Maria wishes she’d known that she could pick a seat. As it is, she’s by a window, just on top of the wing. Flying starts off like driving in a car, in a taxi cab perhaps, with a driver who likes to go too fast. But then the plane lurches, and it jumps into the air – there is no other word for it. This is a leaping, and when you jump, you have to come back down.
Hank stands when everyone sings. He sits when they stop. And he thinks to himself that if he could only be in one position or the other for a longer duration, he could make more of that ghost at the end of the pew to his right and up one row, the shimmering figure that must only have one butt cheek on the bench – the other floating in air, showing off a hint of panty.
Maria is told that she is allowed to take her seatbelt off, but she doesn’t. The man next to her removes his shoes, but she keeps hers on. There are clouds beneath her, and she fancies that they are radiating heat upwards, a sort of energy that keeps her in the sky, because there can’t be any other explanation for this. When the plane turns, the moon comes out, close enough that she can see details on it that she’s never seen before: the sideslopes of mountains, the coolness of craters, and the hiding spots where something can go to watch her from afar.
“Did it help? Did you enjoy?” asks Gao.
“Help how? Enjoy what?” returns Hank.
She has taken his arm and is leading him into the immense parking lot, as though determined to find a way to smush him between flat plates of American steel and foreign bumpers.
“Did you see your wife in there? You did, didn’t you?”
“This isn’t an experiment, Gao. I’m not a case study.”
She pulls him a bit closer, and his arm presses against the side of her breast. His erection may be gone, but the thought of it is lingering somewhere, just like that church music – maybe in a different time zone, on the edge of a cliff. Or at the bottom of a pond. She presses him again for what he saw, amidst his excitement and all that music, and the fiery sermon that put down people who were exactly like Hank.
“Maybe. A hint. Here and there.”
“This is progress!”
“Progress is progress,” he returns, unsure of what he is talking about, and somewhat unable to detach himself from thoughts of her breast. He’s never thought about her like this before, in the months that he’s known her. She’s tall and nice and insistent, but plain in some way that he just can’t define. And now she’s a breast and a butt, and hips that are near him too, and he wonders what she would feel like if he put his rough hands on her skin.
“Maybe a hint,” he says, because he wants her to think that this is working – because actually, he likes Gao. “She was up with the choir for a bit, could see her face. Never saw her dressed in white before, but there she was. May didn’t sing much, to tell the truth, but she was in decent form today. I saw her, Gao, as clear as a photograph. May never liked to be photographed. Refused to have it done. Had nothing to do with people stealing her soul or anything like that, was more because she didn’t want people staring at her when she wasn’t around. Thought it was indecent. She always used to tell me that if I needed to see her, that she’d be right there. All I had to do was yell.”
“I’m so sorry, Hank.”
“Takes a lot of yelling to get her attention now,” admits Hank. “A lot.”
“Maybe it’s not yelling that’s needed,” says Gao. “Maybe you just need to hear people sing.”
“Like today?” asks Hank, because he likes Gao, and doesn’t want to hurt her.
“Just like that,” she smiles, and draws him down the sidewalk.
The plane shudders. The clouds aren’t moving, but the plane is shuddering anyway. Maria has her head against the glass, the plastic warm against her skin. Most of the people on the plane are sleeping, but a few wake up when the fasten seatbelt sign flashes on, and the rest stir when the captain’s voice comes on to tell everyone to sit down and refrain from using the washrooms.
Up ahead, a stewardess is on the phone. The plane shudders. And when Maria looks around, the man next to her has put his shoes back on.
“Why are you doing that?” she asks him.
He blinks the sleep from his eyes and holds onto his arm rests. Earlier, this man was playing music on his phone, some dance song, and Maria had wanted to ask him why he hadn’t used headphones to listen instead of blaring the music. In fact, she’d wondered if she should call a stewardess to tell this man to stop disturbing other passengers with his dance beats, but it’s a five-hour flight and she had not wanted to create that kind of disturbance. Stewardesses (and one steward) had walked along the aisle in proximity to the music being played, but somehow the row of seats had been sealed sonically from the outside world, and they’d just walked along. They hadn’t heard a thing.
“You put your shoes on,” Maria says. “Why?”
He grips the arm rests harder. The plane shudders, lurches. Maria thinks about Gerald. He used to fly so much, to so many places, and she wonders how many times he went through this, this sudden interruption of leaning against the plastic as the moon reveals details that it often likes to keep secret. Gerald, she imagines, would have thought of her, of the home they shared, of the leather recliners where they read newspapers. Of the rubber tire against the porch door, the one he refused to move, and she did too.
And one time Gerald would have been in the sky and it would have been like this, only the plane wouldn’t have recovered. He would have thought of her, and their home, and now Maria is left with the inevitable decision about what she should think about – her husband, since gone, her daughter, her sister, her neighbor or something else. The plane drops sharply, and Maria clutches her hands together, asking for something to come to mind, a thought that should have come naturally but for some reason doesn’t. Was this the same for Gerald, or had he gone to her right away? She doesn’t know.
The captain’s voice is on the speaker, but there’s too much noise in the cabin to hear it. People are breathing hard. The airplane is breathing hard. They drop again, longer than the last time. She’s not counting moments, but she knows it’s longer than the last one. And she thinks it’s improbable that this is happening, first Gerald and now her – she thinks that this must not be real, because she walks in the fringes, at the edge of what is noticed, and there is just too much coincidence in the sudden, longer drop that is now happening for her to give it any credit. Gerald went through this and didn’t recover, and now here she is. And here she is, on the way home, just as Gerald was. Just as he was.