I am on a plane to Portland when the pilots disappear. The flight attendants laugh and start playing hide-and-seek. They assume people cannot leave a moving aircraft without making a ruckus and search all the compartments with determination and zeal. It is only when they begin riffling through carry-ons that other passengers start picking up on the game and its implications.
A man accosts Kyla while she kneels in the aisle holding a box of someone else’s tampons. What do you mean the pilots are gone? He punctuates every word. Exclamation points and tensions run high. A baby, or rather that ceaseless barometer of collective emotion, in aisle seventeen starts crying. I poke my head above the seat to find the child’s flailing arms. I cover my eyes. I am almost certain the baby has not noticed me, but still I say peek-a-boo and force a shocked smile on every pass of my fingers.
Sir, please sit down, Kyla says and the man pushes around her with all of his considerable girth. His left knee knocks her on the nose. She bleeds and drops the tampons, leaving the box where it lands beneath the feet of a teenaged boy who has yet to look up from his Fast and Furious movie. In a few minutes, he will look down and call out an ew and a gross. No one can fault his priorities. Another flight attendant rushes over and offers ibuprofen. Together she and Kyla saunter off to plot their own disappearance.
I close my eyes behind my fingers, let the coolness of my engagement ring dissipate against my sweaty forehead. I try to hide within blocked-out vision, but then my neighbor speaks. Think anyone here knows how to land a plane? he asks. Mentally, I shuffle through a host of responses and land on: I’m allergic to peanuts and find flying unpleasant. My friend Quinta is teaching me how to talk past men. I’d been planning to practice while I visited my father, but now that it looks like I might never reach the airport, I figure my neighbor will work just as well. With his unfortunately placed bald spot and shoddy business suit, he almost looks like my father anyway. He laughs and calls me quirky. I roll my eyes, breaking Quinta’s cardinal rule: never react. I pull my fingers back and smile. Peek-a-boo.
The man doesn’t appreciate that I pay more attention to the baby than him. He moves his hand from the armrest to my lower thigh and waits for a response. I regret comparing him to my father, but say nothing. He whispers something about how he’s always wanted to join the mile-high club. He enunciates poorly, so it is possible, though improbable that I misheard. I think, Well, that escalated quickly, and say, Cows kill 22 people every year in the United States alone. His hand clenches as he says, voice spitting concern, Are you calling yourself a cow?
I shouldn’t have worn shorts.
The man with the girth comes on the intercom. Is this working? You—no, you in the red—go out and tell me if this is working. Someone somewhere hits a button and oxygen masks erupt from the ceiling like confetti. My neighbor removes his hand just long enough to buckle his seat belt. When I don’t move, he reaches across to buckle mine as well. The man with the girth says he’s been speaking with Air Traffic Control and he’s going to try to land the plane in a North Dakotan field. He advises us to not be alarmed.
Watch out for cows, I say and resume peek-a-boo with the now silent child.
Abby Burns is a queer feminist currently residing in Indiana. She is an MFA candidate at the University of Notre Dame where she works as an editorial assistant for the Notre Dame Review, an outreach coordinator, and a research assistant. Her favorite things include stout beers, fresh snow, and people who have weird laughs. This is her first publication.