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The Noise

There was never a noisier seat on an airplane. No one could sleep in a seat like that. I did, for a bit. But when the drink cart came around, I woke up. I woke up to find the cart had just passed. I missed my chance. Peanuts are important up there, but the syrupy cran-apple juice was what I was really going to miss. I hoped to make eye contact with the flight attendant as she served the passengers seated in the row in front of me. I was sure she was intentionally averting her eyes. I didn't blame her; she can't enjoy her job. She doesn't have time to mollycoddle oblivious passengers. I stared up at the yellow call button above my head. Should I? Definitely not. For some reason I've always felt that button was for emergencies. Some passengers press the button for another gin & tonic. Is that what it's there for? Surely not. As I contemplated the circumstances which could give me cause to press the button (going into labour and head wound were all I had come up with), the flight attendant turned and asked me if I would like something to drink.

She asked without malice and as if it were no burden upon her at all. I said, "Cran-apple please." Or I tried. It came out meekly – half mouthed, half whispered, a bit croaked by sleep-paralysed vocal cords. When she handed me back the plastic cup, she whispered, "Would you like peanuts or pretzels?" "Peanuts please." But there was something about her whisper. It was delivered with pity. Pity. She hadn't whispered to the other passengers, just me. Was it in response to my own passivity? Her whisper made me feel like a pediatric cancer patient whose bald head guarantees that he or she will only be spoken to in soft, even tones. Kids who must endure not only a devastating illness, but the fact that every sentence spoken to them, no matter how mundane, will be punctuated with an empathic head nod and sorrowful smile.

Her pity was not without consequence. As I drank my juice, its ice cubes aggravatingly rushing towards my top lip with ever tip of the cup, self doubt enveloped me. I fumbled for the case that held my noise-cancelling headphones and placed them onto my head. They were nothing against the moan of the airplane, but I had to get back to sleep. Waking was mistake that had to be righted. I told myself that I'd feel better when I was off the plane, away from that kind flight attendant and her hushed words. Away from that noise.

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