Why do they call it taxiing anyways? The plane came to a halt and the captain turned off the “fasten seatbelt,” sign. The cabin went a-rattle with the tinny maraca of three hundred metal couplers being undone simultaneously; as per British Airways company policy, Léo Delibes’ The Flower Duet from the opera Lakmé began playing softly in the background. She looked out the window of the seven-forty-seven and noted the low tan buildings with the flat roofs; the flagellar palm trees whipped the sky with green rounds of applause. Her mother gathered up her little things and smiled wearily. She gathered her little things without breaking her gaze on the outside world. The scene filled the little oval window, but irritatingly enough, didn’t fill it to bursting. And she wanted the little window to burst. She wanted to be in it already. Won’t they hurry up and move? Don’t they want to get off this plane? The mountains were desert purple. It reminded her of Egypt. The sky was Hollywood blue. It reminded her of nothing else.
She put on her socks and found her shoes. Everything was in motion but nothing moved on the aircraft. They’d yet to open the door. Couldn’t they at least do that? No, probably not actually. She thought maybe she was acting silly. Her shoes weren’t even on yet. But oh, how she was eager to breathe air that didn’t feel canned and charged with the static fibers of cheap one-use blankets! At least they were near the door. Maybe twenty people.
Back in London one could see—in a rainslicked kind of way—the sky in in the ground at all times. In L.A. it appeared that the ground reflected the sky as well, but in an inverse way to London’s nearly constant wetness. If you look at the sun for a split second, and then look around at the objects around you, they look paradoxically washed-out and hyper saturated. That’s the best way she thought to describe it. Everything looked like the after-effect of having been perfectly lit, constantly, for years.
She stood and her knees got sharp for a second, emitted tiny clicks and then felt a little like warm rubber. She raised her arms up over her head and stretched as best she could in light of the overhead bins. She’d taken her bra off before last night’s uncomfortable attempt at sleep. No point in putting it back on until the hotel. She yawned. Her breath smelled like how mouths smell when you haven’t had any need to use it for eight and a half hours. Dinner. That was the last time she’d talked. Vegetarian pasta. White wine. Then she’d pulled the blanket up to her chin and watched a movie about dragons.
Miles away at this precise moment, I closed the venetian blinds and began preparing for bed having stayed up all night and not gotten anything done. I put Mythologies back on the shelf and could hear the pigeons through the wall. It was that time of year when the pigeons did nothing but make noise in the roof. When I was a kid I used to throw my shoes at the corner of the ceiling to get them to stop. It worked for only a few minutes of silence before they’d inevitably start up again and I’d realized that I’d have to get out of bed and go get the shoes (which would keep me awake) or just tough it out and stare at the ceiling fan while listening to the pigeons, pondering whether or not it was worth getting out of bed to fetch my shoes (which would also keep me awake).
She turned her phone back on while an elderly man in the seat in front of her stood, removed his glasses and wiped his eyes with a belabored groan. Up ahead, the bodies began to move. She took one last glance out the little window.
As I brushed my teeth, I decided that I might need a haircut soon, while making foamy faces in the mirror. After I finished trimming my beard I put away the electric razor and pulled down my lower eyelid, a gesture of which I’ve never really been sure the medical purpose of. I was reassured nonetheless when everything appeared to be normal, if not a little bloodshot.
Welcome to Los Angeles! a sign said, greeting her as she walked up the jetway (finally!) with her mom.
I got under the covers but, after a minute, kicked the covers off. Fucking pigeons. It was gonna be a hot one today, too. I could feel the heat rising from the garage.
She, while standing in the custom’s line, feeling sweaty and stiff but wide awake and electrically excited, fished in her bag for her passport (a blue bag covered in a pattern of white reindeer). ‘SVERIGE,’ the passport said. Her mother said something to her that, since I don’t speak Swedish, I cannot write down. (Also, I’m not entirely certain how to make all the Swedish letters on this keyboard either. I can do the letters ‘ä’ and ‘å’ but cannot pronounce them; so, yeah, from now on picture every conversation between she and her mother in the best Swedish-sounding language you can imagine. Anyways…)
I stared mutely at the ceiling of my childhood room in my parent’s house and considered the daunting amount of work still left to do on the dissertation I was currently undertaking for the University of London’s English Lit program. I then considered that I should have probably done a dual degree in avian biology and organic chemistry; that way I’d know enough about pigeons to successfully poison them to death in the most painful way possible.
In both places, the fan blades hung from the ceiling re-and-recycled the air-temperature air.
I shut my eyes.
Her mother said something to her in Swedish and smiled. She awaited her turn to approach the booth of the next available custom’s officer and bounced a little in her shoes, typing something on her phone.
