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Flash Fiction


by Felicia Sullivan


Naomi Walker is not a fan of the friendly skies. She laughs at emergency brochures: the colorful glossy pictorial of the sedate family of four smiling into oxygen masks; the thin white cloth disguising expensive, gleaming orthodontia. She scowls at the single serving bottles of gin, vodka and cheap red wine wheeled down a narrow carpeted floor by perky flight attendants every half-hour. She has learned from experience. She now stuffs her black nylon carryon bag with a parachute and a bottle of Merlot. Flight attendants, captains and passengers point, whisper and chuckle as she maneuvers her way to the back of the plane. She has grown used to this pithy humiliation and weaves through the business class and squeezes between two seats in economy; her carry on firmly seated on her lap.

“Got a corkscrew for that?” the gentleman seated next to her chuckles pointing to the skinny bottleneck peeking out from the top of the bag. Naomi ignores him and taps the smooth wood cork nervously and then adjusts the buckle of her safety belt until the flesh of her stomach spills over the strap like a smooth skinned fruit.

“You know, if we crash, the safety belt will do you no good,” the man says, pointing to her seat. He shifts in the teal blue upholster to face Naomi.

“I’m well aware of that, thanks,” she says. She turns to the gentleman, now staring at her, she feels his eyes burn through the moth holes in her collegiate sweatshirt. His dark blonde hair is streaked with silver, several strands fall in front of his lucid dark eyes. She regards his face, stubble covering the pale freckles on his cheeks; his mouth a large oval with lips plump and moist. Naomi face grows hot and flushed. The deep scarlet of her blush covers her freckles. Her hands gripping the armrest grow numb as if hundreds of fine long needles prick her dainty fingers. This man seated next to her is indisputably handsome, she thinks.

He smiles. His front teeth razor over his bottle lip that slightly curls under. “You must not like flying, I take it. I bet wear that same sweatshirt every time you fly. For good luck of course,” he says. “My ex-wife tells me that my daughter always has a glass of Regaleali before she flies to calm her nerves.” The woman to the other side of Naomi leans forward and her gaze darts curiously from Naomi to the older man. Her hands furiously knit; the chink of the long silver needles rings in Naomi’s ears. The woman stifles a snort and instead loudly hums show tunes.

“You don’t find it strange that you are asking these personal questions?” Naomi asks. The plane’s speed accelerates. She hears loud rumbling, like cracks of thunder and the plane shakes as it veers down the runway. “Flight attendants, prepare for takeoff,” the captain says. The flight attendants with their square bloody red manicured nails and roller-curled hair, scurry like field mice to their appropriate assigned seats and chatter as the plane prepares for departure. Naomi hears them squeaking, like choked birds, as they compare accumulated air miles like it was a competitive sport. Their voices somehow carry over the roar of the engine. The back of Naomi’s tailored silk shirt dampens and clings to her. She juts her chest forward; shoulders blades wets with sweat trickling from the back of her neck. Naomi bites down on her lower lip, hard and her legs fall into a distraught slumber. Her whole body is a living nightmare. She had forgotten her routine glass of wine before she had left for the airport this afternoon. Late, she had barely swept her keys off the kitchenette counter when the taxicab’s horn below impatiently beeped.

“We’re fifty percent there!” he says, resting his hand over Naomi’s. He sees her face – a delicate faint pink drain into a corpse white and unfurls Naomi’s fingers from the armrest and clasps it with his.

“What?” she asks. As the plain sails over the Long Island sound, and the pilot’s greeting regarding the weather conditions, the altitude, the possibility of turbulence flying into O’Hare Airport bellows throughout the captain, resting on each chair – Naomi brusquely shakes her hand from his.

“You never heard that? Fifty percent of all crashes…no, you’ve probably heard that a million times,” he says.

