I entered the Fiction War Spring Flash Fiction competition, and spent the last weekend in April crafting a 990-word story to meet the prompt “Take Flight.”
Contest finalists were announced today; unfortunately I’m not one of them. However, this also means I’m free to share this one publicly now.
Without further ado, here is my story, “Paris.”
I watch as the flight attendant closes the cabin door and my panic ratchets up a notch. We’re locked in now. What if something happens? There’s so much that could go wrong.
Over the furious beating of my heart, I think I hear you whisper in my ear. “Easy, ma chère.” I close my eyes and focus on breathing in and out until I think I’ll be able to do this. I took a pill just after we boarded, something my doctor gave me. I suppose it will make me fall asleep.
We’re finally doing it – taking that trip to Paris, just like you talked about doing for years. You finally got me on an airplane, Philippe. I bet you never thought this day would come.
The flight attendant is giving a safety presentation now, demonstrating how to buckle a seat belt. I tune him out. For someone who has never flown before, I think I know everything I could possibly need to know about cabin safety. You would have laughed at me if you’d seen me hunched over the computer last night.
My seat belt is fastened tightly across my waist – a waist that has expanded quite a bit over the years, just like yours. I fiddle with the end of the belt, and notice that someone – probably a child – has written something indecipherable on the seat back in front of me. Did it mean something to him or her, or was it just random scribbling? I spend too long trying to interpret the lines.
I wonder about the people who occupied this seat over the years. Who were they? Where did they fly? What did they do when they got there? I wonder if there’s ever been anyone in this seat before me who was reluctantly flying overseas with her husband for the first time after 29 years of marriage.
It was selfish of me to put off the trip for so long. I see that now, and I’m so sorry, Philippe. I had a lot of excuses. “The kids are too little,” or “I want to learn some French before going” were favorite refrains in the early years. Later, those were replaced by “Tickets are too expensive” and “The flight is too long.”
I never did learn French, other than the silly phrases you taught me over the years, and the bits I picked up here and there. And, it was never really about the money. We could have made it work. The truth is, I was afraid.
You could have flown on your own; booked a flight to go see your parents again before they died. We could have afforded it. But, you didn’t. Maybe you were frightened too.
Looking out the window, I watch as the plane taxis and then leaves the ground. We’re leaving Chicago behind. I think I should cry, but I don’t. I’m glad I got the window seat, so I can watch O’Hare get smaller and smaller, finally obscured by clouds as if it was never there to begin with.
It will be a long flight; that much was true. I wonder when the pill I took will kick in. I do feel calmer; maybe it’s already working.
I spoke to your sister, Sophie, last night to tell her what time the flight arrived. It will be nice to see a face I recognize; I remember how much fun we had when she visited us. Was that 10 years ago? I think it was.
Sophie cried on the phone. I’m still amazed how clear international phone connections have become; she could have been in the next room. If she had been, I could have offered her a tissue, or a hug.
I talked to the kids last night too. They are too busy with their own lives to come along on this trip. They’ve probably forgotten what precious little French they learned in school by now, anyway. They understand the need for this journey though.
My eyelids are feeling heavy now, as are my limbs. I pull down the window shade and arrange the pillow and blanket the flight attendant gave me, and I drift off.
I dream that we’ve arrived in Paris, that we’re experiencing the trip of a lifetime together. You hold my hand as we walk down quaint cobblestone streets; we sit in outdoor cafes laughing and remembering good times. We sit by a pond together watching the sun set, halfway around the world from where we built our lives and our family. This dream is good.
But then, the skies turn dark with a summer storm. Suddenly, we’re not at a pond in France together. Instead, I’m home, waiting for you to finish dressing so we can go to the market together. I’m frustrated because it’s taking you so long. “Are you ready, Philippe?” I yell, as I make my way to our bedroom. Then, I see you on the floor, not moving; not breathing.
I wake with a start and feel hot tears on my face. The woman in the seat next to me – she is about my age – pats the back of my liver-spotted hand with her own.
“How long has it been?” She asks, nodding her head toward your ashes, under the seat in front of me, still sealed in the container the funeral home provided. I’m confused for a moment, wondering how she knows. The container must have given me away.
“A month,” I respond. “Sudden heart attack; My Phillippe was 64.”
She smiles sympathetically and pats my hand again.
I don’t know what time it is; I drift in and out for the remainder of the flight, waking to bright sunlight when we’re on the ground in Paris.
I pick you up with the rest of the things I’ve brought on the plane and wait my turn to deplane. You are home at last, mon chéri.