I suppose it is a reaction and not a decision but life works that way sometimes and so I spend two or maybe more hours of a long flight making out with a woman I’ve never met before and never will see again as the giant Airbus bounces on the unseen turbulence as we fight the jetstream and whatever it is that brings each of us to this moment. Her lips are tinged with a taste that tingles and her tongue tastes like American gum and her body pushes toward mine and mine toward hers in ways that offer heated access but maintain a certainty that this will go no further; that we will not even exchange last names much less phone numbers or bodily fluids richer than saliva.
In between a continent so wealthy we barely use anything twice and a nation traditionally so impoverished that the earth itself is burned on the hearth for warmth there is the vast emptiness of this storm-filled ocean and the universe of pale blue above. When I get home I will be welcomed by a silken-black sky filled with millions of stars, a sky I know is North American in form and structure, for where we stand tells us what we see.
Later we drift into sleep in adjoining seats 34H and 34I and sometime while we slumber we cross the continental shelf and the salt waves breaking onto cold beaches and the thick megalopolis that is the north-eastern rim of the U.S. and then the dense green of the mountains, more trees concentrated here than all of Europe has seen in three or four centuries and the plane’s wheels have touched the concrete at O’Hare before we open our eyes and perhaps I am just slightly embarrassed but she does not appear to be.
I wonder if being open to any adventure really means being closed to another set of possibilities. If being committed means being trapped or simply trusted. If an erection is different in some measurable way when it is linked to love and affection than when simply engorged with lust sparked by frustration and resentment. If movement is in any way compatible with constancy. Or freedom with safety.
She puts fingers on my crotch. Leans toward me. Whispers, "a pleasure groping you." Reaches for her bags from the overhead compartment. Slides out of sight in the crowd.
Outside the little window it is raining. Around me people are bringing cellphones to life, dialing loved ones, I imagine, though as many might be business connections or simply rides. I wish that this vehicle was like a subway. I sit in the seat with three thoughts flipping in my head: a candle lit in an 800-year-old cathedral wishing for what will not happen, the smell of the wind slipping onshore over a wall of rocks smoothed by eons of slowly falling rain, and those words said with respect and perhaps even love that never-the-less dismember me with the sharpness of the swords of our long-lost kings. And I wish that this vehicle was like a subway. That I could just stay in the seat and ride the route back the other way, and repeat as necessary. But this is not that path.
Still, I'm the last passenger off the plane. I tell the attendant, "nice flight." She looks at me with recognition and laughs, "yeah." But I'm not smiling, and so she stops.
- Ira Socol