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Now Boarding Gate 43

Group 4 is now boarding.

Group 4 shuffles forward intently.

Do you have your boarding pass?

Ruffled papers and dropped headphones, children yawn. Someone doesn’t have their boarding pass. How embarrassing.

The tunnel to the plane door rattles with each step.

It’s square. Why is a tunnel square?

The step between the tunnel and the plane feels like a lifetime—a step over infinity—and then it’s over. The plane hums mechanically, like a giant air conditioner. It’s certainly cold enough in there.

1, 2, 3ABCD. The ticket says 43A; window seat, next to the bathroom.

Seat found. Suitcase in the top compartment. Backpack clutched possessively. Shimmying over two people already in their seats, trying not to touch butt to face. Definitely trying not to fart.

Settled, backpack in hand and seatbelt loosely unhooked somewhere under butt. Should fix that.

Another 30 minutes pass, awkwardly not talking to neighbors and watching the workers outside the window. The pilot announces the plane will be taking off shortly. Everyone sure hopes so.

Plane starts to move. It’s supposed to be doing that right? Oh, yeah, the flight attendants are doing their mime performance. Clap, clap, clap. No one else claps. A baby starts crying.

The plane accelerates and everyone gets a little stiffer. Except first class. First class has no fear—they have money. After three hours of turbulent ascension, the pilot announces that it’s safe to use electronic devices now. Wait, three hours? That’s not right.

The sky outside is changing in a way that no one on the ground can see. The clouds look like water—in fact they are!—and the plane is cutting through them like a knife. At least, the passengers assume. No one can see. They’re surrounded by clouds.

Headphones come out, movies start to play for every passenger who’s into that sort of thing. Music plays for others, books come out too. Some play sudoku. Those people suck.

No one remembers how long this flight is supposed to be. Good thing there’s a flight trajectory on the screen in front of them. 7 hours?? What are they supposed to do for s e v e n h o u r s ?

Sleep, apparently. The hum of the plane hides it, but more than half of the passengers are snoring. And all of them are farting when they think no one will know it’s them.

Heads lean against the window. A flight attendant walks by to ask people to close the window. The window stays open.

No one can see the stars from the plane, but they can see complete and utter darkness. It’s comforting to some, being confronted by eternity. But everyone else turns away and listens to the flight attendant.

The flight attendant’s voice, and the voice of the two adjacent passengers drifts over fluttering eyelids. She wants to give out drinks. Drinks are taken and promptly drank through tired mouths. Everyone wants more but is afraid to ask. Some people drink booze. Those people want more too.

On the plane there are hundreds of people. All stuck in an airlock, and yet none of them get any closer. In fact, many get farther away. A business-man starts talking to the mother next to him. They chat amiably, and both realize sinkingly that the more they hear, the more they draw away. This isn’t a person who will understand them. This is a temporary entertainment, just like the movie. They stop talking after a while, feeling less like themselves.

The plane shakes out of the pilot’s control. Everyone’s heart rate spikes up to 190 in a second. Hands grip the seats with white knuckles while people chuckle at themselves. It’s just a little turbulence! Everyone says. And their heart is sinking lower and lower every second, just like they expect the plane to.

The runway kisses the wheels of the plane some time later, stealing pieces for itself. Passengers with anxiety imagine the plane crunching into the ground and erupting into a cloud of ash. Everyone else thinks about their phones. Whatever contemplation the clouds witnessed is lost in the anticipation of a message from a loved one.

Heart rates slowly calm, tensions release. Rides are called. Personal bags are frantically repacked. The line edges forward, passengers eager to escape.

Walking back through the tunnel feels like a sigh. Still in a liminal space, but nearing the end. Making way toward something familiar.

Gate 34 welcomes the passengers. Now just people. Some things remain locked inside the plane like discarded luggage, while others follow through the tunnel and into the daylight.