Delayed Flight* Snippet


— Beth —

May 30, 2022

Sleep and I had always been enemies, but never more so than when I was stuck in the sky.

It was something about being caught in this place of forever maybes, this infinite blue prison amongst the wispy white of clouds and the silver sheen of metal, that kept me wired. And it wasn’t because it was scary—it wasn’t, at least for me; it was more annoying and a necessary evil than anything. No, it was more all of the other things that came with it: The stiff muscles, the manufactured taste of freeze-dried chicken and overly processed Italian dressing on the tongue, the anticipation of what was to come.

My back roiled in protest, and I adjusted, stretching my legs as best I could in the nest of pillows and overstuffed bags that I had created for myself, my ankles obviously swollen. My elbow knocked against mother’s on the narrow armrest. I stiffened, waiting for her inevitable scowl when her sleeping eyes opened. Her breathing remained rhythmic; her wrinkled hand twisted in the green, thread-bare blanket they gave us before takeoff. A thin relieved breath escaped my parted lips, fogging my glasses as it leaked from my face mask.

The screen in front of me flipped, switching from the safety of data to a small white plane in front of the vast expanse of Earth, a dotted line connecting the now from then, Chicago to Dublin. The dark cabin was heavy with the soft hum of an engine and the exhale of slumbering breaths. Someone a few seats away snored loudly as if to say, “See? It’s not so hard.”

I rubbed my itchy eyes. Once upon a time I had promised myself that I would never take sleeping pills, but the more I flew, the more appealing it sounded. Anything to take the edge off.

I grabbed the little travel thing of whiskey from the seat back pocket in front of me and unscrewed the top, pulling down my mask to drip the last few drops into my mouth. The burn slid down my throat, settling warm in my stomach. As if on cue, my mother’s eyes fluttered open, a snore caught in her throat. She didn’t say anything but pushed her lips together, her dark eyes, so much like my own, watching, judging. I sighed and stuck the empty plastic bottle back where I found it, moving my black cloth mask back over my mouth. Mother’s eyes closed again, and I dug out some earbuds from the front pocket of my bag.

The driving chords of a guitar reverberated in my ears. I shut my eyes and rested against the plane’s cold plastic wall, my finger tracing the petite frame, outstretched feathers of a little flying songbird tattoo on the inside of my wrist.

* = Story’s working title

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