Read The Entire Predicament Online

Authors: Lucy Corin

Tags: #Fiction, #Short Stories (Single Author)

The Entire Predicament (2 page)

BOOK: The Entire Predicament
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What I mean is it’s an intimate kind of anger he’s looking at me with, that I should know him, and know better, and I am not taking care of my end of things. That I am not pulling my weight in this community.
They slap shoulders symmetrically, big pudgy affable and tight squat hero, holding their carry-ons in their hands. They shift sideways and turnstile around each other, their bellies nuzzling, their arms making spokes of a ferris wheel in the air or whatever you call it, it being the exact space between everyone and the ceiling, the corridor between overhead compartments. These men are the gears of the plane. It’s as if the plane needs them to do what it is preparing to do. Like they say, We need
everyone to take their seats. We need everyone to look at the lighted signs.We need everyone to pass their cups to the flight attendant, remember about the seat belts and masks, push the button when you need something.
Everyone is bits of their clothing or hair from where I sit. It’s where artists got the idea for collage, I think, sitting in a crowd with a slot of erratic visibility. There’s only so much that can happen on a plane. Kids kicking the seat, babies screaming or being about to scream. The mile-high club. Do you or don’t you have a comic pilot. Actually, now that I try to list the things on the airplane it seems clear that anything can happen, just like anywhere else, it just usually doesn’t, but this time I’m here to tell the tale. Not to jack anything up here, but every airplane story has got to be about crashing or I swear to God, why bother?
Stubby yet handsome younger guy slips in. Slipping in is never graceful on a plane, but I tuck my knees to my chest like we’re already going down and he squeegees by, pooching his butt over and across the middle seat with happy little comradery noises and then, with an expressive exhale of self-satisfaction that means I can ask him anything now, he plops into the window seat and is mine for the duration. He puts his cap back on and adjusts it. The cap says “Marines.” Of course he’s a Marine, clearly he is, if plainclothes, if a tad squat, and I knew it.
There are ways to ensure almost anyone will not talk to you. It’s easy, especially on planes, and it is part of what books are for. Someplace to put your eyes. Any contained space has a protocol that is soothing, the Spanish fans of its social dance. This is why it will be a certain kind of relief, if terrifying, when
everyone in the world either speaks English or shuts up for good. I consider cementing my eyes to my book.Three times I read this phrase: “It is not so much a matter of humanism,” and then I move on to the next one. My Marine takes his baseball cap off again and holds it in his lap, rubs his head, which is clipped but not severely, and then folds it—the hat—and stuffs it in with the magazines behind the elastic so the bill sticks out. The fabric on this plane is blue on blue, light blue with check marks of darker blue that make a pattern like scales.
Things are settling into the thick hum that will coat everything for who knows how long, until I shower, usually.There’s the safety show, which I listen to as background music, humming along less than consciously. Then, as the engines gun, as their pitch swirls higher and into the ends of human aural perception, I lean to look up the aisle. The seats and the centermost slivers of people’s bodies replicate as if by drunken vision, a movie projected out of focus, the seats with their aisle arms and the arms of people bulging into view like shadows and receding along this most primitive diagram of three dimensions, the blue aisle slithering beneath the curtain to first class and disappearing, its imaginary head presumably plunked down in the cockpit, grinning, all fanged, out the front window like a kid leaning up between parents, pilot, copilot. One of them pats it on the head.
A few rows up from me an arm comes loose from its regimen and flicks a coin. I’m lucky to catch this. I think I am the only one. I see no other heads in the aisle. I think the person with the arm did it secretly.The person with the arm is wearing a white shirt that buttons at the cuff and it’s far enough away that I can’t tell if it’s a man arm or a woman arm and I
have no clue what precise color the hand is so I also have no clue about anything like the race or the age of the arm. It’s a generic arm. It’s Everyarm. It tosses a coin into the aisle and I think about it for a moment and then it comes to me like a transmission: this person has also been looking at the aisle, but the person has not seen a blue dragon; the person has seen a blue river and has tossed a coin in, for luck.
