Mostly rambles, few brambles
Squeezing In One Last Couples’ Fight Before Our Plane Crashes
The plane heaved from one side to the other. Over the speakers the captain mumbled something about cabin pressure. His steely takeoff confidence had almost eroded entirely now. The oxygen masks deployed. Tess took one look at the contraption, cleared her throat, and glared back at me like, “What am I supposed to do with this?”
The lights flickered and I told her I’d help; I just needed to get mine on first.
“You don’t care, and you never listen,” Tess said, finite. The guy from across the aisle glanced over briefly before fastening his mask and returning to his issue of Juggs. “Round trip to Mexico for under a-hundred dollars—nothing’s too good for my girl, unless it costs more than a-hundred dollars.” Magazine Guy tittered and I knew it wasn’t at any snappy Juggs zinger. Tess waited, impatient, letting her mask dangle and making no attempt to figure out the single elastic strap. They said there had been a loss of pressure and I looked over at Tess seething heavily; how was there still so much oxygen in here?
I stopped adjusting mine and fastened her mask onto her face, motivated solely towards minimizing the amount of nagging during my last few minutes alive. The plane pitched again to one side and I closed my eyes and felt my teeth grind across each other. She tapped me on the shoulder. The bag on her mask wasn’t inflating. “Yes,” I told her, frayed, “of course oxygen is still flowing into the mask, don’t you listen?
I told her not to but she hit the call button anyways. We could see the attendant sitting in the jump seat four rows ahead of us with her mask on, brushing the loose strands of hair out of her ashen face. The plane lurched. There was a stalling, metal-against-metal squeal that washed over the rows of passengers like a sickness. Bracing herself, the attendant’s eyes widened, white with panic.
“She’s got her mask on,” I said.
Tess rolled her eyes. “Ask her,” she persisted, her fingers clenching my forearm. “Ask her now. I could literally die.”
My lips tightened as I tried to make eye contact with the attendant, raising my hand up slightly like this was all so casual. The nose of the plane dipped farther forward. The attendant’s face fell, knowing that, even now, her responsibility was to the passengers. She took a deep pull of oxygen, kicked off her heels, and started braving her way up the incline, using each seatback to pull herself further. Finally reaching us, she took Tess’s mask, the bag still not inflated. She took a breath from it and said, her words hollow, “It’s fine, dear.”
The plane canted again and a man a few rows back started a howling wail. “This never would have happened if I was with Killian,” Tess said, like this whole situation was such an inconvenience.
“Isn’t he still a pill head?”
“You can’t win every argument that way.”
“I sort of can.” Even in a crashing plane, being objectively right still felt amazing.
“Killian would have flipped for first class.” The whole fuselage bucked and the left wing swung way down. “We’d be up there,” she pointed ahead in cabin of the still-imminently-crashing plane, “not next to Dirty Magazine Guy.”
“First off, Juggs is pretty soft-core. I think he’s perusing it, one might say, more for ‘sport’ as opposed to ‘business.’” Her eyes rolled even harder; she knew I kind of got off on defending strangers, even ones like this drip who had coughed right in his hand earlier and wiped it on the seat cushion. “Second, Killian wouldn’t have paid for first-class, his father would have.”
Tess shook her heard, getting right up into my face, our masks clacking together now. “His dad’s dead,” she said, her eyes lighting up, “and he left Killian all the grocery stores.”
“Interesting,” I paused, “so you do regret leaving him for me?”
“All I’m saying is that I don’t think I’d be on a crashing plane with human cattle.” She said it like it was a conclusive non-partisan answer, but I wasn’t sure if you could make the argument that our current situation was worse than trying to build a life with even the wealthiest of narcissistic pill heads. Her eyes narrowed now as we descended through the clouds. “We wouldn’t be on this plane, wouldn’t be going to some bargain-basement shitty part of shitty Mexico. We’d be going to Prague or Bali.”
This is the winner’s curse. She had started seeing me before she’d separated from him. “Cheating” is what it’s typically called once you distill all the personal rationalizations out.
The desert of somewhere in West Texas or Northern Mexico stretched out ahead of us like a dirty wrinkled sheet. The captain came on and said that we should brace ourselves in crash positions. “Those flowers last month weren’t from my Mom. Killian sent me those.” She said she’d gone to his father’s funeral when I was away for work. “We had sex,” she said, her words trying to draw blood now, “took a few beans with him and had lazy, dead-father sex.”
“’Beans?’ That casual? Who are you?”
“I wanted to do it. The money was just a bonus.” She was not braced in the crashing position at all, possibly as a result of her inferior listening skills. The flight attendant noticed and, gallantly, now chose not to care. Tess said the sex with Killian was way better than the role-playing stuff I was into and, if I was so good at taking strangers’ sides, why couldn’t I understand that “most people want to dress up as French maids or, like, professors, not your disgraced-zookeeper-genetic-scientist bullshit.”
“—I know what I like,” I said, “I get off on backstory.” Magazine Guy looked over at us from his crash position. He had spread out his copy of Juggs on the floor—content to die the way he had lived. “Were you going to tell me?”
Outside, the desert was approaching in stomach-turning detail. “After Mexico.” She looked outside. “Probably.”
The captain came on, his voice emaciated, and reiterated the crash position directive. How much time was left? Certainly enough to say I was sorry and that I wasn’t completely blameless in this situation, but I wasn’t ready to do that.
I starred at the floor. I thought about trying to untangle all this horribleness, but decided against it, a little relived that it all wouldn’t matter. Mostly I was wishing I had brought a magazine, and would have even settled now for a SkyMall. Tess was trying to hurt me, I know, and I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction. Was it, actually, better to have known all these details? And how much money did she get from Killian, could we have flown Business Class? All trivial, I supposed, when you’re splattered across the desert.
A sputtering and rumbling started. It took on this rhythm and this whirring and a few seconds later we felt the unmistakable pull as the nose started to level back out and pitch upward. It was a miracle. The captain came on, reverting again to a cocky swinging-dick, and said that everything was fine. Applause and relieved laughter filled the cabin.
An hour later we were on the ground at the airport in Mexico. I looked at Tess and asked if she remembered to pack my zookeeper stuff.