They boarded the plane like coach-class Lords.
Each toted stuffed suitcases for a grand total of 25 sets of clothes, toiletries, a camera, uninflated travel pillow, two granola bar wrappers and a Gameboy. The man, he slipped the Gameboy from its pouch and gate checked the suitcases, dragging his feet as he speed-walked up to the woman, shaking his fists victoriously. She kissed him, an awkward peck on his cheekbone.
The plane, one of those massive 747's, seemed far too monolithic to ever hope to fly. They took their seats on the left hand set, window and middle, 43A and 43B. His jeans and sport coat, and her long, vibrant skirt; surely they were both teachers. The 8:00 pm flight gave them enough time to grade papers then cram their overpacked bags into the trunk of his Volkswagen Rabbit and slug away from the parking lot. Or maybe they work at some small business, and we can replace the hatchback for a regal Jetta--so long as it's some tame manifestation of his spots and her Bachelor of the Arts whose lines still bleed into the fresh paint in her apartment.
The man on the aisle, 43C, now he's a businessman. Even the awful fabric, like a kindergartener's rendition of the sky but with fat crayons, lining the floor monochromaticized under his dead black shoes. He plugged the free earbuds into his phone and closed his eyes, frowning all the while.
They’d brought peanuts. They ate them as everyone else boarded under the gross, harsh white lighting emitted magically from the gaps where the air conditioning's smoke sleepwalked. The whole plane felt sterile and yet filthy at the same time. Even David and Annette, after dropping a nut onto the Blind Man's Starry Night, tossed it into a spare plastic bag. She handed him back the Gameboy and watched as he booted up Pokémon, flattening her skirt and smiling distantly, checking her watch.
The businessman caught her nervous glance.
"Oh it'll be another twenty minutes. Then we'll be third in queue, wait another ten, and then take off." He seemed upset with his knowledge of the system. Maybe because he was in coach and not business; maybe he longed for a blanket, reclining seats and jealous gazes.
David tapped away, trying to evolve a Pokémon, and Annette replied to the businessman, "Guess we'll find out."
They both shrugged, and he slid his headphones back in, still frowning. Annette quietly munched on peanuts as a child a few rows back notified every other passenger of his extreme displeasure.
“That kid...he’s not gonna stop screaming. That’s my guess,” she said.
“Eh, doesn’t hurt my feelings,” David replied.
“But we’re supposed to sleep through this first flight. Just the hop across the Atlantic into London, and then we stay up. Jet lag’s a bitch.”
David’s Gameboy cut off on him, and he glared as his head was struck by a backpack slipping under the overhead bin; the boy apologized and lifted it up higher the second time.
“As are children,” she added, failing to repress a smile.
“Said the school teacher.”
Maybe she teaches elementary school; she seems the type: young enough to be a big sister, old enough to warrant serious first grade lies, like Carrie “not” pulling Jimmy’s hair and not taking responsibility because boys are icky anyway. Annette sports the tamed brunette hair, argent, held with a purple and black headband, her hands look nimble enough to tie a loose shoelace and she’s got lips colored like fresh Minas Gerais rose quartz, delicate like dried angelonia. David stowed his dead Gameboy for liftoff, rested his curl-covered head on her shoulder, didn’t push away the clump of light red fabric against his nose, just closed his eyes, kissed her neck, nuzzled deeper.
Women with their brothers, men with their girlfriends, parents with their grandkids, all shuffled by. They carried travel pillows, trenchcoats, headphones, turtlenecks, graphic tee’s, coffee stains, sport coats, friendship bracelets, wool sweaters, plastic-framed glasses, empty water bottles, basketball shoes, baby bibs. Flight attendants drew back the flimsy rubber straps on yellowed oxygen masks, and the plane shunted forwards. A pious voice sang from hidden speakers.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We’ll be taking off in a few minutes here as we’re third in line for the runway. We ask that all passengers keep their windows covered as the sun will have risen before our arrival. We expect a pleasant flight to London, with a length of about eight hours and an estimated time of arrival at around 9:30am local time.” There was some clatter as the microphone hit its base softly, still engaged. The pilot whispered gently, “and have a nice night, folks.”
The copilot spoke up. “Danny, you’re romanticizing agai--” and the microphone was turned off.
