We hope you’re enjoying your Saturday!
This week’s prompt was:
Just as your flight takes off, you discover a shocking note under your seat. (Prompt courtesy of getfreewrite.com)
Today’s story is from Cheryl Mahoney, making an unusual foray into the modern day to write a stand-alone short story.
I had tried to deny the situation to myself. Told myself that I didn’t know how many seats there were to a row, that maybe, just maybe, seat E could in fact be on the aisle. But once I was standing in the aisle, looking at my row, there was no more deniability.
Two seats by the window. First aisle. Five seats in the middle. Second aisle, and two more seats. Placing seat E, my seat, squarely in the center of the row. I was going to be cramped into a tiny seat with two people on either side. Two sets of knees to climb over if I wanted to stand up.
I sighed, and set to stowing my bag in the overhead compartment. It was going to be a long ten-hour flight.
The only small mercy was that no one was in the row yet, so at least I could get to my seat unimpeded. Apart from the general narrowness of the space, and the low overhanging bins that forced me to sort of hunch and maneuver until I could finally drop into my seat. I sighed again, fastened my seatbelt, and tugged on my tie. I felt so overdressed, but my company was flying me across the ocean for this business deal, the client was meeting me at the airport, and the only way to be in professional attire for the pick-up was to be in it all the way.
It did not make the prospect of those ten hours seem any shorter, though.
I prodded a button on the in-flight entertainment set in the seatback ahead of me, but received no response. Apparently it wasn’t active yet. I drummed my fingers against the arm of the seat, glanced over to my right, and discovered that two of my row companions had arrived. It was a couple much younger than me, dressed like they were going to the beach instead of a business meeting. They were still standing in the aisle, and I tried in a bored sort of way to read the tattoos on their arms. Only they kept moving. And then when they started kissing, right there in the aisle, so intensely you’d think only one of them was coming on this flight, I decided I’d better stop staring quick.
It really was going to be a long flight if this was any indication of what was to come.
Grabbing at the first distraction, I pulled the flight safety card out of the seat pocket, opening it up like a kind of shield.
I was expecting some little cartoons about water landings (like that ever works out flying across the Atlantic) and oxygen masks. I was not expecting a pop-up card fixed inside, opening up with the safety card, springing the three-dimensional words “WILL YOU MARRY ME?” into my face. A second later, a very tinny “Here Comes the Bride” started playing.
I slammed the card shut, cutting off the music. Then, just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I cautiously opened it again. Same thing. Closed again, quick.
Considering I wasn’t even dating anyone, I felt pretty safe in assuming this was not intended for me. I glanced at the couple again. Thankfully they’d stopped kissing, still standing by their seats while she reapplied lipstick, though I couldn’t really see why she was bothering, considering.
I should have minded my own business. I knew that. But who was I to interfere with Cupid’s plans?
“Ah, excuse me,” I said, holding the card out towards the young man. “Is this yours?”
I’d like to point out that I tried to hand it to him, as the most probable owner. But she snatched it up out of my hand, even as she said, “Why would we want your safety card?”
And that would have been fine, if she hadn’t opened it also. Immediately the tune started playing and she let out a squeal that was probably heard in First Class (which was a very, very long way away). “Oh baby, yes!” she shrieked, and flung her arms around her boyfriend. “Of course I’ll marry you!”
All the passengers for a dozen rows around stopped in their preflight rituals to observe this drama, and it took only a matter of seconds for the applause to start. People love a proposal.
I would have loved it more if the in-flight entertainment (you know, the movies, not the passenger entertainment) would start already, but I clapped along anyway.
Beaming faces everywhere, and I had to admit I hadn’t seen a plane full of people look this happy in a long time. Right up until the tattooed young man, still with an armful of tattooed young woman, said in a strangled voice, “But baby, that’s not mine.”
Her voice dropped several decibels as she said, “What?”
He gestured vaguely at the safety card in her hand. “That’s not…I’ve never seen…I don’t know…”
By now she had disentangled entirely. “You mean you’re not proposing to me?”
