On the Other Sideby Marie Carter
The airline refuses to take our money.
"You don’t have to pay until you’ve arrived at your destination safely," says the woman at the desk, chewing on the ends of her pony tail between breaths. "That’s how confident we are that you will enjoy flying with our airline."
Susan and I are going on the "holiday of a lifetime" to Elizabeth, New Jersey. We throw our suitcases into the overhead compartments. Our suitcases are stuffed with empty plastic bags that we will fill with all the things we buy in New Jersey.
"Good morning ladies and gentleman. This is your captain speaking. I have never flown a plane before, but it’s been my boyhood ambition to become a pilot. Even though I only got 15 out of 100 answers right on my examination, I hope you’ll all give me a chance because I bake cookies with my mother on the weekend and I’m wearing a yellow sweater."
Our fellow passengers seem rather calm, but Susan has gone blue in the face and is hyperventilating, tightly gripping the edge of her seat. "I think I’m going to throw up," she repeats every five minutes, but she doesn’t reach for the sick bag or run to the bathroom.
The flight from JFK to Newark takes four hours and we are flying very low to the ground. We have almost reached the shores of New Jersey when suddenly the engine starts to stall.
"Don’t worry!" the captain says over the loudspeakers. "I may have failed the first practical test, but I’m sure I can control the plane when under pressure." The plane makes a nose dive for the water. Suddenly we are in the water and everyone is swimming around, searching for their luggage.
"Just give me a chance!" the young captain pleads, bubbles blowing out his mouth. He is gradually sinking. "Get back in the plane and I’ll make sure you reach the airport safely."
"He’s got to be kidding," Susan says, her arms thrashing in the water. Everyone is bobbing up and down, craning their necks and trying to locate their soggy luggage. Underwear floats past my nose and slippers. People have packed lots of slippers.
"Let’s give the poor guy a chance," I say. "He’s just starting out and now the airline probably won’t pay him because they won’t get any money from their customers."
"Who cares," Susan says. "Life is hard. Deal with it."
"There’s no harm done," I say. "At least you and I are able to swim."
We reach dry land, but before we can enter New Jersey, we encounter some fastidious INS officers wearing dark-rimmed glasses and pink boiler suits with Irish wolfhounds. A young scallywag with spiky hair and bald patches is asking arrivals an assortment of questions and determining whether they should be allowed into the state or not.
He finally reaches Susan and me. "Do you have a favorite pebble that you like to play with on the beach?" he asks.
"Yes," I say, thinking up the best answer I can. "It’s smooth with a grainy texture and it’s pearl pink."
The young man chews on his biro considering my answer for a while. "I think you’re lying," he says. "I don’t believe such a pebble exists."
"How would you know?" I ask. "You don’t even have a PhD in drawing."
The young man ignores me and goes to the next fellow. "Are you wearing the same suit as Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies?"
"Yes," the new arrival replies.
"Very good," says the INS officer. "You can come on in."
Marie Carter is the editor of Word Jig: New Fiction from Scotland and author of forthcoming creative non-fiction book, The Trapeze Diaries (Hanging Loose Press, Spring 2008).