I looked for the stewardess who had given us the pillows and
my only coke. She had vanished for good behind the curtains by the
lavatories. Beyond us, deep white cigarette clouds billowed from the
mouths of the other passengers unable to sleep, smoke
puddled above the empty aisle.
The cabin light made a mirror out of the plane window. I
stared back into a face that still looked like some brownie scout, the
bobbed and nut-colored haircut, too round eyes. I had left the bulk
of my belongings in a bag over our heads on our luggage
rack, but I had my small purse, filled with the overwrought make-up designed
to put on my face like the evil eye. Rough and powdery brush
foundation, mascara, and the eyebrow pencil that cut black lines under my
eyelids. I could be off with everything I owned in a matter of minutes if
the chance arose. Among my skirts and sneakers were all
my folders filled with poems and scraps from books, like the
things I imagined the people in my father's books kept, the people who fled
to snow-covered mountains in Europe, to recover from tuberculosis and other
illness. I can't say I was certain that the best way I would
rejoin him would be by taking own my life, but the notion of
suicide hooked into my imagination. It seemed like a gracious thing to do,
if you didn't lose your nerve. The thought stayed over, and, now and
again, came to call.
The idea that there were cathedrals and pleasure
houses in Paris where sitting under pristine stained glass I
could touch my father again became very real to me as time went on, or that
I could jump back into the undefined dreamy splendor of my father's promised
land, back into the way things used to be.
"Are you better now?" my mother asked me.
My mother put her hand over my left fingers on the seat.
Then she let go and picked a blanket up off the plane's floor, took it out
of its cellophane, and threw it out.
"It's going to be all right, Liana." The blanket went up and
spread in the air like a sail, falling and covering us. The silky material
of my mother's tent dress flowed out even under the blanket, touching me.
And then there was a peace. I felt and everything was soft and dark
I looked towards the floor of the airplane, her bare toes
looked larger than they really were in the darkness and almost alive, like
fleshy, shelled animals or fish. I reached up and turned off the reading
light above our heads.
My mother's arms flopped carelessly at the sides of her
body. Her head soon came to lie on the edge of my left shoulder. Under me,
the plane engine began to sound like it was growling.
I fidgeted with the threads in my bluejean skirt. I jostled
my mother's head. My mother sighed and shoved her pillow to the high left
corner of her seat. She lay her head there, her back to me.
Out the window, the space under me was turning to charcoal
cumuli, dark, fluffy bumps that, in the moonlight, looked like a flock of
black sheep. Only a dissemination of things could be found, detected in a
vastness. Everything that was once solid form under me had sunk somewhere
The whole cabin was floating with the silent heave of my
stomach muscles hoping to expunge my mother's closeness. I sat up as erect
as I could on the plastic plane seat. Even that move jammed my thoughts
together, shook up all the information I constantly arranged in my head. If
I drifted off my mother would get through my skin and plant her alternate
world of chaos and abandon inside methe sudden warmth of her that smelled
like salts, and a rich and almond oil. I would not be able to help myself.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...