Frequent Flyer

by Maura Yzmore

The gray-haired woman in Economy Class, seat 12C, looks uncomfortable, beads of sweat on her forehead and upper lip. She grabs the in-flight magazine with a tropical island on the cover and fans herself, unaware she could open the air vent. I decide to help. The woman doesn’t see me—most people don’t—as I slither along the underside of the carry-on luggage compartment. I envelop the air vent, tilt it toward her, and turn it up all the way. She sighs and relaxes into her seat under a refreshing stream of cool air.

A young man with short black curls, seated in 12B, glances up from his book and smiles at the joy on his neighbor’s face. He reaches up toward his own air vent and, for a split second, freezes mid-motion. He saw me from the corner of his eye—I am a whiff of green smoke with a face, an apparition—but he will convince himself that it was nothing. He turns up his air and goes back to his book.

My favorite flight attendant, Mary, is working today in Business Class. Her thick, brown hair begs to be released from the shackles of a tight bun. Mary looks so much like my wife did when we first met. I wish I could remember exactly how long ago that was, but time flows so differently now.

I think about my wife a lot. Maybe it’s to atone for not thinking about her enough while I lived. I was on this plane, in the Business Class bathroom, deep inside a blonde from Denver whose name now eludes me, when my chest tightened like an angry fist and never relaxed.

Mary serves Scotch on the rocks to a balding man in 4B. It’s his third and his tie is loose, as is his tongue. Mary avoids eye contact and deflects his intrusive questions. He pushes a twenty into her palm and closes her fingers around it, then holds her hand between his, a bit too long and a bit too tight. When she finally breaks free and drops the money onto his tray table, he grins like a cartoon tomcat.

I glide down the partition between Economy and Business, over the floor, along his leg and up to his hand, and I wait. When the man in 4B brings the glass to his lips, I push it from the bottom. The mix of ice cubes and brown liquid spills all over his shirt, and he jumps up, swearing. Mary can’t help but snicker before she grabs a towel and rushes to help him.

There is commotion in Economy Class. The man in 12B is standing up, waving both arms and calling for help with a desperate, pleading voice.

The woman in 12C has passed out and is tilted toward the aisle. The air from the vent blows at her, yet she is pallid and drenched in sweat.

The Economy flight attendants are in the back, stuck behind the lunch cart. Mary is nearest, so she runs over, brings her ear to the woman’s lips. No breathing. She places two fingers on the artery in the woman’s neck. No pulse. She yells for a doctor on board. No hands go up.

Mary asks the young man for help, and they work in tandem to lay the woman on the floor. Mary shows him how to compress the chest. He dutifully follows, while she gives mouth-to-mouth. Still no pulse.

Mary gets up, runs through Business Class, and pulls a defibrillator from a closet with a red cross just outside the cockpit. I wish they’d had those on board back when I was flying.

The man from 4B is up and in Mary’s way, demanding that she refill his drink. Her voice is low and unyielding when she tells him to sit down, that a woman is dying. He retreats without another word.

Mary is on her knees, charging the defibrillator. She yells at the young man from 12B to take his hands off, places one pad on top and the other on the side of the woman’s chest. The body spasms under high voltage. Still no pulse.

The man continues chest compressions while Mary recharges the pads. I am on the floor now, by the unconscious woman’s feet.

Three electrical jolts, and still no pulse. Mary’s arms go slack. She is giving up.

The man continues with compressions.

I slide along the prostrate woman’s side, toward her chest. I easily pass through her floral dress, permeate layers of skin, muscle, and fat, then squeeze in between the ribs.

In the darkness of the chest cavity, a motionless heart.

I wrap myself around it and think of my own, of how I wish someone had been able to give it one more kick. I think of the wife I left behind, of all the tropical islands I saved my frequent-flyer miles to visit someday with her, but never did.

I squeeze hard, the hardest, a stranger’s heart at the center of my phantasmal self…

…and I release.

Ba-bum. Ba-bum.

The woman’s lungs fill with air and I hurry back out.

“She’s breathing!” Mary and the young man exclaim, and throw themselves into each other’s arms. When they separate, the look they share is the same look my wife gave me when she pulled away from me, breathless, after our first kiss, long ago.

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