Friday, November 15, 2013

Katherine (Excerpt Later)

Once upon a time, I wanted to write a story about a young woman who tried to eat a bicycle. That premise has stayed with me over the years. Continuing the tale has proven as hard for me as you might imagine chewing and then digesting a bicycle might be, but I still think there's a story there -- not about a girl eating a bicycle, but about the girl who tried to eat a bicycle. This is my attempt to reacquaint myself with Katherine.

The guy sitting next to me won't stop scratching his ankles. First the left, then the right. It sounds like coarse sandpaper on driftwood, in stereo. I try to ignore it by looking out the window, but the sun's morning glare is so stark that I have to push the window most of the way closed, and then all I have to look at is a two-inch gap, beyond which lies the plane's wing. Not the best scenery. A flight attendant with a bob of hair shaped like the Liberty Bell and dimples that paradoxically shout demure and disdainful walks down the aisle, and I ask her if I might have a vodka and orange juice. We're going to take off soon, I'm assured, again, and I can order a drink when we're safely off the ground. It was worth a shot. I grab a travel mag from the pocket in front of me, behind the seat of the passenger in front of me, and, soon, hopefully, 35,000 feet in the air. And maybe I'll buy a miniature cuckoo clock. For kicks. Maybe I'll buy a Chanel compact and later try to use it as a hockey puck.

We start to taxi. Ankle Scratcher opens the Wall Street Journal that had prior been lying half on his lap, half on mine. The top corner of the paper brushes my temple, no apology, and instead of screaming I look at the sterile, inoffensive cabin ceiling, screaming through my eyeballs at a god that never answers the phone when I'm at my most annoyed. The irony of flying, at least symbolically, is that reaching the heavens tends to be more like a descent into hell.

Our pilot comes on the intercom to further explain the delay, and I try to throttle him with my mind. It doesn't work. Then I try to telekinenetically abscond the Arrow pen from the breast pocket of the sleeping gentleman sitting across the aisle, with which I hope to manipulate and thrust into the eye of Itchy Ankles. Again, failure. Resigned, I slump in my seat and watch the flight attendants go through their safety routine. They look like robots doing underwater calisthenics.

A kid tries to go to the lavatory and is ushered back to his seat. He promptly pees his pants and begins crying. I pretend I'm sleeping in a tauntaun's bowels. No one can be completely sane on an airplane, although some people are better than others at pretending that they are. Flying cross continent might be fast, but only if your definition of time doesn't include all the bumps that make it so slow.

And yet...and yeti...spaghetti...

I'm awoken from a nightmare by a jolt. I feel like throwing up. My window is up, and the sun looks like an egg yolk threatening to burst and cover everything in dark yellow. Behind me I hear a goat bleating. I rub my eyes as the plane lands. Land. Terra motherfucking firma.

"Shit," my seatmate says, "seventeen minutes to make the gate? Give me a break! Where are you heading?" he asks me.

"Home," I say, but it sounds more like a question than an answer.

"Anyway, good flying with you. What's your name?"


"Pretty name. Have a good one, Catherine."

And we start to deplane. It's 5 AM on a Thursday morning. I'm finally coming...home?

"I saved your breakfast because you were sleeping," says the Liberty-Bell-haired stew as I try to exit. "I can reheat it for you to take with you if you want."

"No, that's okay," I say. "I'd sooner eat a bike tire."

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