The heat

Hi there.

Do you see her?

Row 13, seat F. A window seat on flight 1028.

It’s going from one of those cold cities in New England with gray snow piled on the side of the road as wide as a car where something always hangs in the air, either snow or unhappiness, to one of the warm ones in Florida where all the old people live in retirement communities like colonies of ants and it thunderstorms every day.

Do you see her?

Short hair the color of ancient gold, cropped short and worn impatiently around her shoulders.

She wears a knee-length black dress that, for its loose fit and numerous wrinkles, is reminiscent of something one might sleep in, but the way that it fits her hips and the shiny black heels she has worn with it suggests that it is not so.

Her eyes, alert but shadowed by slightly smudged mascara, gaze out of the window and through the too-bright blue skies at the patchwork brown and yellow fields of Georgia.

It is a state she has never set foot in, and doesn’t expect to any time soon.

She just looks at the flight attendant with melancholy eyes when he stops by her row to offer its occupants a drink, although she is craving a cold glass of apple juice.

She leans closer to the small window, not much bigger than her face, and away from her sweating seat companion as the plane descends. It coasts down a little too close to a nearly empty highway and makes a bumpy landing on the shining black tarmac.

The plane slowly navigates its way towards the blocky airport terminal, which seems unusually distant to her. The cool, blue glass of the windows seems to be in a constant, spiteful struggle with the dense heat that surrounds the gray building. Looking at it makes her uncomfortable so she turns her attention to the shimmering waves of heat that rise off of the endless expanse of black asphalt surrounding her.

She silently sympathizes with the cool brown skin of mother earth beneath it which, besides the dull, flat surface of the nearby ocean, doesn't have many opportunities to breathe. Even the few palm trees she sees push upwards from casually dispersed pots made of red clay rather than the dirt they were born in.

In the glossy white car which carries her away from the airport, she keeps her attention carefully focused on the perfect brown stitches of the soft leather seats. She finds this more appealing than looking at the veritable jungle which pushes angrily upwards on either side of the wide highway, assaulting the still-too-blue sky with its tangled greenness.

However, 20 minutes into the silent drive, a strange flickering catches the corner of her eye. She looks up to see the dark, angular metal shell of a car, surrounded by devouring yellow and orange flames. Her eyes catch the driver’s in the rearview mirror, but neither says a word as they cruise silently past it.

~~~~

She doesn’t remember much about the ceremony. Aunts, not ants, flapping and squawking around her like tropical birds, their faces suspended in perpetual animation. The old, gray face in the box, simultaneously sagging towards the earth and straining upwards.

~~~~

As she boards a plane back to her cold kingdom, she thinks of all of the recent victims of plane crashes she’s seen on the news, carefully but not anxiously. The highlight reels of life moments which must have flickered through their heads as they plummeted towards the ocean: First friends, first days of school, favorite teachers. First crushes, first kisses, first aching, unforgettable loves, soon to be forgotten anyway. Failures, failing grades, disapproving parents. Heartstopping, nervewracking interviews. First jobs. Marriages, divorces, childbirth, children. Maybe even grandchildren, great-grandchildren.

300 collections of memories, more valuable than humanity has yet begun to understand, packed into a silver metal capsule and struck down from the sky by some mysterious force, millions of dreams lost to a dark, swirling sea.

She swings her luggage up into the overhead compartment and remembers the people riding in the car reduced to a flickering hulk of metal. Memories just as strong, just as loud, just as vivid, but leaping more quickly from the earth, like kernels of corn out of a hot pan.

Finally, the old man. A relationship carried out by means of a gentle push and pull through screens and telephone lines for more than a decade, and they were finally face to face. He’d had weeks. An eternity between the diagnosis and the last slow, weary contractions of the strongest muscle that he had. That we all have.

They didn’t talk about it much, but she imagined he’d wanted to flee. Surround himself with members of the living, not the dying. Ants, as we all know, don’t have a very long lifespan.

Were they scared?

She's scared. What is she scared of? She looks out of the airplane window again, this time at the blinking black night, and ponders her impermanence.

Do you see her?

The End

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