Strangers in Coach

The first hour is anxiety.

The pot she smoked in short-term parking is wearing off and the panic becomes physical when she realizes that her medicine is packed in cargo, somewhere below her seat. No Xanax. No Ativan.


“Would you like something to drink?” The flight attendants make their first round. The vodka soda is six dollars and it is enough for an hour.

“Where do you think we are?” she asks the man beside her as she drains her drink, in time for clean-up. He does not know because his mind is somewhere else and he does not twitch in sleep. He does not answer and so she lays her head on his strange shoulder, bony and foreign.

The flight is somewhere over the middle of America when he shakes her off, confusion compressed across the lines on his face. Her fists are balled, palms engraved with marks of her nails; her body is slick with the break of a fever.

There is a man behind them who is loud and making balloon animals for the packed flight.

“Sorry,” she mumbles to the man beside her. She does not bother to justify her behavior, even as he continue to stare at her. Whatever is happening is so raw that she cannot deny its existence. But it is internal and requires words. I bet he works in sales, she thinks and says nothing.

The pilot comes on and mentions the journey to New York is halfway through.


Three more hours in the air. She shakes with pain and cringes from the sun streaming through the windows. It is impolite to wear her sunglasses indoors but the man in front of her has smashed her laptop twice with his seat back, so she puts hers on. Etiquette is lost in the air somewhere between one major American city and another.

“Will turning on my iPhone really crash this plane?” she jokes to her neighbor to the left. “How?”

“Just keep it off—you don’t want to think you caused it in case we go down,” he whispers and looks back at his book.

The flight attendant comes around for one last drink. She takes her card and swipes it again. Twelve dollars, two drinks. The bag of pretzels cancels out the whiskey but both burn her mouth. Alcohol is the only medicine on board she knows how to take.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This your pilot speaking. Again, happy mother’s day to all the moms on board. We should be landing shortly.”

Her sleeping partner looks relieved.

“I’m sorry. I just wanted a shoulder to share…” her voice trails off.

He looks at her and raises the volume on his headphones and she does the same, just as the plane dives for the runway and they make their way home.


Kelly Bergin is a writer in Los Angeles. 

Categories: Airplanes, Trips

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