“A million and one,” Naomi says and continues, “Excuse me, but do I know you? Am I supposed to know you?” The woman on the other side of Naomi nods in agreement, her head bobbling up and down, blue veins poke through the her birdlike neck. She continues to knit at a grotesque looking scarf in shades of green, orange, pink and red. Naomi recalls the morning after her father left for a business trip, the last time Naomi had seen James. Her mother double wrapped a heavy crotchet wool scarf around her tiny thin neck. Naomi had tugged at the scarf; the wool scratched her skin. When her mother dropped her off at school, Naomi had tossed the scarf into the garbage bin.

Naomi listens to the rumbling of the drink cart from the other end of the plane; its small wheels whine and roll over passenger’s shoes in First Class. “Watch it lady!” she hears someone growl.

“No, no I don’t think. When are you going to crack that open? I myself prefer white, but I guess a red will do. You seem like a Cabernet lady; you know those heavier bodied wines, strong, dark.” He unbuttons his coat and makes large and wide movements within his seat, the arm of the coat brushes against Naomi’s neck. She feels the wool tickle her skin. He sighs, “Getting a little hot in here.”

“I’m sorry sir, this isn’t a table for two,” Naomi says, pressing her carryon against her breast; the metal buckle of the parachute pokes through the nylon and dents into her navel. She places her chin along the curved neck of the Merlot. “That cups you, that cups your face so perfectly,” he says, his index finger slowly rubs his cheek. His head cocks to one side. Naomi wonders about his thoughts, just a bit curious. The man circles his nail over the cluster of freckles lain at the bridge of his nose. Naomi thinks of changing her seat, she would eagerly volunteer to sit in the emergency seat, to aid, to even donate her parachute in the event of an in-air collision. His fingers move to his temples and she steals a glance at his long thick fingers, fine and smooth – like hers. She notices the way he examines each passenger; perhaps he creates outrageous stories about them, entertaining bits to ease him through the flight. The tips of his nails are oval and groomed. Under his ear, thin silver wisps curl. His chin brushes against his ironed white tailored shirt as he motions for the flight attendant. He coughs and then covers his mouth sheepishly when he asks the attendant for a cup of white wine. Her nametag reads, Heidi, Naomi observes.

Heidi leans into Naomi, “And miss? What will you be having?”

“A corkscrew,” the man says.

“A cup,” Naomi says.

“No cocktail?” Heidi asks.

“I’ve my own,” Naomi replies.

“Cabernet, probably a good year,” he says.

“It’s a Merlot. Can I have a napkin please?” Naomi squeaks.

“A coke! DIET!” yells the elderly lady from pursed lips.

A confused Heidi settles their drinks in the round containers in their tray and skitters away. Her breasts shake beneath her wrinkled uniform. Naomi pulls out the bottle, the jagged teeth from the bag’s zipper rake the bottle, and she gasps. She immediately cups her hand to her mouth. It is the expensive 1999 Regaleali, a Cabernet, and not the Californian Merlot she thought she slipped in her bag. The cheaper Merlot she carries whenever she flies. The taxi’s horn blaring from the street below, the red blinking digits from her clock had glared at her. She had been late getting to the airport for her flight, her flight to see her father, James, whom she had never met. She expertly unscrews the cork and the quick pop from the cork unclogged from the bottle’s neck signals Naomi to immediately pour the wine into the cup. She clutches the cup with both hands, taking small measured sips of the thick sanguine waters. The cherry alcohol streams down her throat as her back eases into the seat. She fluffs the polyester pillow and fits it in the back of her neck. For a moment, she has forgotten about the man next to her, the man who eagerly stares at her.

“I knew it!” he says, clapping his hands. He moves his cup to her tray and she responds naturally. She pours the wine, not even thinking. While pouring, her head snaps up, and she shakes the bottle, the wine streaks his shirt, the tray, and the woman’s scarf. His sleeve is pink. The elderly woman screeches and punches the red button overhead with short stubby fingers, signaling for the attendant. “Unbelievable! What are you, insane?” the woman shouts and Heidi teeters over. She steadies herself by clutching the tops of two seats. Heidi’s hair, a gaudy neat flower arrangement on takeoff, frizzes, and curls dangle in front of her sweaty face. She reeks of single serve gin. It is apparent that Heidi teeters over with a buzz. Heidi desperately turns back at the cluster of flight attendants downing gin and tonics behind the blue drape, next to the restroom. Naomi chokes down the laughter erupting in her throat.

