I am on a plane, hooked into my comfortable seat. The book that I was reading in the departure lounge is in the string pouch just above my knees along with the airline company paraphernalia and sick bags. But the engines are already winding up in readiness for the runway assault on improbability and so the child, this old child, is distracted by the miracle of impending flight and the book is momentarily forgotten. The plane is only three quarters full and so I have taken the window seat that I wanted so much but couldn't justify paying for. I learn later that it was in fact the reserved seat of the woman sitting next but one to me who lost courage and chose instead to position herself next to the aisle in readiness perhaps for the melee that would ensue in the event of having to ditch in the sea after engine failure. She is nervous but I am excited like a child.
The pilot puts his metaphoric right foot on the accelerator peddle and the engines roar their delight. But the metaphoric left foot is firmly on the footbrake and we feel the growing impetus to advance while remaining perfectly stationary, like a race horse on a tight rein just before the wire goes up. The brake is released and the sudden surge forward provokes a rapid sign of the cross by my neighbour who stiffens in her seat as the released energy accelerates the metal monster that is a modern aircraft towards it's destiny. Planes do sometimes fall out of the sky. Cars crash and racehorses fall but we calculate the risk and act accordingly. I am also slightly nervous. It could be this plane that goes missing over the immense span of an ocean in mid flight, it's twisted wreckage and unfortunate occupants never to be seen again except perhaps by the prying eye of a deep sea camera. It is now far too late to recalculate the risk and change my mind, but of course I am not thinking about that. I am on the craziest fair ground ride in the world and any fear that finds expression through tightened knuckle muscles or tensed shoulders is overwhelmed by naive, childlike exhilaration.
In almost exactly no time at all we reach take off velocity and the front wheel leaves the ground as the pilot pulls the lever, presses the button, or does whatever pilots do these days when the propitious moment arrives. I imagine, as always, that the rear of the plane will touch the ground as the tilt increases just before literal take off. But no! Aircraft designers are not fools! They know how long the vessel needs to be and where to position the wheels to avoid this. And then we are falling upwards and suddenly speed is less noticeable. This ridiculous mass cannot, surely, resist the still little understood law of gravity that Mr Newton so kindly invented to stop us all drifting off into space and yet it does just that, screaming almost silently for the chosen few in the aircraft interior, into a clear blue sky. And then that blissful moment when the iron bird banks to the right or left looking for it's planned trajectory and if lucky, seated on the down side, we can admire the beauty of the airports "hinterland" from the view point of a soaring eagle. And of course in this story I am indeed lucky, my weight shifting from my seat to the gossamer shell of the beautifully aerodynamic fuselage. A herd of cows, freshly released from it's winter prison, dissipates in panic and disappears from view as we level off and settle into the routine of bad coffee and appalling food, if desperation is such that we deem the price payable.
My neighbour heaves a sigh of relief, the even more dangerous manoeuvre of "re-entry", no more than a distant menace. She eyes expectantly the lit symbols on the overhead display, perhaps keen to release the liquid fear that was still solid even just two hours ago. And then she is gone, rocking down the isle despite the apparent motionlessness of her sumptuous surroundings.
I am glued to the window, mesmerised by the dream of Icarus. I am in fact Icarus. It is my nature to fly too high. But Icarus is not flying this metal feathered albatross and so we fly at exactly the programmed altitude unaffected by the suns heat, while I wallow in ecstatic union with the sky, blissfully aware that I am living the impossible dream of countless generations of serial dreamers. And living it in some style! Flying through the rarified air at colossal speed, protected from the freezing exterior by walls of pressed aluminium and plastic, seated in an armchair, massaging the orange I am about to eat so as to render the fruit and the peel two separate entities, looking for patterns in the clouds below that increase in number with the passing kilometres, quickly becoming an unbroken carpet of billowing, pure white, sun drenched cotton wool.
My book waits patiently, like all inanimate objects do so well, in the pouch before me. I am flying above the clouds in an armchair eating an orange. Not bad evolution for a mere 2000 and some years. I digress to consider the fact that mankind's technological evolution in the domain of powered flight rose from Orville Wrights badly controlled A to B, a distance of 120 feet in twelve seconds in 1903 to the moon and back for Apollo 11 and it's intrepid occupants in 1969. A mere 66 years separating the two milestone events. Astonishing!