It was hot and I had too many ideas so I got out of bed and turned my laptop back on. Following the initial whirring robotic-sounding noise of the hard drive kicking into electromagnetic gear, the speakers played what I’ve always assumed to be the final chord of the album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Then, an apple that someone had already taken a bite out of.
I decided to check my email again. Sometime well after midnight I’d disabled the alert on my Mail application fearing that I’d be sent some more junk from Cracked.com (or some equivalent) in fear that I’d spend all evening browsing an endless stream of garbage-quality, list-formatted articles all sounding something like, ‘5 Biggest Mexican Sinkholes Ever,’ or, ‘10 Reasons You’re Not The Man Your Grandpa Was.’
I’m always being sent junk mail when I’m trying to get work done and, like a dog whose salivary glands have been conditioned to involuntarily react to the ringing of a bell, the ping of receiving a new email always sends me off down some procrastinatory, tangential, binge that feels productive because it’s reading, but in reality is clearly just my amassing useless information (to be fair though, some of these articles are pretty fun in the speculative-fiction sense with the best one by far being, ‘Five Inventions Probably Thought Up By Someone With ADHD,’ which at one point (point three, I believe?) posits that some hyperactive cave-child manically rubbing two sticks together simply because he-or-she was ‘probably really bored during an Ice Age blizzard’ serendipitously discover a practical method to create fire and thus revolutionized the course of civilization, etc.).
The junk I sorted through this morning was all from Amazon-dot-co-dot-UK and Amazon-dot-com respectively given my two most recent addresses.
The door handle and the cat walked in. He’s a large cat, able to open doors using his immense weight and large, gripping cat paws. He stands on his hind legs and yanks the door handle down and then sort of leans his way in. One of his favorite hobbies is opening all the doors in the house and then walking room to room meowing at the top of his lungs.
‘What do you want?’
‘No, I’m busy; apparently this digital coupon will allow me to drive an Aston Martin for thirty minutes if I only take the plane to London, then the train to Lowestoft, and then pay forty pounds and and also learn how to drive stick. Ooh. And this one is good for a free wheatgrass shot with the purchase of any bag of wild bird feed… Actually, what the hell? Is this a pet shop that sells smoothies? In Pomona? Yeah. I am totally clicking on that.’
‘Ugh. We’ve been through this, Cat. You’re not old enough for watercolors. You’ll make a mess. Plus, what happened to your oil pastels? You were just getting good at those. That’s totally your thing isn’t it? Pick up a medium and then go dropping it the minute your initial creative burst runs dry and you’re confronted with the daunting technical aspect of the craft.”
‘Thumbs? What’s that got to do with it. Da Vinci didn’t have an ear and he still painted.’
‘Van Gogh! Da Vinci! You know what I meant!’
‘Touché, Cat. Touché.’
The cat circled my chair, rubbing his face upon each of the legs, ‘Mrow.’
‘Well I don’t care what all the other cats in the neighborhood have and don’t have. If I say you’re not old enough then you’re simply out of luck, pal.’
‘Mrow,’ he said turning and leaving the room (then, softly, from down the hall), ‘Mrow.’
‘I heard that!’
My mom knocked upon the open door, hovered for a second in my periphery, and then entered the room.
‘You’re up early.’
‘To some. For the Chinese I think it’s still midnight.’
‘I haven’t gone to bed.’
‘Oh. Working all night?’
‘What’s that mean?’
‘It means I’ve only sort of been working. It’s very difficult to stay focused. Look? This digital coupon will allow me to get something called a “Free Guacamole Hat,” with any Mas Gorditas Por Las Familias Deal at The Taco Sweatshop. With values like these, I can’t sleep.’
‘Oh. Well get some rest. You can read those later. You’re gonna get sick if you stay up like this. It’s going around.’
‘Going around? It’s a gonna be a hundred degrees this afternoon.’ (beat) ‘Just where is it going around?’
‘Carol Snowbread got it. She’s been sick for two weeks.’
‘And which grade does Carol Snowbread teach again?’
‘Same as me. Third. Why?’
‘You’re both around nine-year olds all day. Of course it’s always going around for you. Nine year olds are always sick…’
‘This is a bad one though. It’s been getting teachers too, and you know how adults usually can avoid it? It’s like a flu that gives you a really bad sore throat. Before school let out we had I think six absences in one week.’
‘That’s where, like, the common cold came from I bet… from a pack of nine year olds. When I was nine I was sick the entire time.’
‘Go. To. Bed,’ she said, turning and leaving (and then in that sing-songy maternal voice which nearly-always foretells disaster), ‘or you’ll catch it. Oh hi mister kitty kitty.’
‘Traitor,’ I mumble of mister kitty kitty.