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plain fear

Friday 6.30am
The woman is pleased my son wants her window seat.
“It’s fine.” she gushes. “You’re welcome. I really hate flying and didn’t want the window seat anyway.” My son is so excited he triumphantly fist-punches the air. I buckle my belt then surreptitiously pop a dull-pink pill into my mouth. It’s so tiny I don’t even need a drink to swallow it down.

The woman beside me needs a drink though. She tells me so. Loudly.
I’m trying to guess if it will be a calming-hippy-herbal tea or a strong, strong coffee. Maybe black.
“I’m just nervous darl,” she says stating the obvious. “I’ll be fine after I’ve had a drink. I’m just worried that they’ll sell out before they get to us.”
She glares at the attendants wheeling the food trolley to the front of the plane.
“I don’t think that will happen.” I say reassuringly. “They always have plenty.”
“No, no they don’t.” she shakes her head. “Happened to my sister. By the time they made it all the way down the back they’d bloody completely sold out of red wine.”

There are three seats to a row. My son has the window again, I’m in the middle and to my left is a man. He has a smoothly shaven head and face piercings. Three, no four. I introduce myself and he shakes my hand. One of his rings crushes my finger.
“Hey, steady-on tough guy.” I say.
“Oh, sorry.” he says twirling the silver skull of the ring.
“No problem.” I laughingly reply.

The plane taxis down the runway. The engines begin their deep rumble, the plane gains momentum. The man rests his head back, closes his eyes. The nose of the plane points to the sky and as we level off there is a distinguishable change in the sound of the engines. A spluttering of some sort. A fine spray of mist starts pouring out from above the overhead lockers. The man sits bolt upright. His eyes dart around. He clenches his hands into fist-balls of flesh and metal and says “What the f-cking f-ck was that? F-ck, f-ck, I hate f-cking flying.”

Friday 6.45 am
She’s finished her first bottle and has asked me to buy her a second,

“Because”, she leans in close and says, “they watch how much you drink.”
“Umm, who’s picking you up from the airport?” I ask.
“My son.” she says and starts a droning monologue about him, his ex-wife and her grandchildren.

I’m thinking about that dull-pink pill I swallowed.

I get the attendant’s attention… and buy her another red.

A friend recently pointed out that it was ironic that one who loves to travel as much as I do is terrified of the process of travelling.
He was right.
I’m just plain fearful of flying.
And I remember the exact moment that I lost my nerve.
In 1994.

Friday 7.04am
The flight attendant has a tight little smile, “Yes, I’m happy to sell you another one.” She says pointing to the three-quarter full glass on the tray table. “When you’ve finished that one.”
The woman lifts the glass to her mouth and swallows the lot in two gulps.

It was a domestic flight in the US. The home of white-knuckle-airlines.
The air currents toyed with us that day.
The plane lurched from side to side, shuddering, quaking in fear.
With great effort my husband unclenched my hand from the armrest, held it tight, then said,
“If we go down honey at least I’ll die with the person I love.”

Friday 7.10am
The woman reaches across me and slaps at my son’s arm in an effort to get his attention.
“Ya think you’re heading to the gold coast so you can have a great day at Movieworld donchya?” She gabbles.
My son nods his head, slowly, just once.
“Well you’re wrong. You see really you’re here cos you think this is yar mum,” She pokes a long purple false nail at my chest, “but it’s not true! I’m you’re real mum and you’re gonna come live with me now!”

She laughs the cackle of a fully tanked woman.

My son leans in close, points at the clouds and whispers in my ear,
“If that was true Mum I’d jump right out of this window.”

The plane drops. The sensation leaves my stomach sitting uncomfortably in my mouth. The corners of my brave-face dissolve. I paste a smile back on. My son reaches for my hand. I try to squeeze his hand reassuringly.
“Mum,” he says, “I don’t want anything to happen, but if we do go down I’d be with the person I love.”
As the plane pummels its way through the storm I’m suddenly thinking about apples.
And trees.

And then I realise that I’m not holding my son’s hand.
He is holding mine.

Friday 7.45am
“Give us yar number. You’ve been so lovely. Not stuckup like the last flight I was on. That woman wouldn’t even talk to me.” She has a bit of paper perched on her lap. I tell her my number. She reads it back.
I see that she’s written the last digit down wrong.

I have a dilemma.

Touch down. Sweet earth.
The man gets up quickly and offers to get my hand-luggage. He hands my bags to me in the most gentlemanly fashion and bids us farewell.

Friday 8.30am
The woman is tottering ahead of us down the plane steps.
She turns and calls out, “Bye! I’ll call youse in an hour or two!” I smile and wave back.

My son is wide eyed. He whispers “Is she really going to call us?”
“Hmm,” I pause for a minute. “I don’t think so honey.” I say as we step onto the ground.
“Phew!” he says, with a smile.
“Phew!” I agree, as we walk together across the beautiful, cold, hard, grey-black, airport tarmac.

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