The hero beside me is trying to get something out from between his teeth by sucking and using his tongue. He’s also using the seat between us for his jacket. I give my book another shot and it says,“Past belief because beyond knowing,” and I think about luck, and how if the coin works everyone on the plane will get the luck unless there’s such a thing as one survivor from a 737, and as if being a sole survivor could possibly count as luck. So I think for a second that Everyarm might actually be generous. It makes me feel I’ve been behaving crabbily and unfairly, which in my experience is rarely the same thing, so I decide to give the Marine a chance, for the sake of luck, and don’t they say
lucky dragon
This is the line of thinking that gets me to stick my book in with the magazines, and I stick it in there demonstratively, giving the elastic a solid snap. “Well!” says the Marine with a nod of approval and the kind of smile that is a fake frown like “that’ll show ’em,” and I know I’m in for it; I know I’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake. I grew up watching movies about encountering soldiers on trains. They wore their green uniforms and caps and gold pins.They encountered girls who had eyes of wonder. I can see him waiting for my eyes of wonder to come out. I’m as pretty as he is squat and I’ll do, I’m sure, in this real-life version. Chugga-chugga goes the airplane,
gushing upward, and I grasp my armrests, and the Marine in street clothing watches over me as I do. I think of another set of movies where the girl encounters the soldier in his green outfit at a carnival and they go on a ride on a roller coaster, how she screams with glee and, I believe, if I remember correctly, what he does is sit grimly, knowing all too well what real fear is all about, something he will never be able to put into words.
So here the suspense is beating in my shirt pocket all over again as I’m waiting for him to launch into the speech I realize I’m expecting because of a couple previous travel experiences where there was a current soldier and he 1) sidled up to someone by doing them an easy favor 2) told a story that put into the situation that he was a soldier and was either headed out or coming back, which 3) left the opening to be congratulated, which actually took the form of the two people exchanging loudly their coincidentally identical ideas about the war and the heroism of the soldier, as well as the sixth man back home 4) this happened once in a smoking room when a soldier offered a light to a guy and I quit not long after that, related or unrelated, 5) another time it was a woman with little kids and a lot of colorful luggage, and one of the little kids slipped, and the soldier lifted the kid up by the arm, and the mother said,“I can get that, but thank you,” and he said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen kids!” and it went on from there 6) and also a couple other occasions, one of which, I suspected, watching, was between the soldier and a person who was actually against the war but had normal hair, or was without whatever other sign might make the soldier think this wasn’t a good time to be helpful, so here’s this look I catch that I can’t tell by the
soldier’s look whether or not he catches it, but the look comes from this deeply uncomfortable guy with normal hair who is looking, looking for a sign of something in the eyes of the soldier as he straightens himself out from having started to bend down to pick up the thing he dropped that the soldier got to first and is holding out for him, grinning, hovering, affable as a pudgy family man flying with kids 7) waiting—the Marine on this airplane this time—waiting, I predict, for the moment in the conversation, batted so far in my imagination like eyes bat, like Spanish fans aflutter, like a volley in badminton, airy and coy, when he can launch into the speech he has adopted from his commanders, as if from memory, but memorized with colloquialism as intact as euphemism, with moments of deviously composed acknowledgment of personal human frailty to make it all sound personal no matter who says it, 8) hoping—me, now—in a shameful way, that what will happen instead is this soldier will turn to me and say, “You know what? Fuck the Marines,” the way I’ve read so many of them feel but I have yet to encounter while traveling, and shock me into the wet dream of having been wrong.
Still, all he’s said so far is “Well.” I think about luck of the draw. I think about the other sides of coins. I think about probability and about economics. We’ve taken off, and are past the concerted gunning upward through cloud layers, but before the fully leveled off, and before the plinking to dark of the no unbuckling and getting out of your seats sign. I’m self-aware enough to know that this, what I am doing, is panicking, and it might be being accompanied by nausea or shortness of breath, and I might be having difficulty noticing which one because of the panic, but either way the remedy is the same, I realize, and
start pawing through the blue seat pocket, looking for the little white air-sickness bag with its wire closure thing constructed, disconcertingly, like bags for coffee beans. But there is no little bag in the pouch because they’ve gone the way of peanuts, I’m guessing, or it got used in a previous flight and because of gas prices no one goes through to restock. I scramble around in the middle pocket, too, and find nothing but magazines and headphones that have lost their foam ear cushions.
