The stewardess rushed by for the third time, squeezing past the huddle of people waiting for the toilet. I sat back in my seat and stared absentmindedly at the seat back screen. Our altitude flashed up, followed by the outside temperature, then the moving map. The tiny illustrated plane hovered near the big, white Las Vegas dot. I remember being fascinated by these maps as a child. Once, on a ferry journey to Spain, I returned to the wall size display every hour to recount the little red light bulbs that marked our progress. We always seemed to be moving agonizingly slowly and I used to wish they would all light up and flash at once like a big fruit machine.
Now the plane waggled from side to side in a honeybee dance, indicating our imminent landing. I could see a woman in the next row, dividing money between herself and her husband. She had dull blonde hair and long nails and was stuffing crackers in her mouth with one hand, while she counted out bills with the other. I couldn’t see her husband’s face, just a red baseball cap, peeping over the back of the seat. And his chubby hand, reaching for the money. She handed him a thick wad of notes, then slapped his hand playfully when he reached out for more. next she reached down into a leather purse and handed him a stick of gum, taking one out for herself too, and quickly shoving it in her mouth, before settling back to carefully reapply her lipstick.
As the plane banked to the right, I looked out the window and gasped silently. The deep orange Nevada desert stretched out below. In the golden sunset light, it gave off a warmth that I could feel, even in this chilly air conditioned cabin. The land was flat in the distance, rising into a small huddle of mountains that surrounded the city. The houses below were neatly arranged in rows and circles, their grey roofs gazing at the huge sky and windows gleaming in unison, reflecting the warm yellow rays. A deep haze hung over the mountains. If I half closed my eyes, the grey forms below blurred and became water; the mountains rose and I could see a blue lagoon.
I craned my neck to look up above the plane. The sky extended to infinity, the dusty blue deepening to indigo at the very limits of my view. We suddenly turned to the left, and the sun streamed in through the windows, setting off a flurry of activity as people wearily pulled down their window shades for a few more minutes rest. The man at the opposite end of my row was fast asleep though; too tired to care that in this sunlight, his thinning hair looked like spun sugar, and beyond him, out the window, I could see the perfect cloud, its backlit outline like golden gauze.
The plane dipped suddenly and I felt my stomach flip inside. The stewards walked slowly down the aisles in pairs, collecting plastic cups and headphones. I shifted in my seat, slipping slightly on the plastic wrapper of my unused blanket. Soon this peaceful limbo would end. High above the ground, clear of clouds, I could think and dream. No one knew me. The only questions asked were what I’d like to drink and would I be needing an extra napkin? The deepening dusk revealed a forest of lights below and the screen display now counted down the minutes and miles until we reached the ground.
First draft of a piece I wrote for my Creative Writing class…