Annette was late. David typed no more than two successive characters on his work computer before again checking his phone. Blank. Two more letters. Nope, nobody in the visitor’s spot in the parking lot outside. Oh, punctuation! Still a silent phone. Save a copy in three different locations. Still no Cam--no, there it was! David hurriedly shut down his computer, jammed his number into the time clock, jammed it in once more but this time correctly, and dragged his suitcase behind him as he half-jogged towards the elevator, the wheels turned upwards and a horrible scratching sound emanating from the little metallic zippers attacking the waxy, tiled floors. His phone began vibrating noisily in his pocket against the ring while he mashed the ground floor button.
“Hey, David, I’m sorry, I got lost in this place again.”
“It’s okay, honey. Where are you now?”
“Visitor’s space, at the front of the building.”
“Can you drive to the door? I don’t want to waste time running to the car.”
“Yeah, sure thing. See you in a minute.”
The sliding glass doors opening to reveal a sunny day and a breeze and a waiting red Camry, chauffeured by a lovely brunette lady wearing a long, flowy skirt. David, dragging his bags over the concrete walkway, kissed Annette, long, perhaps a bit too sloppily according to the sleeve which she used to wipe the corner of her mouth.
“Hello,” she said, the foundation no match for a fully-fledged Annette blush.
“Hi,” David said, attempting to smoothly transition to leaning on his suitcase, which then tilted and fell, bringing David down a few inches with it. Recovering, (Annette doubled over), David looked at his watch and swiftly threw the suitcase in the Camry’s trunk and himself in the passenger seat.
“I can’t sleep,” David whispered.
Annette, groggy, moved her head a few inches.
“I never can,” he said. “I’ve never been able to sleep on planes.”
Annette, still David’s head- and torso-rest, picked at a loose fabric on his jeans. When he talked, she could barely hear it--just a whisper along the whining, thundering jet engines, his voice barely more audible than the malfunctioning air conditioning--she could only really discern his words by the vibration on her shoulder, her thin, beige sweater no protection against his sharp scruff scraping ever so slightly as he rustled his lips.
“I’ve never flown before,” she said.
“No? I thought you said you’d flown to Chicago with your dad a few years ago.”
“Not literally; the man drove an M5 at forty over the speed limit the entire time.”
“Look at you, being all...Englishy with me.”
“That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”
“Original,” he remarked, eyes still closed.
“I’m too tired to be clever.”
“You’re clever even when you’re asleep,” he mumbled.
A few rows up, the service button was hit, and a moment later one of the flight attendants glided past David and Annette down the half-illuminated walkway which was lined with that hideous carpet. As she returned, David flagged her down with a subtle wave of his right hand.
“Yes, sir?” She warmly asked.
“When’s the cups of juice and soda and stuff coming around?”
“The beverage cart already ran, as did the snacks, but I can get you something if you’d like.”
“Yes, please, anything will do.”
The engines roared on, drinking in countless gallons of air, adding a dash of fuel and combusting it all into a backwards push. Inside, a few pages rustled under the overeager air conditioning. The businessman next to Annette still slept, a slight gap between his lips as he soundlessly breathed, his headphones only half in his ears and his wrists turned upwards
And a few minutes later she returned with some stale crackers and cups of perfectly cylindrical ice cubes and cranberry juice. He and Annette feasted, little reading light on, (broken air conditioning valve opened too, in pure desperation), clinked the plastic cups and stuck their pinkies out, even, as they tipped back their drinks. Neither spoke. The business man didn’t stir in his sleep, nor did any other nearby passengers. Turbulence shook the plane, David spilling some juice on his jeans, and in her amused surprise, Annette covered her mouth with her occupied hand, spilling some herself. And again they toasted, faces swollen with laughter held captive, and drained the cups.
David was nuzzled against her again. She smelled impossibly sweet, like grape, but not the fruit, more like the fake grape, the staple ingredient in any good 2:00am bike ride to the gas station for Slurpees; the pinnacle of spring break parties, mixed in with the vodka-drenched snow cones for good measure. She smelled impossibly sweet; maybe he wasn’t even breathing now. Maybe he had passed out, and maybe he was dreaming this fragrant smell. But then Annette, fast asleep, twitched her hand and her freshly-trimmed nails scratched his hand as the plane hit a patch of turbulence. That jarring moment didn’t make her not a dream, didn’t make the last ten months not an illusion. In her sleep, Annette sighed. No, David decided, she was real. The plane stopped shaking. Most reading lights were still off, though a few had popped on. Together, David and these strangers could not sleep; he imagined a silent game of poker centered around the galley, all the insomniacs (and the tall guys whose legs were too long to comfortably fit in the comically undersized spaces between seats) huddled in a tight ring, smoking cigars and drinking Cape Cod’s. All the lights dimmed, even phone and laptop screens and reading lights and lit Libertadores, dropping in luminosity, and slid out.