“This idiot!” the woman says, pointing to a now slumped Naomi, Naomi’s hand shields her eyes, “poured her damn wine all over my scarf! I want a manager!”

“There, um, is no manager, Ma’am,” Heidi says, blowing large bubbles with her gum. Naomi longs to puncture the bubble with her finger, to see pink splatter all over Heidi’s face. Heidi’s hand adjusts her shirt; her eyes furiously dart back to the royal blue curtain. The man pulls out a crisp fifty-dollar bill, leans across Naomi and rests it in the woman’s palm. “We okay now?” he asks.

“Humph!” the woman responds and turns her body to face Heidi, “I want another seat!” Heidi then helps the woman up and shoves her in an empty seat by the bathroom. The woman snorts and mumbles loudly for the remainder of the trip. Heidi disappears behind the velvet curtain, the clink of glasses against the metal cart follows.

Naomi now drinks straight out of the bottle. Wiping her mouth with her sweatshirt sleeve, she says, “You didn’t need to do that. You didn’t need to give her money for Chrissake!” She fumbles through her bag, her head grows lighter, and fingers sift with fervor through the bag for her checkbook. The parachute protrudes and he begins to cackle, “You carry a parachute? Miss, if the plane tumbles down thousands of feet in seconds, you think you’ll have enough time to get that thing on?”

“Just looking for my checkbook,” Naomi says, taking swigs from the bottle; hard scarlet lines form on her mouth.

“Forget the money,” he says, his hand gallantly waves in the air.

“I know I packed it in here somewhere. I wouldn’t have packed it in my suitcase.”

“Where you always like this?” he says.

“Like what?” she drops the bag on the floor, exasperated.

“Like how you are.”

“My mother says I’m like my father,” she replies, now drunk. Her head sways from side to side; her long eyelashes dust her skin. She plays delightfully with the seat adjustment button. A sharp, hard kick responds from behind.

“How’s that?” he asks. His chest presses into the armrest that separates them.

“I don’t know really. It something she had always said, but never explained.” And as if an afterthought, Naomi whispers, “I’m meeting him today. We write one another, letters.”

“Never spoke?”


“That’s odd, don’t you think?” he says. He regards Naomi intensely, he inhales with distinct measure her every response. “Odd, you never spoke.”

“I couldn’t. I mean, he left when I was so young and then he writes, out of nowhere…” Naomi stops herself and for a moment wonders why she is telling a stranger all of this. She pulls a wrinkled white business envelope from her jacket and slides out the few sheets of stationery. The borders are trimmed with red poppies; the sheets are watermarked with leaves. The cursive is small and dainty, almost as if a woman had written the letter. Every “I” is precisely dotted, even the “Q” is executed in proper script. Sometimes the ink would trail off at the end of a sentence and Naomi wonders if James had stopped, had stumbled with putting the right words together, to find the right things to say. Naomi folds the letter in four and stares down at the empty bottle in her lap, incandescent in the sheets of light that filter through the plane’s small square windows, and scowls. “I can’t see him like this,” she mutters to herself, placing the letter back in her jacket.

“Maybe he’ll understand,” he responds. His tone falls like a theatre curtain that crashes to the floor at the finale. He takes Naomi’s hand and covers it with his, again. This time, she does not let go; she allows herself to melt and settle within this uncanny warmth, this odd comfort that this stranger gives her. “Would you?” she says. “Yes,” he nods with certainty.

“I remember when I was young; he used to travel all the time. Sales, I think. And whenever he would leave, he would pick me up and swerve me around the livingroom like an airplane. I would get dizzy but would never tell him because it felt so good to have him carry me around like that.” She withdraws her hand and brings her fingers to her chest. “When he put me down, I would stumble back into the couch. I would giggle, dizzy staring at three of his backs walk out the front door.”

“Maybe he’s scared too,” he says.

