Keep control (fiction)
They were on an airplane from Dublin to Prague. One of them was Olivia, desperately trying to sleep. However short the flight was, about two hours and twenty minutes, she wished someone could knock her out right now so she wouldn’t have to experience any of it. She was on her way to her grandparents, to stay there for a week. It was almost Christmas and she hadn’t seen them in a while, perhaps hadn’t seen them since they moved to Prague? She couldn’t really remember. Her grampa was Czech and always bragging about ‘the most beautiful city in Europe’, so there, now she was on this plane. By herself. Olivia had never been to Prague, heck, she’d never really flown before, except for that time when they went to Canada, but then she had been about five years old so she didn’t recall a lot of.. anything. It didn’t count.
Behind Olivia was a couple in, she guessed, their late twenties, they looked quite hipster. He wore these tortoise purposely old-looking glasses and had a really full beard. The woman had purple streaks in her dark hair and that looked cool. What she didn’t get though was that she was wearing this fifties style dress with, what must be, a corset. Why was this woman behind her wearing a corset on an airplane?! Luckily her grandparents booked her good seats so she could order the free wine. Maybe she’d fall asleep then. The guy behind her was pretty good looking. They looked like a cute couple together. She might just read something in a bit, maybe her eyes would get tired and she would just doze off.
Olivia looked outside. The plane was finally moving. The worst thing was just waiting for it to happen, just waiting for the sudden movement and then of course knowing that in a few minutes, this whole thing would race off into the air. Race off into the air. When she would only think about these words, they made her feel ill. She swallowed some of the dry air around her and grasped the arm rests firmly. Her friend Ava convinced her to sit by the window.
“Why,” Olivia had said frowning, “wouldn’t I just feel even more scared seeing everything?”
“No,” Ava had said, “It’s just the other way. You will see everything and you will believe it.”
“I will believe it?” Olivia had repeated, not-understanding her friend.
“Yes, you would believe that it’s actually real what’s happening. That it’s actually possible for an airplane to fly.”
Keep in control of the situation, that’s what she needed to do, according to Ava. Olivia started to realise this might have been a dumb idea. She didn’t know why she was afraid of flying. Was she afraid of the height? Or the fact that she couldn’t get out? Or the fact that the plane was some kind of shit heavy bus full of people, floating on nothing? Or all of the above? By the window, she could see the mini landscape below her, and also feel that she really shouldn’t try to get out. At least she couldn’t see all the people around her, all acting like nothing was going on.
Aiden was staring out of the window. He had flown a million zillion times, but he always liked the taxiing part, the little trail of airplanes all following each other in their shaky movement, like a line of elephants all holding each others tails. It was dark outside, the world just existing of those other airplanes behind them and the lights of traffic in the far distance. He took the hand of Bridge next to him and just sat staring. Her hand was a little sweaty. He looked at her to see if she was okay. She had said she didn’t mind flying, but maybe unconsciously, she did mind. Or maybe she didn’t really like being on a trip with him. Maybe she thought it had been a stupid idea. Stop it. He had to force himself to watch the trail of elephants again or the negative voice would kill his mood.
Bridget retracted her hand and put it in her lap. She should not have worn this pretty, but super impractical dress. The upper part of it was actually a corset. She thought it romantic, her suffering a little on this trip. Suffering to look like his girlfriend. She had seen the girl in front of them staring at him, like all girls always did. Aiden had a natural charm, his resting face always bore a soft smile. Her own resting face was more like a snarl, but that was okay. This way she could keep the vultures off him. As she felt the plane take off into the air, she saw his face change from stillness into pure delight. Sometimes he was like a little kid, he could be overly joyous just from some pretty lights. That’s what attracted her most to him, his sense of enthusiasm, always really enjoying simple things. This weekend would be great. She had brought a book about Prague with them, full of pictures and ideas. The city looked really beautiful when she had Googled it. It had just snowed in Prague and all little colourful towers and roofs must be covered with a white layer now, so romantic. Maybe they could even do some kind of ride in a horse carriage.
“Excuse me,” Olivia asked a passing steward.
“Yes, miss?” he replied, obviously in some kind of haste.
Maybe something is wrong, Olivia immediately thought. Maybe there’s some kind of trouble in the cockpit. Maybe the pilot is, like, dead.
“Could I just have a red wine?” she asked.
“Of course miss, I’ll be with you in a second.” The steward all but flew away from her. Ha. Flew away. They weren’t allowed to get out of their chairs yet, it was just the stewards and stewardesses walking around now. She wondered whether they would have the feeling of walking up some kind of mountain now, as the plane was still ascending a bit. Just before they had taken off, she had put in ear plugs, also a tip from Ava. Apparently these would create a calm bubble within your head, without screaming engines and crying children. She already felt lucky there was no one sitting beside her. Maybe she would try and lie down in a minute, if nothing else that would get her to sleep until they were ready for landing. The steward reappeared with a tiny bottle of wine and a plastic cup and handed them to her. She felt relieved. If it wasn’t already the scariest thing in her life to be on a plane, it was also really weird to be traveling all by herself. She had almost pulled her parents through customs with her.
“It’s just the flight,” they had tried to reassure her, “when you get out of baggage claim in Prague, gran and grampa will be there to get you.”
Just the flight. It’s never just a flight, Olivia had said. Can’t you come with me? They couldn’t. They had to work.
“Not everyone has their whole January off,” her father had said.
“I don’t have my whole January off!” she had proclaimed.
