Fire. That was the first thing he saw. Fire. The wing was burning. Then he saw the flight attendant’s face. She knew too. They say you’re not supposed to panic in these types of situations. Well, panic is the first emotion that surfaces when you’re in danger. That was the only emotion Bill felt.
The plane jerked down. Alarms beeped. The flight attendant, who had been standing looking at the wing with a visage of twisted confusion, was thrown to the side. She fell down the small hall where her neck hit the wall that jutted out just in front of the bathroom. Her neck snapped and her head lolled lifelessly.
The oxygen masks popped down. Bill grabbed his quickly, putting the rubber strap around his head. He looked to the person sitting next to him. She was an older woman in her mid to late seventies, clutching a picture of four small children while desperately saying a prayer. Bill grabbed her mask and put it over her head. She didn’t say any words of gratitude, but she continued her prayer.
Bill looked out the window. Even though fear gripped him with its icy clutch, he was fascinated by the fire. It was almost beautiful in a way. The flames licked the end of the wing, almost as if they were trying to devour it, like it had a desire to engulf the plane.
Bill looked at the other passengers. Panic had spread throughout like a plague. Even when people know how it’s going to end, they feel like there is some chance of hope. Except Bill.
He put his face in his hands. He tried to drown out the loud screams and the alarms that surrounded him. He tried to return to a place that was calm and peaceful. He tried to remember everything that had happened to him. And with his face buried in his hands, he did remember.
He saw himself saying goodbye to his wife and kids as he boarded the plane, giving his wife a soft kiss, telling her this trip wouldn’t be nearly as long as the last one. He remembered promising his kids that he would bring them something. His oldest son, thirteen and ignorant, wanted money. That’s all that was on his mind. That and girls. Oh, the woes of being a teenager.
Bill remembered the night before last. He remembered sitting down to a meal with his wife and kids, thinking that there was nothing that could bring him down that night. Then the phone rang. Silverware stopped in mid-air, hovering just under the mouth and just above the plates.
Bill answered the phone. He hung up, looked his wife straight in the eye, and lied to her. He saw her look of blank trust. She believed him. He had only said it was a business trip. And in a sense it was. But not the business she thought it was.
The plane’s wing ripped off and the aircraft began to swirl. It twisted and turned in demented grace towards the expanse of ocean below it. Bill closed his eyes again.
He saw himself at age five. His first day of school. He was standing with his mother out in front of the building, waiting for the bell to ring. He was nervous. All he could feel was sweat coating his hand. The bell rang. He looked at his mother, begging her to take him home. She kissed his hand softly, promising that her love would always be with him. And then she walked away, leaving him to face the world alone. It seemed cruel, but it turned out to be the most important lesson she ever taught him.
He saw himself at age ten. He had been playing catch with his father. Bill kept dropping the ball. His father had been patient, calm. Even though Bill was afraid of the ball, his father stood beside him and helped him. He remembered the smell of his mother baking apple pie. The delightful aroma of delicacy would surround him and make him forget about everything else that happened.
Age fifteen. He smoked his first cigarette. His father caught him out back by the woodshed. He saw the look of disappointment on his father’s face, but no anger. His father simply walked away.
Age eighteen. Graduation day. His father was there, sitting next to his mother and his sister. He remembered his mother’s shining face. He remembered how beautiful she looked. He saw his little sister’s blank look. She didn’t know what the hell is going on. Then he saw his father, business-like, in a three piece suit despite it being eighty-five degrees. He saw his father pick up his phone, answer it, and walk away. His father did not return to the graduation.
Age twenty-one. He was at the bar with the girl who would end up being his wife. They got wasted that night, yet he still remembers the t-shirt she had on, and the one strand of hair she couldn’t keep from covering her forehead. He remembered her slurred speech, her terrible jokes. He remembered the feeling of his heart falling into his stomach, churning the acids, making him sweat profusely. He remembered falling in love.
He remembered his wedding. His wife looked so innocent, so pure. Her white dress fell off of her, fitting her form perfectly. He, in his tuxedo, felt underdressed in her presence. He felt like he didn’t deserve such a specimen. And yet, here she was. Taking his hand in marriage. Dedicating her life to him. Binding them together. All Bill felt was love, for that’s all that day was ever supposed to be about.
The birth of his son. The hours of agony paying off in the end creating something beautiful, a beauty that few people understand. He saw his son crying. It was the most beautiful sound in the world.
His son’s first birthday. The chocolate cake he bought was now all over his son’s face. Almost none of it had been eaten. But Bill didn’t mind that. His son was his whole world. And he would do anything and everything needed to make him happy.
He remembered his mother’s death. He hadn’t been there when she died. He had been on a business trip. And as she was suffering, he was enjoying himself. As she took her last breath, Bill was finishing the deal. He didn’t even know she had died until he got on the plane to come home. He had turned his phone off during the business deal. When he turned it on and listened to his voicemail, his blood turned to ice, his heart rate escalated, he started sweating. And then the pain set in. The pain stemmed from the knowledge that his mother had died alone, and that she had died because he hadn’t valued her life as much as he should have. And it’s at that moment, Bill realized he was truly alone. The irony of the situation was too real for him. He spent years wishing his mother would get off his back, only to realize that she was the only one who ever had his back in the first place.
His mother’s funeral. Standing in the rain, looking at the hole that would hold his mother’s corpse. He doesn’t cry. No one notices his lack of response. The rain on his face shows fake sorrow. It feels like something out of a movie. Everyone standing around a grave, rain pouring down on the abundance of black, giving everything a morbid, gothic feel. Yet, that’s what funerals are all about. So, in Bill’s sick, twisted mind nothing is wrong, and everything is how it should be.
Bill looked out the window one more time. Death approached him quickly, like an animal leaping after its prey. Bill covered his eyes again. When he did, he felt at peace, even with the fear creeping up his spine, making it tingle with its ghostly fingers. When he closed his eyes he felt at home, even though he would never see his home again.
© Copyright 2016 Keith LaFountaine. All rights reserved.