Then my jaw drops because I realize, in my panic, I am giving the Marine exactly what he wants, which is a chance to help me out by, perhaps, looking in his own seat pocket or asking me what’s wrong, because something is terribly, terribly wrong, as anyone could tell by my panicking demeanor. I keep my eyes buried in the seat pocket as these ideas come into focus for me and the ideas—mostly because there are a number of them and they come methodically paced and in a row—serve to calm me enough that by the time I turn my head on my neck with skeptical deliberation, I am actually feeling fine. I do feel tense and expectant in my back teeth, but relaxed almost everywhere else, which I notice as I turn my head like that nice guy in the airport who dropped something, because I am bracing myself to get a look at my Marine’s face, and when I do, I see he’s got headphones on, and his eyes are closed, and he’s either asleep or listening carefully to extremely boring music.
I think about this.The almost-completely-relaxed feeling I continue to experience arrived, I realize, from suddenly having no idea what was going to happen. Let me try to think of something it’s like: I’m married again, this time to the Everyarm, and we’re having a dinner party and we’ve been
fighting again so I’m waiting for the fight to bubble up in conversation. I’m poised for it all evening long, which I’m used to by now because this is what they mean by
marriage is work
. At this point, we’re in the living room, which looks great because I spent a lot of time arranging the living room, and people are lounging on multiple levels, one on the sofa with his legs stretched out, one, a woman in a peach-colored outfit, on the carpet, leaning sideways against the ottoman at the knees of another woman, this one in lavender (it’s spring and I brought in a lot of tulips), both eating pie à la mode from china plates, all these darlings arranged as if by their own will on the platforms I set there for them (I used to be a window dresser and this brings back the days). So far the evening has gone in waves, each course, each tableau, as we move from the foyer to the patio, to the dining room, and so on, each another setting for the way I’m waiting for our argument to bubble, and then one of my invited guests, the one in lavender, stands up, and then the one in peach does, too—both of them do—they pull the barrettes from their hair, take their blazers off, take their shoes off, rip the sides of their skirts so they can waggle their knees freely, and, I don’t know, dance? Strip? Walk out? Start smacking people or juggling the fruit from my fruit bowl? Turn into butterflies? Are those the only options I can come up with? My point is that someone else takes over. Someone, preferably some nice girl in pastels with a sweet tooth, will start doing something, and I have no idea what, and I can stand there at ease in the doorway and not even wonder what Everyarm is doing behind me in the kitchen.
Plus, it makes something else beautiful happen, this moment when I give up, which is that in the process of leaning back
into my seat to look at the Marine properly, I run my eyes along the job he did shaving, and along the lines that come from his eyes, and along the stray hairs of his eyebrows, which are quivering almost imperceptibly, and one or two are gray or at least look it for a shivery second, and only because of the care with which I am looking do I perceive this movement. It’s easy to see what has been produced. It’s a brief if bona fide affection, it’s the magic of silence and stillness, the pause that makes anything possible, the mystery of the interior lives of animals, the sense of character one gets from a blooming field, or a craggy beach, or a drenched log, or a tundra, or a lawn, or a curving range of mountains.
I just can’t take it for very long.
I lay one hand on my seat belt and with the other hand remove my book from the pocket. Then I fasten my eyes on the row of lighted signs, fasten more specifically on the one about getting up to move about the cabin. I tilt forward in my seat, draw one set of toes behind the other, poised, ready, and when the thing clicks off and emits a rounded-off version of “Bong!” I’ve ripped open my belt and am out of my seat so fast I think the vacuum I’ve left will surely wake him. Lucky I’m not there to see it. I sprint to the lavatory as if I’ve been expelled from a cannon, as if either this much speed, or something in the lavatory itself, will actually allow me out of the entire predicament.
BOOK: The Entire Predicament
6.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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