Countdown to flight


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  1. Nineteen thirty-seven was Icarus in seamed stockings. My grandmother spent nights praying for the blanched bones of Amelia Earhart, femur and sacrum floating somewhere in a blackened sea. Gravity could kill a gal. Now, Google tells me that my fear of flying is an inherited nervousness, a bred-in-the-bone type of thing.
  1. WebMD prescribes knowledge. I learn about Harriet Quimby and Queen Bessie Coleman, early female pilots. Dead in their thirties, cockpits exploding without warning. I imagine a lone parachute floating out of the wreckage, silken and monarch-like in the sky.
  1. In the garden, Sasha tells me she is happy I get some time off. She makes it sound like a vacation, but I am obligated to fly. When she asks me what’s wrong I can only water the plants. People are so comfortable on planes they’ve made a whole club out of fucking miles-high. I am ashamed of my ridiculousness. But later, I tell her the truth when we are wrist-deep in the earth.
  1. “Fear of flying,” the webpage psychologist writes, “is a couched fear of relinquishing control.” As if letting go of all that bodily warning is easy. I read about aerodynamics, the structure of Boeing 747s, the years of pilots’ training. It isn’t enough. And I caution myself against equating education with trustworthiness.
  1. I read the article about the flight attendant and the pilot. How he’ll only be criminally charged if he returns to the island where he attacked her: palm trees, hotel layover, her heels kicking frantically into his flesh. I picture her dressing in the company’s colours, returning to the cabin, repeating the spiel about emergency exits as the earth gives way.
  1. It is still so far away, and then it is tomorrow. The night before, I dream of the ghost of my grandmother, her body bruised in a sea of crushed metal, a sea of blue birds and  bones. I dream of ghostly women plied open, their organs airborne. I dream of dangerous engines, a lathe of waves, winglessness.
  1. I stand in line at midnight, clutching my passport. The red-eye was cheapest. Sasha has loaned me her gray silk dress, and this alone keeps me calm: the fabric extravagant against my skin and the faint familiar smell of her, soil and strawberry leaves. This dress, her shared self, deserves to fly. If I plummet to death in a fiery crash, I tell myself, at least I will go out in style.
  1. On the plane, I have a window seat. It is dark and plotted evenly, like a little grave.

The man beside me asks, “Business or pleasure?” When I don’t reply, he laughs and   tells me I need to relax. I don’t know how to relax, so I open the in-flight magazine. I   hope this is a good way to end a conversation.

  1. A woman puckers her lips from the pages. She is surrounded by feathers and the engine underneath me starts shaking. “You’re a very interesting, mysterious girl,” the man continues, but his words are liquified by the engine’s shuddering so I can only hear  — you’re a girl. Then we are moving and it is all really happening so fast.
  1. This is the feeling of surrendering your centre of gravity. As I watch the city shrink beneath me I feel my body become weightless and irrelevant, strapped into an altitude I can’t adjust. I am only anchored by the things I’ve buried, all the things other women have carefully buried inside me. In my mouth, vomit blossoms like a flower.


these words by Sarah Christina Brown were inspired by the art of Tran Nguyen

Never been here before

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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