A Thin Piece of Something
by Dallas Woodburn
Beatrice is on a plane headed west. It is a small plane, and her seat is the only one on this side of the aisle. Across the aisle sits a middle-aged man and a middle-aged woman. They do not speak to each other, but Beatrice knows they are husband and wife. She knows this in a deep internal place she does not even think to question, the way she knows the particular cadence of her own speech, or that she will not marry Rick. The woman is knitting a hat with blue yarn and sharp curved needles that click softly together. Every few minutes, Beatrice feels the man looking across the aisle at her. She keeps her face turned to the window. It is not a long flight, but the man stands often, letting out a groan. Then he paces up and down the aisle a few times before sitting heavily back down in his seat.
Beatrice can see a thin strip of blue sky above the white-gray of the clouds. The first time she ever rode a plane, as a little girl, Beatrice remembers staring out the window the entire flight, fully expecting to see the grandmother she never met and Freddy, her recently deceased dachshund, frolicking in the clouds. They would see her and her grandmother would smile and wave hello and Freddy would wag his tail. When her mother said, “No, honey, that's just sky,” Beatrice said, “Where are they, then?” and her mother smoothed her hand over Beatrice's hair and told her to close her eyes, go to sleep. Beatrice can't remember whether she slept or not.
Last week, Beatrice told Rick she doesn't want to marry him because why should they need an antiquated religious ceremony to validate their love for each other? But really it is because she does not love him. They both know this, but only deeply. They do not speak about it.
Across the aisle, the man hoists himself up again and lumbers towards the bathroom. The woman's needles are shiny metal. It's surprising they let you bring knitting needles on planes, Beatrice thinks. She imagines the woman pressing the needle into the delicate skin of the lower eyelid, threatening the eyeball. Sometimes Beatrice is filled with wonder at everything — that people can be so fearful and yet at the same time so brave, facing each day with their naked blinking eyes. Beatrice wishes she had a pair of goggles, or at least eyeglasses. A thin piece of something between her eyes and the world.
Abruptly, the woman slips her knitting into her bag and pulls out a book. Beatrice is sitting too far away to read the title. The plane starts to tremor, and the man lunges back to his seat. The plane shudders. The “fasten seatbelts” sign dings on. Beatrice looks out the window. Gray clouds fill her vision, like the plane is a submarine diving into a churning ocean, and Beatrice finds herself yearning for the strip of blue sky even as she knows she has never seen so much brightness before, she never knew fog could be so beautiful and blinding.