Nate sat in Row 17, Seat C, on his way to visit his father, who may or may not be dying. His sister said he was fading fast, but he’d faded fast before. Two years ago, Nate had sat with him for the last hour of his life, stared at his grey stubbly unresponsive face, wondering, honestly, if he wanted him to live or die, until Pop revived and went on to survive this last hour, and more hours, and even moved back into his apartment.
He didn’t like the air on planes. It dried out his nasal passages and his brain. His headache started within the first ten minutes of the flight. He asked for tea and the attendant brought him coffee. When he pointed out the error, the steward said, “Well excuse me”, as if Nate had been rude or attacked him. Migraine number two.
Nate had long legs, prone to cramps. When a different flight attendant came by and asked him to switch seats at the request of a married couple who wanted to sit together, even though it meant a window seat for Nate, he said, sorry, no. The attendant rolled her eyes, and then ignored his call button, when he wanted a glass of water to take his allergy medication.
Beside him was a lovely woman, very attractive, but she hadn’t bathed for a very long time. Or perhaps she was a particularly nervous traveller. Nate didn’t know. He wasn’t hostile, but he truly wanted the oxygen mask to drop. Something to muffle the unpleasantness.
Who knows what kind of upbringing his father had? Probably as fucked up as Nate’s. Because Pop believed in toughening up his son, which he interpreted as being distant, critical, strict, and unapproachable. Even when Nate was a man, with responsibilities and a career to maintain, his father did not alter his attitude. You are not good enough, why should I love you? Nate plugged in his headphones, listened to a podcast of a politician describing why the world was ending.
There was no tequila on the flight, so Nate had some vodka with lime.
They were over Cleveland, and Nate remembered a chat with his father about a girl he wanted to marry.
He ordered another couple of tiny vodka bottles, and the flight attendant said, Don’t you think you’ve had enough?
Nate thought, Fuck you, but didn’t say it. He was sitting quietly, throwing back drinks which were pleasantly numbing. What difference did it make to the attendant?
“Just bring them,” Nate said. “Ok?”
“Well sir, I can’t do that, but please have a glass of apple juice courtesy of the American Airways.”
“Are you kidding me?”
The flight attendant stared at him with shark’s eyes. Dead. Bored. Disengaged.
He thought of his father, a white sheet and one of those hospital greyish-blue waffled blankets pulled up to his chin, in a grey room with artificial light, with a long-unused machine with dials and lights and wires nearby, and the option of an ancient fat portable television to watch, and a bed tray with meatloaf dinner and apple juice pushed away in disgust, and an environment too noisy and too bright to sleep, and resentment building up inside his father like masses of bodies pushing forward, unstoppable, as at a riot.
“Give me the fucking drink,” said Nate.
The plane made an unscheduled stop in Cleveland, and Nate was taken away in handcuffs, which was a new experience. He shouldn’t have shouted and threatened, obviously; the airline has to take their precautions.
He sat in a small, overheated room at the Cleveland airport, waiting to be processed. Perhaps, he thought, his father would die while Nate was restrained for acting irresponsibly on a flight. His sister might tell him why Nate was not there. His father could then die content, knowing he was right all along.