by Sarah Kuntz Jones
I’ve been here so many times it should count as penance—sitting on synthetic fabric of spurious cleanliness and breathing cycled air—among the tired, the cranky, and the impatient filing on from the jet bridge. As they find their places and stow their bags, I chant behind a practiced mask of indifference—not here, please, please, please, no—until the seat next to me is indeed filled by a teacher from St. Charles, a businesswoman from Chicago, a high-schooler visiting relatives in order to buy the kind of prom dress none of the girls back in Kay-roh have ever dreamt of.
The flight attendants mime the safety procedures while they chat to the veteran salesman in the exit row. With any luck I sleep through the polite, “where-are- you-headeds” and, “what-do- you-dos,” even if I miss my favorite part of flying, watching other planes ascend like graceful birds—although they remind me of that weekend on the river—until that weightlessness of our own take-off. My head has been bobbing in and out of sleep with the drool on my left shoulder to prove it. When the beverage cart approaches, I fully wake. I drink my Diet Coke, chew the ice.
That morning weeks ago we were happy, surrounded by the quiet, the green, the water. Then a change in the wind raised goosebumps on our arms. The egrets and their great wings skimmed the brown water. The turkey vultures worried a dead Asian carp on the opposite bank. Your hawk’s gaze missed nothing in the shadows that brought the afternoon rain. These images play over and over in my head until they are abstracted into shapes and movement, and I fall asleep again so as not to have to think.
The flight attendants come through the cabin, collecting empty cups and crumpled napkins before the landing that draws nearer with every air pocket we bounce through. I close my eyes, although I won’t sleep anymore, and it feels like the plane is spiraling down into the next city like a maple seed. The laziness of the descent—the touch, the embrace of someone who wasn’t you—disappointed me. There were no choices. Simply a path I followed in dumb obedience because he was there in the bar, riding in the elevator, kissing me, pressing me against walls. He and I could have been any other two people in those grey, steely hotel rooms, too weary to say words like stop or wrong. Only later came regret. I never planned to tell you. It was already over. But was it the egrets, the vultures, or you that made me do it?
It doesn’t matter now. At last decisions were made. I left him. You left me. Now it’s me, Sisyphus, flying from one city today to another tomorrow and tomorrow. I count breaths until those rubber wheels touch the ground and the brakes engage, relieved that for a moment I am moving toward something instead of leaving it behind.
About the author,
Sarah Kuntz Jones lives among the red brick wonders of south St. Louis with her daughter and two black cats. She is at work on a novel, and, when she’s not doing that, she is painting, cooking, baking, or thinking about riding her bike. Her fiction has appeared in The Summerset Review, The MacGuffin, and Iron Horse Literary Review, among other places. She occasionally tweets things about readings, the writing community, and rejections: @sarahkuntzjones.