by Thomas Gresham
Reg is at the airport bar, images of a lone pig hanging over the backsplash. Bartenders mix pork-flavored drinks. There’s a guy next to him who’s skillfully manipulating free drinks out of a housewife who’s sitting alone. She’s nervous about her flight. The guy notices. Reg sees she’s using a credit card to pay for the drinks. Her and the guy have only been in each’s general proximity for four and a half minutes and she’s already told him about her trip to the UK, how her son just got married to a bimbo she just can’t stand, and the fact that she’s an orphan due to an avalanche that killed both her parents and her sister, Ruby, when she was just twelve.
And the guy’s listening to all this, nodding at just the right parts, replying whenever it’s necessary. When the bartender comes around, muffintop blossoming from the waist of her week-worn jeans, and asks if they need anything else, the guy taps his glass and the nervous woman, after a glitch that could be taken as hesitation, asks for one more but to give it a little something extra. She’s gathering the courage to ask this guy for his number, if only to call or text and spark a line of conversation that will fulfill her need for sexual connection, and maybe fill that void her absentee husband’s left her with.
And it’s very likely that she would get that possibility if not for the guy’s flight number coming in scrambled chaos over the intercom. He thanks her for the drinks, makes a joke about not having to drive, shares an awkwardly emotional hug with her—which she punctuates with a kiss on his neck—and then floats off, disappearing into the crowd. When the guy is fully gone and she thinks no one can hear, she cries.
Reg knows situations like this. His mother once married a man who only used her for the money she lived off of after Reg’s dad died on-the-job––or as they say: in the line of duty. He doesn’t remember much of this guy his mother used to date. That’s thirty years in the past. That guy she dated is gone, and Reg is on his way to be there for the last days of his mother’s life. Bad luck runs in our family she told him right after she told him she’d expire soon.
Reg has got an hour and twenty five minutes left in his life. The minutes will go slow and the end will come quick–but he will be aware, repeating to himself this is the end this is the end until he can’t repeat anything ever again.
Flight 2511 out of Seattle lands at 7:34am, twenty-six minutes ahead of schedule. Passengers on the sold-out flight disembark and passengers waiting to embark on Flight 2511’s scheduled path across the American West line up according to their economic caste. Luggage from the previous passengers is taken off while luggage from those standing in line is on its way across the tarmac to Flight 2511’s location, bouncing carelessly on a covered flatbed trailer towed by a golf-cart-type thing that’s souped up to go roughly 70mph, which is about how fast it’s going now. The driver and his passenger, a new guy, laugh in that freshly-stoned way as the wind nearly rips those little orange ear muffs from their heads. And then they’re there.
An olive green Eagle Creek mid-size suitcase rumbles down the conveyor belt outside the 737 at Terminal 7. Inside is seven shirts, three pairs of pants, five tightly-bundled pairs of socks, five pairs of underwear, a toothbrush, one stick of Right Guard deodorant, a contact lens case filled with solutions but no lenses, a book on enlightenment, a hairdryer, a dress, a matching set of bra and g-string, and a high-explosive thermal charge wired to a burner phone through a series of complicated wires and relays.
Reg wanders down the jet bridge, the resting purr of the 737’s engines still loud enough to hurt the ear infection in his left ear. His lower left bicuspid is beginning to throb again. He thought the beer would help, but instead has inflamed the cavity. The Ativan should kick in shortly and he won’t really even care about the pain in his tooth, the discomfort in his ear, the cancer he doesn’t know is blooming in his stomach, or the way his head will hit the cabin roof when the jet takes its unscheduled plunge. He takes a seat. Aisle 12, Seat F.
“I’ve never been outside California,” he tells the deaf man sitting next to him. The man motions to show that he’s deaf, but Reg thinks it’s just a way to get out of uncomfortable flight conversation. If so, Reg commends the guy for his commitment. If he’s not deaf, he’s going to have to pretend to be so for the next twelve hours––or forty seven minutes. Sitting in silence, listening to the uncomfortable chaos of passengers entering the plane, settling, getting adjusted and acquainted with their flight mates, Reg sees the guy from the bar come onboard looking totally sauced.
As he passes Aisle 12, Reg leans over the deaf guy and says, “They didn’t call your flight, you liar.”
“You just used that lady for drinks.”
“It’s too loud in here, man. I can’t hear you.”
“Sir, you need to find your seat,” says the flight attendant at the front.
He turns to her. “This guy’s talking to me.”
Reg says, “You can hear.” But in this moment he’s accidentally made eye contact with the deaf guy, who motions in a way that connotes yelling, pointing to his ears, signing something Reg doesn’t understand, all the while making vague word-like sounds that only people who’ve been deaf from birth can make.
“No, I wasn’t talking to you. I was talking to––” but he’s pointing at other passengers who pass Aisle 12 without looking in his direction. He motions to the deaf guy to forget it and leans back in his seat. The deaf guy is still emoting to him, but the Ativan kicks in and turns everything a pinkish shade of I-Don’t-Give-A-Fuck. The deaf guy motions but Reg pretends to be blind and doesn’t see any of it. A young guy, probably around Reg’s age, wanders onto the plane. One of the last to arrive. He takes a seat in between two people: one elderly, the other overweight. Reg can see the hesitation on his face. The guy gets up, squeezes his way into the aisle, and exits the cabin. He never returns.
Just after the plane leaves the runway, tearing through the air in a way only science or magic can explain, Reg takes out the in-flight catalog and flips through, if only to bore himself long enough for the Ativan to strangle the part of his brain that controls sleep.
What else can be said about Reg to help you connect with this character before things happen? He was born six weeks premature. His left foot twists inward and has caused a misalignment in his back. He was bit by a dog, stung by a stingray, and had his head cracked open in the same week––he was eight. He lost his virginity in a bush. His first job was at Pizza Hut. His first love was a man. His first wife killed herself. He associates with dangerous, violent people.
In the cargo area below Aisle 45, the olive green Eagle Creek mid-sized luggage explodes in a manner that, if it weren’t viewed intimately, but rather from a safe distance, and didn’t mean the death of everyone onboard, would be considered cinematic. The pilots attempt to control the sudden change in pressure and the damage to the tail end of the 737, but the force pushing against them is too great. The cabin erupts in chaos. People scream. The deaf guy turns to Reg and says, “I’m not really deaf,” likely hoping that his confession will earn him a place in the Holy Kingdom. Reg just shrugs, thinking only about how his tooth doesn’t hurt anymore and how he won’t have to pay his credit card bill anymore. As the plane tilts, pulling his body to the desert below, he thinks this is the