Strapped tightly into her seat, Carina started trying to relieve her grip on the arm of the chair. This was the first flight she had taken in eleven years and in that time she had developed a fear of flying. She had tried to teach herself some breathing exercises to help ease her nerves but they were over ruled by a general discomfort. She would start trying to concentrate on breathing and her mind would wander. Thoughts of running out of air shot into her head and started her panting quietly. Jen looked down at Carina’s hand next to hers. Her bluing veins had started to pulse and throb in time with the soft grind of her teeth.
“Don’t worry about it Carina, you’re more likely to die on the way to the airport than in a plane crash” said Jen.
“I know, I know,” she muttered, “but it’s not the crashing, I just don’t like airplanes.”
“You can hold my hand if you like.”
“I’m not having a baby!” said Carina, nervously ending the conversation there.
Carina looked down over her knees at the Emirates In-flight magazine poking out of the pouch of the seat in front. She pulled it out and started flicking through the pages. The words and images skimmed past her eyes. Far off holiday destinations, duty free jewelry, Japanese fusion recipes, fashion advice, all breezed past in front of her. She waited for a picture to fill her attention, but nothing came. She got to the end of the magazine and nothing had grabbed her. She could think only of the airplane. The compact living space. She didn’t like feeling like she was trapped. Sharing the same oxygen with so many other people made the repulsive, plastic food that bit harder to stomach. She hated having to unwrap headphones, blankets, toothbrushes, food, water, everything. In an airplane, everything was wrapped in plastic.
Carina eventually stopped at a page about the Greek Island of Mykonos:
“A tranquil and serine jewel of the Cyclades by day and a wild party hotspot by night, Mykonos has everything you could want from a summer holiday in the sun.”
She looked at the picture and tried to study its beauty. The rolled out whitened beaches held hands with the clear blue sea that looked so welcoming. White block houses staggered up the dry and barren hillside, reflecting every ray that the sun threw down. She wondered if it was an accurate representation of Mykonos. She wondered if someone had airbrushed out some flotsam at the water’s break, or a fat sun burnt person reading a paperback on a sun lounger. Is this really how Mykonos looked or was someone showing you how they wanted it to look? Did it really look so perfect or was it wearing its make-up for the camera? Carina didn’t know, but she wanted a drink.
They had treated themselves to a liquid breakfast in Austin-Bergstrom International Airport but the initial buzz which led Carina by the hand onto the plane, was dying now that she was on it and strapped in. She had been drinking Southern Comfort on the rocks and Jen had been drinking gin and tonic. Carina had four stiff drinks to calm her nerves and Jen had two. For the first time since they met at high school, Jen and Carina found themselves making small talk. There wasn’t an uncomfortable air between them, just something being unsaid drowning out their attempts at conversation. It had hovered over the table between them as they sat in the bar and followed them to the airplane. Carina had slept in Jen’s bed last night and they hadn’t spoken about why she did. When she called Jen knew that something was going on she had become well acquainted the many anxious faces of Carina Tribiani and knew how to approach each one but she decided to let Carina come clean about this in her own time.
“Excuse me, can I have a drink please?” Carina asked the flight attendant.
“I’m sorry miss, I’m afraid that we can’t serve anything until the plane has taken off. Just ask me again when we’re in the air and I’ll do anything I can to help you” she politely replied.
“Okay of course. No problem. Thank you very much” said Carina as she slumped back into her chair and got back to clinging onto the arms of her seat. She had had to get rid of the small bottle she kept in her handbag at customs. This was her first experience of post-9/11 air travel and a lot had changed. The rules and regulations imposed on travelers after the attacks meant that she lost her small bottle of Jack Daniels, her YSL perfume and her engraved Zippo lighter Gary had given her shortly after they’d met. She reluctantly handed the lighter over to the customs officer. He knew that Carina and her lighter didn’t pose any sort of security risk, but rules were rules.
She had managed to hold onto this lighter since Gary had given it to her six years ago, never losing or misplacing it once. One night she had mentioned to him that she always wanted to buy an expensive lighter but always thought that she would just leave it somewhere. Gary noted her words and put them to memory. Two months passed, and on Carina’s eighteenth birthday he gave her the sleek women’s edition gold Zippo lighter with, 05/12/02 With Love, engraved onto the back of it.
The flight attendants stood in the aisle going through their routine of safety procedures in the event of a crash. A plane crash surely meant inevitable death for everyone on board, Carina thought, so surely this is all one big act of deception. A big fat lie to reduce the blood pressure of those praying for an escape. She watched the big plastic smiles on their big plastic faces as they pretended to inflate the big plastic yellow life jackets. Most people paid no attention to the health and safety speech, choosing instead to either flick through their in-flight magazine or newspaper, look on out of the tiny plastic window or send one last text message before switching off their little plastic phones. Carina couldn’t do any of these things. She couldn’t focus on a single word, picture or page in her magazine. Looking out of the window only made the reality of her situation sink down deeper to the bottom of her stomach, where it would lie patiently in wait. And she couldn’t turn her phone on because she would have messages waiting from Gary.
It was too early to confront that situation, she thought. Soon though, maybe when we land.
Looking for something to distract her from everything she turned to Jen, but she was already asleep with her headphones resting over her ears. Jen flew a lot and her complete ease with the situation had been obvious from the moment they left her mother’s house that morning. Carina, by contrast, was a flustered mess. Everything had to be triple checked and nothing left to chance.
“Have you got the tickets? Where are the insurance documents? Your visa’s stamped yeah? How much in Travelers Cheques do you have? Did you get currency changed? What’s the time? Where’s the car?”
A relentless barrage of questions and paranoid observations traveled with them all the way to the airport but had been replaced with anxiety and terror now that they were on the plane.
Carina thought about waking Jen, but she didn’t want her to know how badly she was coping with all of this. She was trying to fight her fear with every weapon she had but she could feel it rising in her like a swelling bubble, getting bigger and bigger as it rose. It moved to her throat and stopped the air to her overworked lungs. The plane’s front wheel rolled over something small on the runway and gave the vessel a light bump. This pushed the bubble closer to her mouth. Carina squeezed her eyes as tightly as she could and embedded her nails into the cushioned arm rest. She tried her best to fight it off but she could taste it on the back of her tongue. It was a certain feeling of discomfort that she had come to know well over the years. Her own silent agony.