Fiction Short Stories

The Closest Exit May Be Behind You

A story in the friendly skies.

The miniature white capsule lays on the terminal carpeting and screams to be swallowed. So you pick it up and swallow it instead of telling the owner it dropped out of his pants pocket. It might be prescription heart medication. It could be a narcotic. Maybe a slow-release remedy for motion sickness brought on by unexpected turbulence. I didn’t pause for inspection. I just pop it into my dry mouth and fake sleep.

The boarding process is complete and you’re losing the buzz and an unfamiliar song escapes the massive headphones in row 24, seat C. The tune bounces around the cabin, past your face, into the ears of row 24, seat A. She stares a hole through your seat B skull at the sound’s source.

The soundtrack continues on our ascent into the friendly skies and turns into a concert the moment seat C removes the cans to put in an order of Sierra Mist with the purser. He tops off the tiny thirst-quencher with a clear liquid poured from a tiny flask that managed to make it through the airport security check.

You lean over from seat B to ask what’s inside the flask and he says grain alcohol and tips it towards your face. The spiked juice washes away the pill residue from the back of your throat and you don’t care if it doesn’t mix well with OJ because you don’t imbibe for the taste.

Seat C smells familiar and you finally place it as the odor of your best friend’s house from childhood. You spent every day after school in front of his television, puffing pretzel rod cigars while reciting Inspector Gadget dialogue back to the television. The scent stuck inside your nostrils for decades, the only way to describe the musk is “if dentist office were a Yankee candle.”

The air vent above seat B isn’t blowing hard enough so you commandeer the blower above seat C and point it directly at my eyelids. He doesn’t notice or maybe doesn’t care.

“Brain, Uncle Gadget needs our help” is a whisper in an awake but dozing state and you’re back inside Sam’s house and his mom has one hand over the phone mouthpiece and she’s announcing that mom will once again not be home in time for dinner and do you want to stay? Her smile saccharine and her culinary skills abysmal but you nod yes because you’d love nothing more than to eat with a family and join in a conversation. The breading always blacker than tar while the inside as frigid as every TV dinner in the freezer, honestly how does a person repeatedly fuck up fish sticks?

“Stop drooling on my arm, Brain” and you’re suddenly awake and it’s not dog drool but ethanol coating your forearms. Seat C offered one last slug from his flask, now a little less after your fidgeting arm knocked some airborne. You open-mouth the rest and hand it back to a vacant reaction similar to the air vent hijacking.

Somewhere over Indiana the lights go off in the cabin, and inside your head, and there are two fish sticks left on the plate and they taste repulsive but every last morsel will make it into your mouth for fear of never being invited back again. Every meal feels like an initiation into the Hood family but membership could be revoked with one uneaten and undercooked crescent roll.

Sam is piling on his second helping and he’ll have a massive heart attack at 42 and you’ll find out about it on Facebook from his wife who’ll for some reason continue to update his page with photos every few weeks. There isn’t a snapshot that doesn’t involve a plate of food close by. You forget to go to the funeral.

Sam’s sister takes careful bites of everything, chewing the required number of times to stay thin according to Seventeen but genetics will always win. Bags of wet sand suddenly get strapped to her hourglass figure. The extra weight also found its way to her chest and I struggle to not stare at her tits between each bite.

You daydream about her tits constantly, especially during confession, right when Father asks “do you have anything else to confess my son?” and there they are, grandiose under her sweatshirt, burned into your cognizance next to Mr. Hood’s work stories about the guy who somehow managed to afford a beach house on his salary and what the hell were the Hoods doing wrong and is everyone robbing the company blind?

His question and eyes fall on you and you’re luckily staring right back and not at the soot-colored crumbs on his daughter’s chest and you don’t know the correct answer — though it usually involves the goddamn Japs — so you nod yes and he laughs and “they probably are stealing” and the conversation changes to Reagan.

Transcendental meditation has gifted you the ability to focus only on the feeling of the body and you’re mentally moving from appendage to appendage in search of a new sensation. Nothing. It was probably a fucking Tic Tac.

“If the menu says cheese tray” seat A is really laying into the steward now “there should be cheese trays available. You’ve only served twenty rows of people, did everyone buy cheese?”

You’re craving a narcotic cocktail from your own stash but it’s rolled inside three pairs of denim and tucked deep into your checked bag. You parted at Newark International Airport. Fellow passengers made last minute calls to work and texted family of their estimated time of arrival. You rubbed the coarse material from edge to edge and whisper “we’ll meet again in Portland.”

As the plane touches down you’re already unbuckled and hanging off the edge of Seat B. The sea parts and you’re through, into the terminal, and seated in stall number 4 of 7. The door isn’t shut 30 seconds before it’s shaken violently from the applied force on the other side and “there’s someone in here!” but the pushing and pulling intensifies and is accompanied by the question of “Is there a phone in there?” “IS THERE A PHONE IN THERE?!?” and his shoes are sticking inside the stall and they’re orthopedics and high tops because old people still play pick-up hoops apparently and “THIS ISN’T A FUCKING PHONE BOOTH!” you bark at the stupid question asked a third time.

The door is still. The bathroom is quiet except for one sink some idiot left running not realize it wasn’t hooked up to a sensor. You wipe, back to front, even though it’s supposedly the wrong way but you’ve been doing it like that since grade school because no one taught you better. Sam’s sister and her tits caught walked in on you one day, mid-wipe, knockoff Z Cavaricci pants covering your sneakers and middle school dick swinging in the breeze. The embarrassment so monumental you considered joining the Army and never returning home.

Octogenarian LeBron is blocking the lane out of the stall. He switches from defense to offense, pushes past, and plants his feet firmly in front of the still swirling toilet. He swipes a cell phone off the top of the toilet dispenser, holds it inches from your nose, and “a phone. My phone!” He mutters moron and tries to squeeze by and wasn’t ready to be boxed out or get two hands to the chest and pushed back into the toilet. Flagrant foul.

He topples over, “son of a bitch!”, and you’re out the door and hoofing to hastily grab everything you own in the world merry-go-rounding baggage carousel #11. Suitcase in the trunk, driver punching buttons on multiple dashboard displays, you’re rummaging through the book bag that accompanied you through high school and two catastrophic attempts at a college degree.

At the bottom of the bag, avalanched by your old man’s navy bomber jacket and a dog-eared copy of Another Bullshit Night In Suck City, rests a white envelope marked with “Bake Sale” in bold letters just to make yourself laugh. Inside is $5300 and two quarters because that’s also hilarious because the change belongs to you but the bills don’t and the driver asks louder “where to” and it’s a tough question to answer since there is no answer.

“The hotel with the nicest pool” and as the skyline gets closer you laugh one more time at bake sale.

Read more of my fiction work here.



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