Your Life Vest May Also Be Inflated Orally

The credits are rolling at the end of this feel-good comedy—all those real and fictitious names, all those incomprehensible job titles, all those dots—and I don’t feel very good at all. The woman beside me looks over at me a little bleary-eyed, and says: “She reminds me of that actress in that stupid movie about, you know, the water.”

We’re over North America now, I think, flying direct from somewhere to somewhere else. I managed to get on this earlier flight and thus to save myself a three-hour layover, but now I have a premonition that the people who were supposed to be my fellow passengers will at least arrive, while this damn plane will either explode or its engines will stall inexplicably and we will all just drop pathetically to the ground.

The guy sitting to the other side of me is a pilot (smaller planes), and I tell him I always worry that the plane will just flip over as our pilot overcompensates for an air pocket or lightning or —

“Actually, that kind of thing is highly unlikely,” he says somewhat reassuringly, but then adds: “It’s always the things the average person knows nothing about that you really should worry about.”

The magazine he’s reading has an article about the space station and he tells me lovingly about the spare parts used in its construction. “Stuff from the early ’80s,” he says, and I look out at the window at the wing and wonder what variety of old parts has been cobbled together for this thing.

The flight attendant is stopped a couple of seats ahead of me and so I lower my tray in preparation for a snack.

“How much longer is this flight?” the passenger she’s serving asks.

“About another hour,” she says.

“Can’t you put the gas to it?” he asks and his companions all laugh.

“What?” she asks.

“Can’t you put the gas to it?”

More laughter.

“I’m sorry,” she says, now attending to another group of passengers. “I didn’t catch that.”

The guy persists when she is about to move on, and asks her a question about Santa Claus.

“Can he read?” she asks, trying to clarify. “Can Santa Claus read?”

He repeats his question.

“Oh,” she says. “Is he real?” Pause. “Yes, he is real.” And then she moves on to me and my seat mates.

While she is pouring my soda water, I ask if she has lime.

“Lemon,” she says.

Lime,” I clarify.

“We have lemon,” she says.

I take it plain and she gives me some indecipherable look, glares at the drunken guys in the seats ahead, and then pushes the cart on to the next rows of passengers.

I settle back limelessly in my seat and my mind wanders. I don’t really care whether the plane goes down or not—all I care about, all I silently beg of God now, is that it happens fast if it does happen, that I am sucked roughly out the door or that the terrorist bomb is directly under my seat, not that something goes only mildly wrong in the air and we end up hurtling to our noisy, embarrassing deaths five miles below.

I look up at the television screen and there are clips of various sports rolling by now, regular and then slow motion, sometimes the same event in both, and they remind me that all I want to do is to complete one single discrete act—run turn catch fall, or chase tackle bring down. Something simple, something not of the daily world, an action that just folds in on itself, complete.

My soda water is warm now, no fizz. We will soon be merely landing.