I fall in love on airplanes. I think it has to do with optimism, with the fact that something this heavy, this clumsy, could be air-worthy. But the thought trails off there. Dot. Dot. Dot. The ellipsis of something blinking – running lights against a skyscape of stars. We, as a species, have come so far. Conquered everything. The final frontier is the word burning itself off of the paper. Let me attempt to explain:
Airplane = n :a fixed-wing aircraft heavier than air that is driven by a propeller or jet engine and supported by the reaction of the air against its wings.
Air-worthy = adj :fit or safe for operation in the air.
Fall = v: 1. :to descend freely by the force of gravity. 5. :to lower or become lowered.
All of this according to the great god Webster. It is hard to believe that everything is solely dependent on definition. I could understand every inch of this airplane, every mathematic calculation, all the physics of friction and still not know how it flies. I am a man without a way of explaining myself. I have no private language. Two million people in my hometown alone speak the same words. Just like me.
I am a man afraid of flight, afraid of falling.
And if I stop there? Certainly, there is a prologue, but what have I really told you about myself? What do you know other than the hint of a voice, a slip of style, the way I have snapped my words together like building blocks? I have given you no plot. Are you still interested? I need to know so that I can see what I need to change. In the earliest draft of this story, I had not been born yet. I have been revising it since.
(White Space.) As in transition. This blankness to blank you out for a second, bring you back tabula rasa. This is another beginning. This time, I have changed the time, experimented with light searing off of the glinted edges of the cockpit window.
I fall in love on airplanes. Something of the squares of landscape below so ordered that allows me to become irrational, the checkerboard of farmland, the too-neat rows of suburban homes.
I hope you don’t mind darkness. I prefer this plane across the night, the stars framing it, it blacking out the stars in turn. This is as much about setting a mood as it is about truth. Isn’t it always?
* * *
(Three asterisks.) Another break, but here a visual allusion to stars. Mephistopheles, his wild dive down through the milky way into the city. Do you mind if I call it the city? It could be Los Angeles (as in his fall, lost angels. Remember, every word counts). It could be the blue tones of London, the storied stories of Manhattan stretching towards sky.
Have I not given enough description?
The plane, white with red lettering across its tail, lights blinking in a stilted beat across molecules of air, its surface tension keeping us afloat. The woman beside me watching out the window as small clouds crowd past us. Myself? I am a plain man other than my eyes. At least, that is what I have been told.
I leave you with the words. These words already heating themselves up against each other. Forgive me if I try to create tension, a friction that could make them eventually ignite.
I am trying to tell the story without the story. I am trying to be subtle – something that has not historically been my strong suit. I should be further. By now, I should be comparing her to Icarus. The beginning must not stretch beyond the end.
I fall in love on airplanes. I am flying in one over a sea of lights, under a sea of stars. I am flying the first time that she grabs my hand. I try to act like I don’t notice. I try to act cool and indifferent to this touch.
I have known her for years. I have loved her for years. I am married. Not to her. (You’ve heard this story before, of course.) She knows, has known, all of this. I have wanted this simple touch for so long that I need to pretend that it is insignificant.
She is on the verge of sleep, her head slumped against the window, travel weary. Pin-pricks of light around her. (It would be too much if I described it as a halo, but the thought – no matter how cliché – is there.) Her hand is touching mine. I am afraid of falling. I want to say something to her, but I have no words.
By saying ‘I have no words’ in a present tense narrative, does it somehow mean that you have found them? That even in present tense, the reader knows that time has inevitably passed? Listen. I am telling you now. I have found the words:
Icarus reborn, the jet black hair of her, head-first against the window of sky. Maybe to fall is simply to lean too far. I have been leaning into her for too long, leaning against her as if she were a gale-force wind. I have been leaning. On the verge. Please wake up. Her skin a fine layer of pressure over mine. Please wake up. I have begun a somersault through air and she is sleeping. In my head, the plane spiraling down in concentric circles. Beatrice, my Beatrice, we are falling. (Every story needs its allegory. I wave hello to Dante, ascending. I apologize for taking the words out of his mouth.)
And back to the past of the present tense, the surface tension of air, now present once again.
I want to say something to her. I have no words. She falls asleep. Her body jumps twice and relaxes, her hand sliding out of mine, bouncing into her own empty lap.
Is that inappropriate as an ending? Can I leave it as a moment, and isn’t every moment a story, self-contained? What questions do I leave unanswered?
1. Where is the plot, the conflict?
2. Why so little description of the woman, the narrator?
3. What changes?
1. The hand touching, the hand falling away.
2. They are ghosts, non-fiction in a world of fiction or vice-versa. They are words. They exist to describe themselves.
3. The position of their hands.