In fact she had only till the thirteenth until she had to go back to school again. She was in her final year of secondary school, a year older than most of her classmates. So of course that made her feel like she was about ten years older. She had wanted to maybe take a year off after doing exams, and go backpacking in Australia with Ava. Ava had then made her aware of the flight time between Ireland and Australia.
Olivia drank her wine.
When Aiden had mumbled something about getting a taxi to the hotel and then going to sleep at ten, it had dawned on Bridget. In her mind, she sighed heavily trying to calm herself down.
“So you’re saying you have to get up really early. Does that mean you will be finished early as well?” she tried. He was booked for a modelling job in Prague. She had agreed to come with him because he said she would enjoy Prague. She now realised he meant just Prague, not Prague with him in it.
“No, probably not,” he answered, still gazing at the lights kilometres beneath them. When she didn’t reply, he turned around and faced her. Bridget felt that she wore no expression.
“Bridget,” he said, in a way that said we’ve-discussed-this-a-thousand-times-and-I-can’t-do-anything-about-it.
“I thought we were going away on a romantic weekend!” she proclaimed, trying even more to calm herself down as the girl in front of her tried not to listen very awkwardly.
“It will be romantic, Bridget, it will be romantic,” Aiden said. “We will just go out to dinner every night and take walks in the snow, with the lights. It will be very romantic.” He bore his smile again. Bridget wanted to slap his smile.
“You KNOW I don’t have much money,” she whispered the last words at him. In a hiss. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair to both of them, she knew that, but it wasn’t fair to her especially. She had actually had to save up for this trip. Aiden just always got everything he wanted.
“But Bridgie, I really thought you wanted to be alone,” he said, she thought, with a really dumbfound expression on his face.
“Why would I want to be alone?” she asked him. He tried to get hold of her hand to tame her temper.
“You won’t be alone, I will be with you at night!” he said, reassuringly.
Wow, this was really kind of awkward, Olivia thought. That woman behind her almost yelled at her boyfriend. They shouldn’t be fighting, such a cute couple. The steward had just brought her her second little bottle and she was content to be listening to the fight from inside her fish tank. These earplugs, they really made you feel like you were under water or something.
“You could take inspiration out of the city, for your paintings!” the man tried. He sounded really sad and desperate, like he was the sort of person crying when accidentally killing an ant.
“I’m on welfare, Aiden. This might be my only chance of a vacation!” the woman said dramatically.
Olivia felt a bit weird now. This was such heavy shit. Welfare? Wasn’t that just for really, like, poor and socially weird people? The girls who were always waiting for the bus in their tracksuits, with their greasy hair and their hoop earrings, speaking in heavy accents. Their moms were on welfare, Olivia knew. They had no dads. That was just, life.
Okay, maybe she felt weird physically. Her stomach grumbled. She had only had this small dinner at the airport, a BLT sandwich she bought at Pret. It wasn’t too good so she threw half of it away because she felt a bit nauseous eating a fatty pre-packaged sandwich.
The couple behind her went on an on about their lives. Really, it was about the woman’s life, Olivia noticed. She said negative things about her life, then the guy said kind things about her life, then she twisted his words so they seemed all wrong. He looked like he was killing more and more ants. Eventually Olivia thought, it came down to this: the guy went on all these modelling trips while the woman stayed at home and she really wanted to do her passion too, but couldn’t because there was no money and he didn’t even have to do anything for his job, he just had to stand there and how could that be creatively fulfilling for you, Aiden? She just didn’t understand his passion for this hollow lifestyle.
Excuse me, Olivia wanted to say, I know this isn’t my place but I think you just miss him because he’s away so often. She didn’t, of course. She was a good psychologist. Maybe that’s what she needed to go study. First, she noticed, she must not drink more wine.
As everyone on the plane had heard, Aiden and Bridget’s argument had come to a finale when she went to try and convince him to choose another goal in life than modelling, and the girl in front of them had turned around and asked for a bag.
“Excuse me,” she had said, “There’s no chairs in front of me so can I lend a bag of yours please.” Bridget at that point transformed back to the real world and shook the argument off for a moment, though from the corner of her eye she could see Aiden looking really hurt. He should really just have told her he would have to work two full days, cause they were only in Prague till Monday. It would probably mean her having to roam the city by herself. It would be inspiring. No, don’t say that, Bridget thought, she was still mad at him. And now she had yelled out to all passengers that she was on welfare. Well. She could as well just write a soap series of her life. The failed artist and the beautiful male model.
“But can’t you get a day off?” she asked, again.
“Bridget, a bag,” Aiden urged.
But it was too late. The girl in front of them had already hopelessly put her hands in front of her mouth, only to release a flow of pink vomit through her fingers, over the edge of her seat, into Bridgets lap. Bridget tried to get away onto her chair but she was in seat belts and everything was too small and there was no room and the pink bits were everywhere. The girl in front of them started to cry.
“It’s okay, it’s okay!” Aiden tried to calm her, patted her arm. Within no time there were multiple stewards and stewardesses giving them napkins, bottles of water, and helping the girl to clean herself.
Bridget just sat. This, this was a nightmare. Not only had she just been puked on by a stranger, she had needed that stranger to puke on her to come to her senses. Of course Aiden was the first to help the girl, Aiden was never unkind. He had never meant to hurt her. Bridget had never even stopped talking about herself to think about his feelings.
The girl came back from the toilet and Bridget went to take her place and rinse off the vomit. Aiden was busy cleaning her seat. Olivia smiled an uneasy smile at him. She wanted to apologize again. Apologize for the pink stream of shame. Apologize for ruining their not-so-private fight. But instead, she said:
“I think your girlfriend really misses you.”