It was her mouth, tingling, that alerted Annette to her lucidity of thought. She sat in the second from last train car of a roller coaster, a three point harness pulled somehow comfortably over her torso. It was sunny, and all around the platform stood a multitude of onlookers, all patiently smiling at her, unspeaking. In fact, there was no sound as the train pulled onto the chain lift, the notches effortlessly escorting the train up the impossibly steep incline. Next to her sat a teenage boy with a stubbled chin and moderate acne; in front, an older, black haired man with frameless glasses, and a woman of similar age with a bright sundress and a lanyard hugging her neck which was partially covered by her white blonde hair. The hair didn’t blow around or lift up when the train slipped over the crest, and Annette’s harness did not have to restrain her in the slightest. But it was Annette’s mouth, tingling, that alerted Annette to her lucidity of thought. It buzzed gently, her lips quivering like they did under the streetlamp in front of David’s apartment, by the multi-colored lamp shades in his bedroom, against the sun rising through the window’s slits and stroking her face. Hitting a trough, the train simply crossed through the tracks and into the bubbling, bare ground. It wasn’t dark; it was black. Light-leaching air, it seemed, enveloped the car and her bare hands. But then the train had leveled out on the top of the hill again, this time rising up the first follow-up hill with just as little attention to gravity as the first.
But the riders had changed. Her lips and teeth and cheeks still humming against her will, Annette saw the boy was now an old, acne-scarred man with reading glasses and thick, black hair. In front, another Annette sat, accurate detail for detail except for a few added wrinkles and a thin scar down her front, alongside near-future David. Both had their arms up in excitement; both looking at each other, both screaming some sort of euphoric stammer, both of which were left hanging in the air where they began, no wind to carry and dissolve the sound. Annette’s lips buzzed, her tongue buzzed, and she slept on.
“Honey,” David said, squeezing Annette’s hand gently. “We’re landing now; you need to wake up.”
“Lanning whur?” she slurred, eyes still closed. In her sleep, she’d shifted to his shoulder, and now all her hair hugged his neck and shoulders. “I doan need to get off, thanks you.”
He kissed her palm. “London, baby. We’re in London, remember?”
She leaned up. “Damn, we’re already here? That was fast.”
“Well, you slept a lot.”
“No, but I guilted the stewardess into giving me batteries,” he said, holding up the living-once-again Gameboy.
Pulling her hair over her shoulder, Annette looked around drowsily. The flight attendants were resecuring the overhead bins, carrying trash bags through the aisles, collecting the pathetic little plastic cups emptied of their melted ice cubes, asking all the passengers to fasten their seatbelts as they prepared for the descent. Light attacked the cabin from half the windows in which shone an unfiltered sun, brighter than it could possibly be; Annette squinted to avoid being blinded as she looked at David.
There was a pause as he smiled at her. Then he said:
“‘Chu lookin’ at, mate?”
“Please don’t do the British thing,” she groaned.
“Why not?” He grinned devilishly.
“Because we’re in Britain.”
“Thas cuz I’m Bri’ish.”
“You were born in Milwuakee, you fool,” she retorted, tossing her empty cup away in the trash bag.
“No, London; I fink you’ve got me confused wif anuvah mahn.”
“You’re not even doing it right, David.” She leaned up and flipped her hair. “Gotta do it like this. I’m feelin’ me a roight swig of tea, wouldn’t ye say?”
“That’s, like, Irish. Or Scottish. One of the not-British ones in the UK.”
“Us,” she stated simply.
“We’re some of the not-British in the UK, right now.”
“You’re so not ready to be a dad, Annette.”
“Phew; dodged that bullet, then.” She went for a playful, knuckle-based tap on his shoulder. His skin purred, her hair stayed put, and the flight attendant came and checked their seat belts. Annette attempted to best a gym trainer on the Gameboy as David scrolled through a page on his phone, looking for his reservation confirmation.
Taxied into the terminal, they reached up and grabbed their stowaway luggage, pausing for half an hour at the checked bags circuit. Sliding the second suitcase into Annette’s left hand and his own fingers into her right, they stood in a line for a black cab. They sat backwards in the taxi, cramped against their suitcases and Gameboy and the camera which clicked furiously, as they were hurtled towards London like coach-class Lords.