Tuesday, November 29, 2005

"Mr. Barbicane Takes A Trip" Chapter Thirty-One

The first time Diana saw the scratch on the passenger side of her car was when she turned to look back at it in the employee parking lot at Pittsburgh International Airport. She hadn’t seen it when she got in the car and backed out of her space, but she did see the empty Stoli bottle on the cement when the car cleared it. She put the VW in park, undid her seatbelt and went to pick up the bottle and throw it in the recycling. It was empty and Diana assumed the remaining contents had spilled when the bottle rolled under the car because she certainly didn’t remember finishing it. The cap, however, was securely on the empty bottle.

Diana looked down and squinted through her sunglasses. She saw the lotto ticket on the floor and started to reach down for it. Her head was suddenly filled with liquid razor blades, pumped in an amazingly high pressure. She started to straighten up then figured the hell with it and dropped to her haunches and picked up the ticket. Diana put the ticket in her bag and told her aching brain to remember it was there so she could check the numbers later.

She disposed of the bottle, got back in the car and carefully navigated out of the garage. The drive to the airport was painfully bright, but otherwise uneventful.

Diana found a parking space near the shuttle stop and was walking toward the bus shelter when she realized she couldn’t remember beeping on her car alarm. That’s when she turned, reaching for her keys, and looked back at the car and saw the scratch. She had no idea how it had gotten there. She had no memory of hitting the recycling bins, crushing the ornamental lawn sculpture of the man with the burro and the cart, and she was completely oblivious to the fact that she had severed the prehensile tale of a Virginia Opossum.

Whatever happened to her car, she believed, must have happened while she was working her last shift, the one that brought Mr. Barbicane to Pittsburgh. It couldn’t have happened at her apartment building because the passenger side of her car was against a cinderblock wall at the end of a row. Someone must have scratched her car in the parking lot and not even bothered to leave a note. The scratch must have been there last night and she was simply too tired or it was too dark to notice. That was the only way such a thing could have happened. If someone had scratched the car when she was in it, she’d have known it.

On the shuttle bus she had checked herself for any residual waves of nausea and found that everything was just fine. There was still a headache, but that’s why God made Excedrin. She had taken between four and six of the caplets since she woke up and would take some more before boarding her flight. There was also dehydration to be addressed. She drank a bottle of Gatorade on the way into the airport and would get another as she went through the terminal. Diana was a little concerned about her stuffed up sinus, they could be painful in flight, but she had some nasal spray for that. She’d use it closer to departure time. So, really, all was just fine. Except for the stupid scratch on her car.

She checked in, headed for the gate, ran into her crew mates in the concourse, talked about nothing, brushed past the early check-ins and boarded the MD-80 she would be working on, which was similar in many ways to the machines Mr. Barbicane had flown on the previous days, but older and configured for fewer passengers. She would be flying to Syracuse, New York then on to Halifax, Nova Scotia this afternoon and evening.

Diana had kept her sunglasses on until they opened the aircraft for boarding. If anyone asked she would have told them she had a little migraine, which would have helped her if later in the flight the hangover staged a second assault. But no one asked her about the sunglasses.

The only painful part of prepping the cabin was trying to read the paperwork on the meal and drink carts, the manifests detailing what food was on board. This required focus and that sent needles through the back of her eyes. Otherwise, except for just a little additional sweating which she felt on her upper lip and some tearing at the corner of her eyes which she was afraid would ruin her make-up, it was all routine.

She paid little attention to the passengers as they arrived. Few children, which was good. She slipped into the forward lavatory to swallow another three Excedrin along with most of the water bottle she was working on, then used the nasal spray to open up her sinuses. She patted the sweat off her upper lip, checked her make-up, which was really just fine, and then went back to complete the boarding process.

Push back happened at the appointed time. Diana performed the safety mime in the forward cabin, something she always liked to do, then did a fast walk through to check belts before returning forward to the galley where she pulled down the starboard jump-seat and belted herself in. Ritual was removing her from any lingering discomfort.

She had worried about the climb to cruising altitude, what that might do to her head and there had been a nasty twinge as they went through twenty-thousand feet. But she shut her eyes and pressed her head back against the bulkhead and toughed it out. She breathed deeply, feeling the cool recirculated air fill her head, rushing past the artificially contracted blood vessels of her sinuses. There had been some difficulty breathing after the face lift and cheek implants which lasted longer than she expected based on what the surgeon had told her, but it eventually subsided, and the results were certainly worth the minor inconvenience.

As the plane climbed Diana thought about how well things were going, what a good point she was at in her life. She couldn’t even be bothered to work herself up over the idiot who scratched her car. You have to let that sort of thing go. You can’t sweat the little things.

She found the vibration of the plane coming through the back of her head pressed against the bulkhead to be a comforting massage, taking away what was left of the hangover. This made her smile. Now it would be unnecessary to go to the minor trouble of sneaking any restorative alcohol during the flight.

She heard the tone from the cockpit informing her that they had reached cruising altitude. She took a deep grateful breath and unstrapped herself in order to go about her job.

Diana removed her jacket and took around the drinks ordered by the first class passengers prior to take off. She took this opportunity to inquire what selections they had made from the dinner menu.

She leaned over the empty 4-B to give the man in 4-A his Diet Coke with lime. He took the cup from her, which was when she became aware the man was looking at her augmented breasts. They were much more dramatic when she took off her uniform jacket and moved around the cabin in the white blouse with the blue epaulettes. This pleased her. She asked the man what he wanted for dinner. He looked down at his menu and then back at Diana to ask for the Seafood Pasta. But as soon as he looked at her, his eyes clicked down to her breasts again, outlined against the stretched fabric of the blouse as she leaned across the open seat to hear his order. But what was sweet about this was that he didn’t seem to be embarrassed to be looking. He was impressed, but not ashamed of being impressed and Diana liked this response most of all. A man could go a great distance with a response like that without even knowing it.

She straightened up and continued through the cabin, but she continued to think about the man in 4-A who was in his late thirties, good looking, no visible wedding ring, good suit, and able to afford a first class seat. She wondered if he was getting off in Syracuse or flying on to Nova Scotia. This was going to be a lovely flight.

Diana was not wrong about the good looking man in 4-A; he had in fact been looking at her breasts and his attention was indeed indicative of respect. He very much admired her breasts and felt immediately drawn to them. It should be noted, however, that his desire was less about access and more about envy. For the man in seat 4-A was Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne engineer Lloyd Barton who found in the shape and proportions of Diana’s breasts, their apparent substance and gravity, the ideal he had always wished to somehow posses. Lloyd Barton coveted Diana’s breasts.

Later in the flight, Diana will pause before serving Lloyd’s Seafood Pasta to adjust her kerchief to one side and open the top two buttons of her blouse (this against airline regulations pertaining to the dress and deportment of employees). She will bring Lloyd his meal and once again lean across the unoccupied 4-B. She will do so with unmistakable emphasis and she will linger so long that when she finally steps back Lloyd will have been so dissembled by the proximity of what he has always wanted that it will be difficult for him to eat and he will leave much of his meal untouched. This will give Diana an additional opening to speak to him later when she collects his tray and asks if the meal was all right.

Lloyd will look up from the open neck of Diana’s blouse and they will pretend to have a conversation about airline food and good places to eat in Halifax, each of them aware that the conversation they are having has nothing to do with what they are talking about, but each unaware of what the conversation is actually about.

There is the potential here for something between Lloyd and Diana. But it is not the potential either one suspects.


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