Night Flight

The Word: CRAMP

Natalia slowly walked up and down the long aisles of the great 767, the redeye to Frankfurt. From Los Angeles it was fourteen hours.  Everyone was asleep except the American kids mid-cabin on the right, two excited girls hyped and glassy-eyed from seven hours of cartoons, and the mother pulling out more and more snacks and books and Barbies, while in the center section a Pakistani mother had put a blanket out across the seats and firmly bedded her younger boy above, while the blanket spread on the floor before the seats cushioned the older one.  Natalia could see it already–the girls would be shrieking by Portugal, while the boys would awaken on the approach to Frankfurt, quiet and well-mannered and ready to receive their breakfasts. That was the thing about parenthood.  You had to think ahead, you had to plan your moves like Kasparov.

She remembered this flight.  She’d taken it with Julia, twenty years ago. Three hours from Petersburg, then the endless leg from Frankfurt to LA.

Los Angeles.  Then it was just a rumor, something she had seen on Swedish television, an illegal antenna.  Beaches, bathing suits.  Julia was six.  They’d left from Pulkova in the middle of the night.  She had said goodbye to no one.

Now her daughter was in her last year of medical school.  And her mother had had a stroke in Petersburg.

Natalia could not sit through this night, flying east, flying in reverse, a middle aged woman, she got cramps in her legs from sitting so long. And that serious little girl, who had slept across her knees, was now engaged to an Indian man from Santa Barbara who had never even been to India.

While Natalia had met her future in an underground gallery on Pushinskaya Street.  Bearded, leather-jacketed,  the kind of American who was always where things were happening, two years before it was in the guidebooks. The whole world had turned inside out, he wanted to be part of it all. Wanted to see the communal apartment where she lived with her mother and her daughter.  He kept saying Poltory komnatyA room and a half.  Read her the Joseph Brodsky essay about it, translating in his poor Russian.  Her English about as good.  How he marveled at the vines of wires to the bells, one to each room, cut into the great door.  Her mother still lived in that room, but she’d rented out the room that had been Natalia’s to generations of students at the Herzen Institute. 

She paced the aisle. The rows of sleeping passengers looked vaguely frightening in the glow of the few reading lights, eyes masked, blanketed.  How strange that people needed to do such a thing, abandon the body like this every day, slip the anchor of the day and the place and sun and earth. It reminded her of the photographs they had seen of Jonestown, the bodies on the green earth, the bright squares of their clothing, like a patchwork quilt.

Now she understood the mother who did not want to surrender her children to that silence, who would rather not see. As she had not wanted to see, going to California, she, who had not even been to Prague, or Budapest.  Not wanting to see that it might not be the miracle she had imagined, only envisioning herself and Julia in the golden land. On this flight, Julia’s head on her lap, her sweet smell. A phone number in her hand.  That was all.
© Janet Fitch 2010 all rights reserved

Part  of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word.  “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”

The next week’s word is OPEN.

5 Responses to “Night Flight”

  1. doreen finn Says:

    loved it! so good to read you.

  2. Janet – first rate.


  3. I woke up to the rain pattering off the red tiles beach of the cottage we’d rented for the week in St. Barts. Our week had started out in spectacular fashion with chilled champagne in our room, and the weather was simply perfect. I looked at the icy blue LED numbers on the bedside clock – 2:38. The bed was empty, which was odd because my wife was a sound sleeper. I threw off the covers, pushed away the bug netting and got out of bed. I slipped on my moist swimming trunks from the cold tiled floor, and called out her name softly.

    No response.

    I thought about turning on the light but decided not to. I went over to the sliders that lead out to the deck and pool area. The door was slightly ajar and I stood there for a long moment and listened. The problem was that I didn’t know what I was listening for. Then it happened. As I slowly opened the door a bit wider I could make out two shadowy people in the pool. It was a moon lit night and I was positive that one the people in the water was her. But that couldn’t be. Could it? I carefully took a few steps forward, being very careful to shield myself from view. As I concentrated I heard the distinct tone of her voice. But whom was she with? If I took another step forward to find out, I knew she’d see me. The suspense was killing me.

    I heard a splash and a small laugh. Her special laugh.

    A throbbing ache in my side came out of nowhere that took my breath away. The pain was deep and sickening. I sucked in a lung full of air, and held it. I desperately wanted to quell any sound that might emanate from my lips that would give my position away. I had to find out who she was with – no matter what. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder shaking me.

    “Hon, are you all right?”


    “You were groaning. Are you okay?”

    She reached over me and turned on the bedside light. When our eyes met she had a serious look of concern. I realized that I’d dreampt the whole scenario up and felt guilty for thinking she was with someone else – even of it was only in a dream.

    “Yeah, I’m fine. Had a cramp I guess. Sorry I woke you up.”

    “Want me to turn off the light?” she asked.

    I nodded.

    She leaned over me again to turn off the light. This time as she brushed against me I felt the heat of her body.

  4. Fantastic. I love the way you build the scene through your MC’s eyes. It’s captivating.

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