Row 9

There, in row one, the girl wearing a princess dress tilted her face upward. 

Here, in row nine, Gil unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up. His legs felt heavy, frozen. Gripping the headrest before him, he rolled each ankle until the persistent swelling stopped its heartbeat. 

All my life/I prayed for someone like you

In this loud silence, this plate glass window of time, Gil’s brain wanted nothing more than a soundtrack. Maybe also some assurance.

“Is it real?” The princess asked. Gil cleared his throat to mask his surprise at her voice. It was a regular voice; it was the only other voice he could hear. 

“I would think,” Gil said as he made his way up the aisle toward her. She had turned her face forward, pointing with her silver, glitter wand to the hole in front of them both. 

“Can we see them?” She stood up, reaching for Gil’s hand as if she had known him for more than these forty-two seconds. 

“Sure, let’s go have a look,” Gil said, every word smaller than the last. They walked sideways down a steep decline to the front of the plane. Gil went first, his right arm winged out behind, cupping the atmosphere of the princess’ head in case of…any other cases. 

And I thank God that I/That I finally found you

They stopped at the edge of where the air met the land. 

“Can they see us?” The princess blinked up at Gil. Her hair had been plaited in four sections, braided together in a low rope at the underside of her head. She slowly petted the octopus inked on Gil’s forearm. 

“May uh,” Gil said. He was aware this was not reassuring nor a full sentence but he had nothing else to offer. Unless this small child enjoyed the musical stylings of the inimitable K-Ci and JoJo. 

Below their still and silent, hovering aircraft lay an equally still and silent restaurant, the roof shorn off by the belly of the plane. A woman sat at a table with a laptop, a coffee, and a pastry spread before her, a wide smile carved her face. A waitress with a hand to her seemingly sweaty forehead was mid-stride between two chairs. A man bent over a stroller, holding a banana in one hand and a pacifier in the other. Humans in various states of business were paused, just as, Gil thought, the plane and its passengers sat in stone behind them. 

“It’s like my dollhouse,” said the princess, bemused. 

“Yeah?” Gil said lamely. Around anyone younger than 22, Gil became an old farm dog: slow, good for petting, not good for conversation, and easily fatigued. 

“Yeah,” the princess said, unfazed. “And no one looks scared. Were you scared?”

Was Gil scared? It had been twenty minutes and he could no longer remember anything other than this concreted universe. The slow descent had seemed natural. Here is a rooftop, and there is the cathedral dome. How toasted the city’s buildings look up close in the late afternoon light. 

Then there was a scraping sound and then there was stillness. And then there was this. 

Yes, I pray that you do love me too

“Yes,” Gil lied, “Yes, I was scared.”

“Can we go play with the people?” The princess asked. Gil had no intention of poking at the waxed humans, but what exactly was the plan here? Was it better to step into this world, or step back to row 9, buckle in and wait for the old one to take off? 

Gil patted his jeans pocket with his right hand. The ring was still there. 

“OK, princess, you lead the way.”