He looked troubled as the request came over the intercom. Blind and deaf, he didn’t hear the flight attendant or see the girl who pressed the call button and said she could sign. His long gray beard was uncut his hair disheveled and his squinted stare seemed to plead—water?
The girl cupped his curled fingers around hers and began to spell words he couldn’t speak. Like many on the flight, strangers unable to talk with each other over chaired walls through separating curtains across divided aisles.
He didn’t want water, she said only some company in his muted space at 40,000 feet. He grasped her every letter each curve and clasp stroke and symbol that laced their fingers. He couldn’t see it but nodded at the smile she left in his hands.
Lines on her face trace the straps she curls over her ears, tightening the medicinal-smelling mask around her nose, across her cheeks under her chin. A face shield tightly banded on her forehead reflects what lies in front of her. Hard to breathe, harder still for her patients, their lines in the hall grow longer each day. More tubing to connect, intubations to perform, rotation of the dead with the near-dying–hallway to room to hallway, and again. Her voice is muffled as she holds an iPad in front of the patient encouraging his relatives to say words she’s heard before. No one can read her face under the mask, the turning corners of her mouth as breath fades biting her lip when the patient no longer inhales. Droplets run past her nose into the absorbent mask. Her goggles fog up from the heat, the heaviness of what she must wear.
Poetry reading at Iron John’s Brewing Company, Tucson, AZ. Click on Departing to view the video.
The financial planner points to a chart, says he expects me to die in 2040. I don’t hold it against him— he’s supposed to be actuarial. Though I do take offense when he denotes me as a period on a downward sloping graph. I let him know the inky dot doesn’t look anything like me— I’m taller and in much better shape. As he abruptly closes his binder, I take the opportunity to tell him when he should plan to leave.
If it had been raining that Friday and a glass bubble covered the convertible or if Air Force One was delayed by threatening weather. If the school book depository near Dealey Plaza had been so tightly secured no interloper could enter no stairwell led upstairs no window could be opened.
But how far back from the grassy knoll could onlookers hope to see him? As a young man with Addison’s disease? When his PT boat was sunk in the Pacific? If only the motorcade had driven faster past that sixth floor perch. Maybe then the roses on her lap would have been brighter than the blood staining her dress.
(first published in Clerk of the Dead by Main Street Rag Publishing, 2020)