away. The look of shock and disappointment on her face was obvious. It made me feel even better about what we had shared together.
The ground below looked so far away. Even though we were falling, I knew there was plenty of time before the impact. Plenty of time to get one’s life in order, to make amends to those whom you have harmed or in some way taken advantage of or have, by not coming to their aid, made their lives more burdensome. This took me no more than five or ten seconds. Now what was I going to do? Fields of grain and corn checkered the landscape below.
“David, you take care of yourself and Teresa and the kids. I tried to be there for you, but, well, what can I say? I didn’t think my life would turn out this way. Who could have known?”
A section of fuselage floated close to me, the pilot still strapped in his seat, a startled expression on his face. Just above him came the co-pilot. Each wore a mask of rage and dismay, and looked as though they would have liked to catch up to Philip Alexander to give him a sound thrashing. I knew that’s what I would do if I thought some jerk going in the wrong direction had just killed several hundred people and ruined my entire trip. I watched them drop below me with no real interest in who was responsible for what had happened.
We were all dead or dying or about to die. Those who remained would spend a few years trying to sort out the mechanical or human errors. The insurance companies would step in at the last moment and mollify the grieving relatives and the airline, especially my girlfriend’s grief-stricken father who would eventually come forward and describe the loss of such life as a “national tragedy.'” Of course he would have the good grace not to make his personal loss any more important than those of the ones we all left behind.
“David, oh shit! I forgot to tell you who I loaned your camera to. And I know the bastard isn’t going to give it back once he finds out you don’t know. Damn it. I should have told you it was Harvey Lyman. You know, the guy who was my accountant years ago? Believe me you’re never going to see it again.” Shit.
The farmland below still looked very far away, and I couldn’t understand why some of the bodies and pieces of wreckage were falling faster than others. I knew from high school physics that, unless the laws established by Newton had suddenly been repealed, everybody should be falling at the same speed. Then I realized that the good—those who have lead an exemplary life—would be lighter and therefore not fall to earth so fast. Again discerning rationale triumphs over traditionalist reason.
I lost sight of my brunette and those I recalled sitting next to. The further we fell the more spread out our little band became. The sky, which was once filled with mechanical and human carnage, had been scattered to every corner of the horizon. My right foot hurt. I think it was broken. My brother was going to be disappointed at my tardiness. I promised him and Teresa I would be at their side until he was released from the hospital. But my right foot hurt. I tried to reach down and pull back my pants to see what I could do about the injury when the pretty blonde who’d been sitting in front of me came whizzing by. “Tramp,” I muttered as she shot towards the earth at twice my speed. “Probably didn’t pay her taxes on time or hated animals.”
Now the outline of houses and villages on the ground below became clear. We were in the middle of nowhere. Maybe that was good. The ground would certainly soften our impact. It was a hell of a lot better than dropping at a hundred twenty miles per hour onto concrete. All this time I had managed to stabilize my position as the wind whipped up around my face. I realized that there was a ball of empty space around me. What remained of the debris was strewn over so much sky you couldn’t tell a bird from a passenger.
Then it finally sunk in that I was about to die. That I had about thirty seconds, probably less, left to my life. I had taken control of my descent, sought out companionship in the sky, had made my amends and still had time to kill. Get it? Time. To. Kill. Nevermind.
Clearly, this would never have happened if I were at the controls. Even with only eight hours as a pilot, I knew that you never wanted to make impact with another plane in midair. That was now so obvious I was beginning to doubt the captain’s credibility. I think anyone would. It was that idiot’s fault I was never going to be at David’s side. Never going to play ball again with Danny or Becky. Never going to fulfill the promise of whatever career I’d had. That arrogant asshole should have let me taken control of the plane right there. It would have been our only hope of getting to Tampa in one piece. I needed to be more assertive next time.
I guessed that only half a mile separated me from wherever I was bound. Though the ground below had spread out in all directions and bore no impact craters—no indication that an accident of such magnitude had ever taken place—my immediate future was a certainty.
“Dear God,” I began, almost piously. Then I couldn’t think of what to say.
“Hey, it’s time to get up.”
I shook my head violently. My body jumped into the air and I felt myself strike something very hard. Voices rose up all around me. I opened my eyes. Teresa and my parents were hovering around me, as were two nurses who were particularly interested in how badly I had struck my head on the floor of the waiting room. As luck would have it, I was sleeping on the only couch that was not resting on carpeting. Still, it could have been worse. I was taken to David’s room. He was sleeping comfortably. The surgery had been a complete success. “You look worse than your brother,” one of the nurses commented.
“I only wish that were true,” I answered as they walked me to the emergency room where the inch-long break in my scalp was to be repaired. One of the nurses was a brunette. Any similarity to my once and past girl of my dreams ended there. “He looks great doesn’t he?”
“He’ll be fine,” the other nurse said. “We’re going to put a few butterfly stitches in there and you can go back to be with your brother.”
“Well, I don’t want to make a nuisance of myself.”
I was lifted onto a table and a bright light shown into my eyes. The doctor was a woman in her late fifties who gave my scalp a thorough inspection, making sure there were no other injuries. “I’m going to give you an injection to make the area numb. You won’t feel a thing after that,” she said taking a hypodermic from one of the nurses who had helped me into the operating room.
I glanced up and saw the sharp silver needle drop towards my head and passed out. I drifted for a while until the noise around my ears was too loud to disregard. What the hell were they doing to my head? I questioned as I opened my eyes and saw a wheat field below shoot up at me. I remember falling face forward toward a huge stack of baled hay. I remember the impact wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, then bouncing back up into the air and coming down next to a golden mound of dry straw.
I managed to open my eyes just once more but couldn’t recall the name of the dowager’s novel that had just landed next to my head.
“Damn that Harvey Lyman,” were my last words.