On the flight from New York, I sat next to a pretty brunette. She had the window seat. She was around thirty years old. I’m not sure she would be every guy’s type, but I found her attractive. She wore glasses and a long black shirt, perhaps out of insecurity, wanting to hide her size 14 body. I nodded to her as I took my seat, just to be pleasant. She was reading a book of essays by David Forster Wallace. I was reading a book of short stories by Deborah Eisenberg. We did not speak for the first four hours of the flight.
As we were flying somewhere over Arizona, she took off her seat belt, turned to me and said, “Excuse me…,” indicating that she wanted to go to the bathroom. I stood in the narrow aisle while she was gone. It felt good to stretch. There isn’t much room for my long legs in the coach section of the plane, and the jerk sitting in front of my insisted on leaning his seat back as far as it could go.
After the brunette returned, I sat down again and opened my book. She spoke to me first.
“Is that a good book?” she asked.
“Really good,” I said. “Terrific short stories.”
I glanced over at her book, trying to figure out something clever to say.
“It is sad about his death,” referring to the author’s suicide in September, even though I had actually never read anything that he had written, including his 1996 novel Infinite Jest, which Time magazine listed in its All-Time 100 Greatest Novels list.
“Yeah, really sad.” she said. “Do you remember how he killed himself.”
“No,” I replied. “But whatever he did, it worked.”
I took a chance with that insensitive joke.
A half hour later, we were reading our books, biding the time. My arm leaned on the armrest between our two chairs. She unconsciously guided her arm to the same spot. Our arms butted against each other. Normally, when this happens, I quickly cave in, conceding my territory. This happens all the time in crowded movie theaters. But I did not waver this time, testing her. I would let HER be the one who submits. I did this out assertiveness, but soon my intentions changed. I was impressed that she did not flinch. We were wooing each other, like two lions doing a mating dance. Was I going to be a gentle soul and let her be comfortable on the armrest, or was I to be a selfish animal, relentless? I did not care about propriety. I was thousands of feet in the air, flying through space, in a unworldly arena where the moral codes of the Bible held little meaning. I kept my arm where it belonged, on the armrest, letting her feel the heat of my increasingly-rapid blood flowing against her softness. And I think she liked it. A lot. For the next thirty minutes, our bodies touched, arm against arm.
The next, and the last, time we spoke was when we exited the plane at Gate 8 at LAX. It was a beautiful LA day outside, clearly visible outside the huge windows in the American Airlines terminal. I was still wearing my winter coat from NY.
“Take care,” I said to her.
And then she disappeared into the crowd.
I think that this is beautiful.
very sweet, maybe she’ll be on the flight back?
I loved this. And I can’t stand it when people in front of me in coach put their seats back, like I’m going to be performing dental work on them or something.
You didn’t get her phone number!??
The warm skin of another human being…somedays it can make all the difference.
I like chance meeting stories. Last year, on a flight from home to the States from South Africa, a good looking stranger and I flipped up the armrest and curled up together to sleep. It was both the longest and the most comfortable flight I’ve ever taken.
You totally should have asked for her email. Emails are safe and noncommittal with the possibility of turning up the heat if you want, or easily breaking contact if you need to. Plus as a writer, it would totally play to your strengths…
Of course those who can do, those who can’t, read blogs on Saturday night…; (
Is it your writing or real desire that I’d love a “chance encounter”?
Well done Neil.
That’s lovely…just lovely Neil.
And that bravery?? Impressive.
He hanged himself.
I love this, so innocent, but so sexy
Loved that. Beautiful.
A simple gesture like that on a plane can save someone, even if only momentarily – from loneliness, from their insecurities, their selves. I am sure she enjoyed your brief encounter as much as you did.
The description of your arms touching is way hotter than if you had told us you followed her to the Chateau Marmont and had sex all night. Great story, but if she sees this, she’ll probably hate the line, “Iâ€™m not sure she would be every guyâ€™s type, but I found her attractive.”
I am sighing, ever so deeply.
I recall much hype a couple of decades ago about erogenous zones. Where they were, which were best, how to touch them, and so on. However, I think the most responsive cluster of nerve endings can vary, with the entire central nervous system focused on whatever part of the body gets touched first. During the armrest episode, I bet your penis was quite jealous of your elbow.
An excellent piece
I loved every minute of it.
I think you made this whole thing up, and probably sat down next to a 400 pound sumo wrestler who snored and farted the entire flight, while you shifted uncomfortably in your seat, wishing that you were sitting next to a size 14 woman with big kazooms and a love for reading.
I’ve had the oddest experiences with strangers on a plane, things that would never have transpired we were not squished together in this flying sardine can. Also? People always get very confessional with me on planes. Weird. Anyway, I liked this… The human touch is highly underrated, IMO.
You are an outstanding writer.
Really lovely to read your words.
You would like this song, it’s called “Elbows” by an Aussie folk singer, Darren Hanlon.
Watch it on youtube here.
The lyrics are here.
This is one of your finest posts in some time. You should make dangerous jokes to ladies on planes more often.
I would have totally caved, even at thirty-thousand feet. Well done, sir. Well done.
i like that you took something from the experience, rather than just another regular day performing mindless activities with no thoughts.
I am sitting on a plane and watching people board. One after one. Where is my Neil equivalent seat mate? Who will take 2A?
Wait! Her name? Where she was headed? What she did for a living? Have I taught you NOTHING????
Sometimes it’s better not to know any of their info. In your head, you can create the perfect person and you never have to be disillusioned. Nice post.
I had a guy kiss me on an airplane once. (I didnt know him)
Nice story. I love the anonymity of flying. You can get so close and then never see that person again.
I love the vision of two strangers’ arms lightly touching, that slight butterfly in the chest feel.
I find that insensitive jokes are my best pick up lines. Good thing I’m already married!
Welcome back to L.A. The air seems less smoggy already.
Why oh why didn’t you get her number or something?
“the moral codes of the Bible”
which ones are you talking about?
killing gays, selling children into slavery, killing those who work on sundays….
I heart your storytelling ways.
Wuss! No wonder you’re alone.
Calling bullshit. How do you know her exact size? Also, that’s not fat, why would she be insecure?
Mr. Frodo Douchebaggins, sir, you fail.