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.