word by Jacob Goldberg
colour by Joe Hengst
The flight attendant looks at my carry-on like it’s got four heads. ‘It’ll fit,’ I tell her confidently as she lets me pass through jet bridge, windowless and quiet. A considerable gap between the walkway and cabin has me thinking that there should be a warning sign somewhere. So, I watch my step. The stewardess, black and shapely, smiles at me. I have to walk with my right shoulder toward the tail of the plane so I don’t hit those already settled with my bag.
It fits in the overhead compartment above my seat, which I share with a woman of about 25. Her nail filing looks like she’s playing a small violin and we exchange smiles when I sit down. The stewardess over the intercom welcomes us to American Airlines and asks for our attention as we prepare for takeoff. I remove my headphones but mostly hear my neighbor and her nails. At the stewardess’ direction, I open the In Case of Emergency pamphlet located in the pouch in front of me. The pamphlet’s spine feels fresh. Inside, images accompany the text. One picture, detailing the protocol for a water landing, has people fastening their life jackets; their cheeks are loose, their eyebrows steady, and their mouths unopened. I quickly put the booklet back in the pouch.
The plane stops at the takeoff hash. I look out the window and make eye contact with my neighbor.
‘Hi, I’m Calvin’ I say.
‘Stacey, sorry about the nail filing. It’s a bit of a nervous habit,’ she adds with an uncomfortable smile.
‘Don’t like flying?’
‘Rather be on the ground,’ she says as the engines crescendo.
‘I’ve never flown before, actually. Are you afraid of heights?’ I ask, immediately wishing I hadn’t.
‘Never?’ The plane jerks forward and she grabs the armrest between us. ‘I just don’t really like takeoff is all. Why now?’
‘My brother lives out in Seattle and he’s getting married.’ Outside, I see LaGuardia flitting past us, and I wonder how long the runway is.
‘Oh, you’re getting married?’ She asks, her eyes closed, hands gripping both armrests, body frozen to the seat.
‘No, my brother is.’
When the back wheels come off the ground, I feel the plane’s tail swing underneath and Stacey says, ‘Oh.’
Stacey is busy grabbing the back of the seat in front of her. We pass through some clouds, which from the ground I’d never imagine would be so dense and unwelcoming. The plane feels like a rickety train. Before this flight, I’d think of overcast, opaque skies in terms of an absence of sun. But on this side of the clouds you realize that it’s just the presence of clouds; the sun is always shining. The view from my window looks like what I was taught to believe Heaven looks like.
And so the plane continues to climb, and the blue of the sky turns from baby to turquoise, climbing higher to navy, and now stars pepper the sky and I look at my watch and it’s only 3pm.
From the author: “I guess the question to ask is: How do you deal with people who are scared? Do you let them fall deep into their phobias? The artwork moves from mimetic to surreal, vertically, in the photo, and I thought it would be fitting if the plane that Calvin and Stacey were on flew right into space.”
See more colour by Joe Hengst