Western North Carolina Woman

clear blue peace
by kathryn magendie

I enter the womb of a silver monster. Shuffling down the narrow aisle, I scan the other traveler’s faces, wondering if they can smell the grief seeping from my pores, the smell of loss trailing behind this step and the next and the next and all the steps ahead. Seat 24A. My seat.

There is still time to leave, but I know that I cannot. My family will be waiting for me at the end of this short journey from Baton Rouge to Dallas. We will gather to witness the obscenity of my younger brother’s body forever stilled. Someone laughs and I want to say, how can you feel joy when David has died? The irrational thoughts of the still living. Once seated, safety belt fastened even before the sign flashes, I drum a foot against the floor in anxiety while I whisper prayers to no one in particular, no one who feels close, no one who stopped the death of a young man. The randomness of it both humbles and angers me.

And I, afraid to fly. What a coward! David has faced the biggest fear of all and here I sit, trembling in my seat. What is a forty-five minute flight when faced with eternity in the unknown? I hear raindrops pelt this pterodactyl’s wings in a fury. My friend, having attempted to ply me with wine and tranquilizers before the flight, had finally said, when it is your time, it is your time, so stop worrying. However, all I can think is that old cliché, what if it is the person in seat 23C’s time? Was it really David’s time, or maybe there was a mix-up in the cosmos. Can’t those things happen?

The door is closed and sealed. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to escape. Nowhere, nothing, nothingness. As the plane begins vaulting down the drenched runway, images of what is left of my family—my remaining brothers, my father, David’s wife and babies—waver before me. My mother’s face floats superimposed over the woman in seat 24B. I do not want to be reminded about mother’s losing their children. I think about my own son and my fists clench in fear, then open in relief. My son is sitting beside me. His headphones leak the heavy metal song enter sandman…

I am the only one who watches the flight attendant pantomime doomsday instructions, following along in the shiny pamphlet strewn with figures of blazing airplanes and near-drowning victims. One little seat cushion to save us from the waves, but what will save us from the ground? Why are there not tiny parachutes in those cushions?

I risk a glance out of the window and see that we are flying straight into oblivion. Wait! David will never find me in the gloom. Climbing up through rain-swollen clouds, all that is visible through the tiny glass are shades of dark gray and black with frequent flashes of lightning that rip the sky into a million pieces before the darkness swallows everything again. I imagine the beast's nose as it cuts through the furious vapors, dodging lightning while the pilots steer blind, lost, confused.

Climbing higher, I pretend I do not hear the pilot announce how many miles we are away from earth. I look at those little sick bags and wonder how anyone could possibly—then I quickly think of something else. Every tooth, muscle, tendon, joint, pore, toe, finger, each living part of me awaits disaster. I have no control over my fate.

Someone whispers, Just as David did not. During sleep’s ordinariness, my brother’s young heart had exploded. He held too much of everyone else in that fallible organ. How could he contain all his hope and life and love in that heavy body, that human heart? I wonder if he can see me right now. I have the urge to wave, to look for him in the shadows, to call out to him. I think he is teasing me, hiding from me like he did as a child.

The plane shudders and so do I as witch-fingers of panic grab at my stomach. It is not human to fly through a gumbo sky seeing that lightning, feeling those bumps while swaying in the sky miles and miles and miles above the Mississippi River above sweet precious earth and is everything working properly and how does the pilot see where he is going and Oh My God Get Me Off This Plane! I hear David laughing at me. I remind him that he, too, was always afraid to fly. And now, David? And now?

Epiphany! I am just along for the ride, an innocent passenger. How much control do I really have? The idea of infinity, eternity, some huge unseen hand guiding it all? That is my explanation? That is my solace? I see David’s face shrouded in pain and regret, because that is what I see in my own face reflected in the pane. If I keep my eyes closed, everything will be fine. If I keep my eyes closed, everything will be fine. If I keep my eyes closed, everything will be fine.

A quiet begins. A smooth glide of nothingness. It is as if I am now floating in some embryonic haven. I chance a peek out the window again (my bravery knows no bounds). The storm below tosses planes and birds and dust about but above, where I now hover, is this clear blue peace. I sit still, still, still as I float above a tempest. I turn to my son, but he is still listening to music, unaware of the drama his mother has experienced since before take-off. The drama of her entire life. What if he knew that his mother is clueless? I decide not to tell him my truths.

I am in another dimension now and I wonder: had this clarity of sky been here all along? While driving to the airport earlier, I had looked up at those bloated clouds filled with the heavy noise of thunder and I imagined chaos everywhere—up to the heavens, spiraling out into the entirety of the universe, and beyond. That maddening beyond which remains out of reach of my understanding. The disorder of the cosmos matched that of my mind—I recognize it even while being frightened by it. Yet, here, right here and now, is this clarity out of nowhere. I feel the stirrings of comfort begin somewhere deep and old and wanting. This is where David is. He is not in the maelstrom below. I can feel him right here.

I allow the images to come.

Big sister looking down at infant David, awed at his tiny feet and hands. David at two, laughing while running naked as I cheer him on, my mother chases him in her slip as the neighbors peek from their windows. David climbing a tree on his first day of school as I shout up at him that everything will be okay if he will just come down. David proudly introducing his bride-to-be as my first marriage is ripping apart. David, M.D., with honors, and I am not there to congratulate him. David with two baby daughters of his own, he looks down at them, awed at their tiny feet and hands. These are the images I wish to keep with me when I look at what is left of him one last time.
How quickly life comes and goes, begins and ends. I see my brother’s face on the other side of my pane; he is smiling that crooked silly smile, the one that I realize looks just like mine. Our nose, our eyes, our smiles, all the things that continue in me and will continue in his daughters and then continue in their children: eternity, infinity.

A blazing line of light from the sun points to my window, to me, and stays there, brilliant.

Is that you, David?

And now, ten years later, ten years that at times seem like ten minutes, I sit pounding out pain on a warming keyboard. High on my mountain with the North Carolina sky above—right there within my reach, the cradling mountains, the caressing wind, I feel as if I can touch the moon, where David sits, soaking up all the light where he will stay until he knows all who love him are safe.


Kathryn Magendie has completed her first novel I am Virginia Kate and is working on the sequel The Unexpected Places. She is also creating collections of short stories and creative non-fiction essays that aim to rip emotion out of you whether you like it or not.

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