Back to my ongoing flight, I fall into uncomfortable conversation with my lighter, freshly returned lady friend. I learn very quickly that she is a native of my adopted city Zombieville, born and thorough-bred and so the conversation becomes one sided. I ask the questions and she replies. She is well educated and so politely asks me a question in return, but her disinterest is as obvious as her discomfort and a heavily pregnant silence invades the space we occupy.
I wait for another question, the one that any normal person would ask. The one that my first reply screams for. She changes the subject from me back to her. Details of her life, the victimisation she suffers, her perceived poverty, trip off her tongue in well practiced fashion and exit between pursed lips that show no sign of a history of smiling. An enormous but well concealed sigh of desperation rises and falls in my chest and I turn my attention back to the spectacular view outside. The sun is high but on the other side of the aircraft and so I watch a shadow, projected onto the white mass below, racing along at identical speed, distorted by the contours of the clouds that unconsciously measure the varying air pressure and humidity.
My neighbour sleeps or fakes sleeping in order to avoid further contact. Or meditating perhaps, on the meaning of life or the contents of her secret bank account. I take my book from the backrest's meshed pocket, look one more time through the TV screen of the reinforced glass window at the glory outside before settling into my easy chair with alternating, sideways movements of my hips, to revel in the lesser, though none the less undeniable glory of The Princess In The Castle On The Hill by an unknown, unnamed writer who hides behind a pseudonym, The Sacred Spaceman. It's his first book, an international bestseller, translated into twenty languages after only six months in the public eye. A literary sensation! The mystery that is his true identity increasing exponentially the interest of would be readers. It is autobiographical but not an autobiography. I am intrigued by the character known as Priska. I say known as because everything I have read in the preceding chapters smacks of true life experience and so the names have probably been changed to protect, as far as possible, the identities of the people he describes. I'm in love with Priska. She is crazy and beautiful. And mean like crazy and beautiful women often are. But I detected already, in the brief account that I read in the tram on the way to the airport, the potential for a flowering into something extraordinary.
I am hoping that the story will pick up in her bedroom and that we get to know her physiology a little better, but mainly to see if he describes in good enough detail the fantasy that I already have with regards to that beautiful mouth of hers that he spoke about in an earlier chapter. The fucker knows of course exactly what he is doing, pulling the reader along through his sometimes over complicated philosophy, dangling a carrot that symbolises Priska's sexuality. Cheap or clever? Well, certainly effective in any case. I was last to the boarding gate because I was still in the departure lounge reading this damned book, desperate for more information about her. The length of her legs in relation to her great height and the exact hardness of her nipples during orgasm for example, to name but two of the many questions that await answers.
I open the book at the page marked with a playing card. The ace of diamonds. It's companion the ace of clubs safely stored in my laptop bag in the overhead locker. I carefully place it on the empty seat next to me which still retains the air of discomfort that invaded this space a few minutes ago, just before my conversation with the lady next door ended so abruptly. She is silent and grim faced, but not sleeping, eyes closed in interior meditation. What is revealed to her is written in the expression on her face. She is unhappy, like all anti social people are. Lost in the loneliness of her own creation. Cold and disinterested on the outside, a seething cauldron of unexpressed resentment and self hatred on the inside, her choice of clothes a perfect metaphor for her personality. Fussy and far too perfect, buttoned up to the hilt, her hair cascading in unnaturally black, freshly styled waves of air sculpted muscle. Her already pursed lips tighten harder as some painful memory or other forces itself to the surface of her bubbling consciousness and finds temporary expression in a grimace. She senses perhaps my invasion of her privacy and opens her cosmetically enhanced eyes that immediately swivel in their sockets towards my analytical gaze. I can be a great actor on occasion and my shakespearian talent saves me from embarrassment, but only just, by rising from my seat and feigning a need to get past her in order to go to the toilet. Only a master in the study of human behaviour could possibly have detected the momentary hesitation that was the space for the creation of my face saving little drama. But to any normal person, only rigorous rehearsal of a beautifully choreographed performance could explain and justify the scene.
Who could possibly know what she made of it all. Her thoughts will remain as always well concealed, until loss of self discipline, shattered by a moment of anger, permits the blowing of a lid, spewing forth fully fledged molten manifestations of inner pain.