I could see the tattooed young man searching for a safe answer, and realizing none existed. “Not…today?”
An audible sigh went up from the crowd, and they all went back to looking the way people usually look staring down the length of a ten-hour flight: miserable.
“This is because your mother doesn’t like me, isn’t it?” the tattooed young woman hissed. “You can’t make a move without her approval!”
“What? No! My mother has nothing to do with—I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment!”
“Don’t you think we’ve been dating long enough to commit?” she demanded, and then, to my horror, turned to me. “Don’t you think three years is long enough for a commitment?”
I could see no safe answer for me either. “I…really…couldn’t comment…”
She flung the safety card back at me—I narrowly caught it before it took out my eye—dropped into her seat, and went back to berating her boyfriend.
It was going to be a very long flight.
I turned away from the arguing couple, turned to my left. Maybe the seats would stay empty. Maybe I could at least move to the aisle seat—but there, coming down the aisle, was another couple, wearing matching Yankees sweatshirts, heading straight for those seats next to me. Great.
I fidgeted with the safety card, absently started to open it again, and hastily closed it when a couple tinny notes escaped. I’d just put that away, wait for the movies to start…
Next to me, the Yankees sweatshirts couple settled into their seats, and he made a big show of handing her the safety card in front of him. “Here you go, sweetie.”
“Aw, thanks, honey!”
I watched out of the corner of my eye as she opened it up, nothing at all happened, and he got a sudden panicked expression. He reached for the safety card in front of her seat—still nothing—and then turned to me.
“Here you go,” I said, handing him my safety card and trying to ignore the furiously muttering couple on my left.
Yankees sweatshirt guy peeked at mine, gave a big relieved sigh, and proffered it to Yankees sweatshirt girl, who looked confused. “I…already have one.”
“But this one is special,” he said with a huge smile.
She took the card, opened it up, and went a little glassy-eyed. “Oh…um…”
If people missed the tinny musical notes, they didn’t miss his very loud, “Will you marry me?”
Like a Greek chorus, everybody perked up in unison and started applauding again. Everyone except the tattooed couple, of course, who increased the volume of their argument.
Meanwhile, the Yankees couple kissed, everybody applauded some more, and then went back to their pre-flight preparation a little happier.
Except me. Because I had a front-row seat for the next act of the show.
Yankees sweatshirt guy was very happily saying, “I can’t believe the flight attendant got the card in the wrong seat—but I guess it all worked out, so—”
“I’m not marrying you,” she interrupted him.
“What?” he said. “But—everybody applauded, and…”
“I wasn’t going to say no while everyone was looking,” she said furiously.
I dearly wanted to point out that everyone, including me, was in fact still here. But I’m not that dumb.
She went on, “You know how I feel about public proposals!”
From the blank expression on his face, no, he did not. “You…think they’re creative?”
“You don’t remember when we watched that clip online, with the jumbotron proposal?”
The blankness was not abating. “Um…you thought it was sweet?”
“I thought it was skin-crawling and horrifying! Why would anyone put someone on the spot in front of thousands of people like that? Why would you make such an intimate moment so public!”
He shifted into damage control. “Okay, all right, maybe I stepped a little wrong here in my method, but…”
“If you actually think I’d want a public proposal, you obviously don’t understand me at all!”
Faced with the prospect of a feuding couple on either side, I didn’t see how things could get worse.
Until the tattooed woman turned to the Yankees sweatshirt woman and said, “Wait, did I just hear that you’re upset because your boyfriend proposed? I’m furious because mine didn’t.”
For just a second, I thought the two women were going to fight.
Instead, tattooed woman concluded, “What is wrong with men?”
To which Yankees sweatshirt woman gave an enthusiastic, “I know, right?”
Then they proceeded to animatedly discuss exactly that topic, right over me. And from the way they began, I felt quite sure they’d be able to keep it up for the next ten hours.
It was going to be a very, very long flight.