Countdown to flight


tran nguyen 2

  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