“Perhaps, although I somehow doubt it,” she says, reproachfully and continues dazed with her memory. “One time he left for a trip and I ran up to him, all eager-like and waited for him to pick me up. Weird, he just leaned down and kissed me and said that he was running late, that there was no time.” She stares into the chair in front of her, trying to remember James, but all her images of her father were like fragments of a jigsaw puzzle that never fit. Her arm stretches out and she picks at the material of the chair, upbraiding herself. Remember, she begs herself. Nails furiously scrape. Her nose nuzzled against his ear. She recalled the scent of soap that lingered, small suds damp in his ear when he whispered, “Only be gone for a few days kid, try not to blow up the house!” he had chuckled. She giggled nervously and quietly whined, “Always leaving, you!” The silver curls in the back of his ear had brushed against her lashes. Then it was gone. The memory was like a flash of light that shot out and then quietly waned.

“You said you were married once,” Naomi inquires.

“Yes, yes I was. A long time back, ages it seems,” the man responds, adjusting his slacks. His fingers quiver slightly.

“What happened? I mean, if you don’t mind. I wouldn’t want to pry. You don’t have to tell me—“

“Helen—“he pauses and coughs. “I mean my ex-wife decided I was an unfit to be a husband to her, a father to my daughter. I guess she grew tired falling asleep alone. It was hard then, you know. I wanted to give her everything. She wanted to redo the kitchen so I worked extra hours. Never said no, never uttered a refusal. I did all that – all that I could do. I guess it wasn’t enough.” He leans forward and sighs, cupping his face with the palms of his hands.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say. Have you and her spoken?”

The main stifles a bitter laugh. “We speak through our attorneys”.

“Ah, I know that routine well.” The plane dips in altitude and the cabin begins to tremor slightly from the turbulence. Naomi’s face tightens; her eyes grow wide. She clutches her carryon and tugs at the parachute. The turbulence lasts a few moments and Naomi closes her eyes and sighs in relief.

“I used to be afraid of flying. Hated it. I would harass the pilot, all that nonsense. In fact, I was on a prescription once.” he says.

“So what happened?” Naomi quietly burps and then giggles. His face folds like a stacked kingdom of cards collapsing when touched. The pink flush returns to her face, her shoulders relax falling into her back. She unbraids her hair. He watches as it unravels gently, dark blonde strands stream her face like a droplets of dew sliding off leaves. A fondness ebbs and flows in the air as she combs her hair with her fingers, massaging the baby curls. His eyes fill with tears. Naomi does not see this.

“I realized that there were far more things to be frightened of,” he says.

The pilot’s voice echoes and stretches throughout the cabin. He announces the expected time of arrival into O’Hare Airport. He instructs the passengers and flight attendants to fasten their seat belts. He remarks about connections to other flights. Naomi and the man stare straight ahead, listening, fastening. The plane descends and slides down the runway. “Fifty percent,” Naomi says when the fasten buckle light flicks off. She stumbles over him, carryon bag slung over her shoulder and she files out with the other passengers and waits in the terminal. Her heels tap to a beat of a song she once heard on the radio, she watches as the wave of people circle, walk, run and move about her. Some accidentally bump into her. She sharply turns and expects James, her father, to greet her. But she is only met with an apology.

The man comes off the plane last. He pauses in front of Naomi and she smiles. He stares at her, and then moves on. Naomi stands there for the next few hours waiting for James. She even calls his name once in a while. No one turns around. Then Naomi remembers. Her mother’s name is Helen.



About the Author

Felicia C. Sullivan is a New York based writer attending Columbia University's MFA program. Her work has been published in Post Road Magazine, Carve Magazine, EM Literary, The Oklahoma Review, and The Adirondack Review, Insolent Rudder among many other publications. She is the Founder & EIC of an online literary journal, Small Spiral Notebook. A self-professed yoga junkie and culinary goddess, she loves French pastries and wearing down the jackets of her favorite novels. Felicia is a co-curator of a new non-fiction series at KGB Bar in NYC.