This one’s been posted before, but I’m trying to get back in the habit. Maybe next week I’ll post a follow-up to this.

FENCES

The fly gets my attention soon after takeoff. It seems odd, a fly in an airplane. It makes me think of creaking openings in the body of the 747, entrances and exits that no one knows about. It’s stuck down between the rubbery seal of the window and the metal rim, its wings a tiny anxious blur.

I try to flip it out with the pen I’m using for the crossword puzzle but it’s hard to reach across the empty window seat; the fly gets wedged in there tighter. Or maybe I killed it somehow, because now the fly just lays there, silent and still.

Well.

“Do you want anything to drink?” A smiling face appears above me, her teeth practically glowing in the dimmed cabin. She’s offering me a foil packet, some kind of snack. Probably not peanuts, I figure: peanut dust. Anaphylactic reactions, people clawing at their throats.

“Water, please,” I say. I put the packet – I was right, it’s some kind of pretzel mix – in the seat pocket in front of me, and turn back to the crossword, pretending to be engrossed. (I don’t want eye contact: her smile is about to turn pitying, her eyebrows about to crumple in sympathy.)

Two hours until I arrive in San Francisco; it already feels like Denver is a million miles behind me. My house, my job, even my goddamned dog.

The in-flight movie seems garish without the headphones, without the sound to tell me what’s going on. People gesture at each other wildly, their faces contort into cartoonish expressions. A girl stares longingly at a boy; the camera inexplicably pulls back in a long dizzying swoop to show a lush green landscape.

I can’t keep watching, it makes me feel like I’ve been dropped into a dream where everything is just this side of normal and nothing makes any sense.

A man a few rows ahead breaks into a harsh series of barks, it takes me a moment to realize it’s laughter. I noticed the guy earlier: florid, his chest a husky barrel turning to fat. The ghosts of a thousand dead cigarettes coating his voice. His wife wheezing behind him like a Pekinese. Heart attacks waiting to happen.

I think of all the cigarettes I never smoked, all the drinks I’ve waved off. Got an early run planned before work, I’d say. The fucking picture of health. The guy you rolled your eyes at while you finished off a pint. Whatever, man.

The smiling face is back. She hands me a cup of water, asks, “Can I get you anything else?” while bending over slightly, her perfume surrounding me like a friendly little pink cloud. She’s pretty, in a bland California kind of way. Blonde, the right curves, all that.

Yeah, I think.

Get me a bottle of Jim Beam, because tomorrow is going to be just like today. No early morning milk runs, no sunset Copper Mountain runs, no runs. No goddamn runs.

Get me off this plane, drop me at thirty thousand feet so I don’t have to go to Glen Park, so I don’t have to come home to my parents like this, broken and useless.

Get me a do-over. That’s all I want, really. Just one. Lousy. Do-over.

“No,” I say. “Thanks.”

She cocks her head, beams at me and nods. And I see exactly what I didn’t want to see: an expression that clearly reads, that poor son of a bitch.

She moves down the aisle and I watch her. My face feels hot, my teeth are clenched. I allow myself to imagine jumping up, pushing her into the lavatory, one hand on her hip, one in her hair, walking her backwards into the wall, hard. Don’t look at me like that, I’d say. Don’t. Her face all O’s of surprise and shock.

Right.

When the doctor at Centura first talked to me, used the words catastrophic damage, I didn’t even think about walking. I asked about skiing, not walking. I remember his set mouth, the slight shake of his head. Later, at the Craig, there were a hundred other sorry sacks of shit just like me, everyone with their own catastrophic damage. Everyone wondering just how long the list was, exactly, of things they would never do again.

Mine includes skiing, walking, riding a unicycle, and chasing down stewardesses into airline lavatories.

I close my eyes and do the trick I learned in physical therapy: I picture a wall of black, which I turn blue, then red, then purple, until I stop thinking. When I open my eyes again my ears feel full, the plane is descending. Soon we’ll be landing, and I’ll wait until everyone else disembarks. Then another smiling face will push a narrow-backed aisle chair towards me, the one that’s got DEN stenciled across the front and collapses like a broken umbrella to fit perfectly, cruelly, into the overhead compartment.

My parents will be waiting. They’ll look nervous, they’ll look old and tired and scared. My fault, my fault. I know how I’ll look to them: skinny, years of ski bum coloring bleached pale from fluorescent lighting, shadow-crescents beneath my eyes. They’ll take me home to their house in the southern edge of the city’s hills. Until you’re better, my mother said, back at Craig. I had laughed: better?

I pull my seat upright and fold up the Post – the crossword grid almost entirely empty – and my pen falls to the floor, rolling into the aisle. I reach for it but I can’t quite get there, I need to rise up on my legs a little and of course I can’t. I feel like a dog who’s abruptly reached the end of his chain, surprised anew at my boundaries.

I wonder when these tiny frustrations will finally become familiar to me.

“Here you go, buddy,” says a gravelly voice over my left ear. I look up and it’s the heart attack guy, returning back to his seat. He stoops with a grunt, then straightens up and holds out my pen. For a minute I can only look back at him, how he’s just standing there like it’s no big deal.

Everything is just this side of normal. Nothing makes sense. I am going to have to learn everything all over again.

“Here you go,” he says again, impatient. I reach out my hand and take the pen. I tell him thank you. There is the tiniest of movements to my right that catches my gaze: it’s the fly, no longer trapped, no longer dead. I watch it walk along the edge of the window, and then it takes off. Inside the confining metal tube that makes up its world, it soars away, out of view.

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