Seated next to him, the girl keeps herself busy drawing pictures of dismembered pets—dogs, cats, rodents with collars.
He pretends not to notice, looking instead out his window at a bright white heaven under the plane’s left wing.
Though he generally dislikes animals, he and his wife had had a dog in their early years of marriage. “People say it grooms you,” his wife’d said. “Yeah, for what?” “Silly,” she’d said, punching his arm. “To be a parent.”
The girl draws a new picture, this one of a parakeet with a severed neck. She uses a red felt pen to accent the carnage.
“School project?” he asks, but the girl wears headphones.
His wife had been his only love. But it hadn’t been the same for her. The guy’s name was Emmitt, a kid really, one of her college students.
After the divorce, he’d broken into her new apartment almost daily, noticing Emmitt’s fondness for athletic jerseys, breathing through his mouth so as not to take in Emmitt’s beef jerky musk.
On one occasion, he’d let the cocker outside. He’d had no idea why. He’d told the dog to sit and crossed the street. On the other side, he’d waited for a light to change. When it did, he screamed, “Matisse! Here, Matisse!” and the dog had responded, sprinting blindly into an unintentional ambush of vehicles.
The girl draws another beheaded bird. He glances across her shoulders to a woman in the aisle seat. “Yours?” he asks.
“Are you kidding me?” The woman lets herself shiver violently.
A while later the flight attendant brings his scotch. The girl doesn’t bother to camouflage her sketches as she accepts a ginger ale.
“Don’t you just worry?” the woman asks, half-whispering.
She gestures at the girl who’s drawing what looks to be a lacerated raccoon. “About the next generation?”
He swills the glass then refills it with another miniature bottle.
“Do you have any children?” the woman asks.
Outside his window the sun makes the clouds scream raw white. He pulls down the plastic door and closes his eyes, trying to remember the last time he prayed and why.
Len Kuntz is from Washington State. His work has appeared widely in print and online at such places as Camroc Press Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Pank, and Connotation Press.