by megan loreto
I never used to sleep on airplanes. Flying across the Atlantic, I once listened to Submarine all the way. And when I landed I listened to the EP over and over again in parks and museums and cafés until I heard it in my sleep too. That was years ago now, though more vivid in my memory than the past few months have been. I can’t listen to those songs anymore. Not on airplanes anyway. Not on airplanes not taking me back to the places my mind traces in daydreams. Instead I try to sleep.
My book fails to hold my interest as the steward glances down the aisle to catch my eye. I put it down. Coffee, please. Pouring an unappetizing portion of cream from a plastic sleeve into a disposable cup, I think about the amount of trash that airplanes produce from a single flight. Sometimes when I consider big, unfathomable numbers I can sleep better at night. It’s like creating a space for myself to fade into, some infinity that can envelop my own little life. Instead the coffee jolts me awake and I become more aware of my knees touching the back of the seat in front of me.
I peer outside the little port window, not knowing what I hope to see. Beyond the wing of the plane there is a dark, gray expanse and the hum of the jet engine that intermittently fades to nothing behind my eardrum. I am in the sky, I think without wonder. Sometimes I worry that the intensity I once felt about every aspect of my life has been stripped from me. Did I feel too much in the beginning? I slip a pen from my bag below the seat and scribble vacant thoughts on my napkin. Meeting at airport 11:30, bags 3, terminal 6, white wine. The last time I saw him he was trying to convince me it would not be the last time. I still wanted him to be right back then.
I consider writing in my journal and pull it out of my bag too. Flipping through a few pages of half-hearted grocery lists I find a poem I can’t bring myself to reread. One page reads simply: too late. I let out a little huff of sardonic agreement with my past, melodramatic self, and the old man next to me shifts in his sleep and the newspaper on his lap falls to the floor between us. He was already on the plane when I boarded, this old man, and wore a newsboy style cap that he tilted towards me when I thanked him for letting me into our row. I was grateful he didn’t say another word to me for the rest of the flight. The newspaper touches my shoe, but the black and white photograph on the front depicts the California coast engulfed in flames so I don’t pick it up. Instead, I flick to a dog-eared page of my writing and find a photograph I have taped in without ceremony. It is a polaroid of me, squinting at the person taking the photograph as though there is sunlight in my eyes, but my face is in shadow. Behind me a beautiful array of cut flowers overflows from large green tubs. I can’t remember where I was when this was taken. It bothers me how these moments slip away so easily. I am lazy at recording.
I wish time would stand still. I write. No. I wish I could uninhabit time.
I stare at this sentence and see the steward, a few rows ahead beginning to collect rubbish. I take another sip of coffee and begin to feel a headache forming behind my right eye. That yellow sweater in the picture is the one he first kissed me in. My knee brushes against the back of the seat again. I think enviously of the people at the front of the plane with all that legroom and lean my head against the window until the engines of the plane fade into a melody I recognize again.