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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Turbulence

 

by Jenna Morgan

 

 

 

A woman in front of me turns around and reaches back through the gap in the seats. We sit alone together in our separate aisles on a plane barreling down the runway in that methodically chaotic way.

 

“Please,” she says. “I’m terrified of flying. You have to talk to me. If you don’t, I swear I’m going to scream.” She is just a voice, an eyeball, a shock of hair the color of burnt toast.

 

I have been airborne for weeks now without a destination. The progeny of a pilot and stewardess, I do so for free. At least for another month, until I age out of the privilege and am grounded for good.

 

I ask for her name, repeat it calmly. I am buying time. All of her is deflating, her limbs like wind-whipped weeds, her paper-tube torso crunched in half. All except for the eyeball, glowing like a car’s cigarette lighter. Her hand hangs limply against the cool nude plastic of the armrest, in contrast to the fire burning inside her. I reach forward and take it.

 

I tell her that there are only two times when you should be worried of crashing. Don’t worry. We are almost past the first: takeoff.

See? We are skimming rooftops, buzzing homes, taunting the ground with our lurching airlessness. She starts panting, breaths building in a tremulous crescendo.  Wait, look at me instead. I run through the tangible items that keep our attention as we hurtle through the air: seatbacks, tray tables fully upright; the precancerous no-smoking sign; her carry-on belching out used tissues; my one personal item, a satchel disemboweled, its guts made of notebook pages supple as wilting petals. The pressure is building.     

 

I tell her about my mom and dad, how they met in the galley, made a home in the air. The house in Montana, my mom’s pregnant belly swelling against her uniform, the sky that swallowed them up repeatedly, eventually spitting her out alone with my brother. My father passing overhead, criss-crossing to destinations known. The reliable delays, the unreliable calls home, then me, an irrefutable reminder of his presence in the world, just not ours. The one time he called when I was two and I screamed into the phone “Dad’s not here!” and hung up. The other times he called, and I just shrugged, hung up. My first flight alone, a baggage claim in Cincinnati, a crumpled ticket in my hand, when I asked what’s next to no one waiting for me.

 

­­­I explain my situation, that I am running away from something bland and commonplace. How the lack of drama embarrasses me. I want to have a cause, but it is pure effect. It ripples out from my body in sine waves.

 

Her hand gets tighter, the curtain of hair falls lower.  We keep climbing, jostled by the unseen forces surrounding us. I tell her that turbulence isn’t a threat. It’s more an annoyance.  We can’t crash from it, can’t convince ourselves of anything else. The pilots really don’t understand why it sends us reeling. Unlike us, they can see what’s up ahead. They have done this a thousand times. To them this woman is just insignificant, complaining cargo. I mean this in the best possible way. She is stowed away safely, an orange resting in a crate of newspaper clippings. I imagine that this is what the pilots see in their separate chamber as they shepherd us all unseen. That this is what a person in control would say, without malice, without truly knowing the condition of what lay within.

 

The engines quiet as we cruise high above the unrecognizable earth. I am leaning forward, the woman almost completely disappeared behind the seat cushion. Now, look out the window.

 

“But what about the second time? When are we going to crash?”

 

I wait but she doesn’t speak again, her silence a solid, straight line connecting us. I wait to decide whether to tell her that the hardest part is up ahead, when we must allow ourselves to be reconciled with the place from which we came.

 

I wait.