Friday, February 15, 2019

Learning to Fly

a short story by Bill Adler

Howard Kim's Grand Seiko Snowflake likes to fly. 
Vincent exhaled, this time more purposefully, even though he knew it was as futile an effort as flapping his arms to fly. That's comical. Or maybe it's irony? Whatever. I'd give an arm if I could flap my arms and fly right now.  Now that’s irony. Vincent didn’t smile at his own feeble humor. He exhaled again, wind escaping from his lips like banshees who've been trapped inside a cave for centuries. It was no good. Expelling balloons of air wasn't making him smaller. In fact, Vincent was certain the moisture from his breath was combining with the sweat oozing from the pores of the sumo wannabees on either side of him, forming a viscous glue that would keep him trapped in his seat long after the plane had landed. From his seatmates’ pores sulfurous vapors rose, sending him to the edge of nausea.

I am the eater of worlds flashed through Vincent’s head, a movie marquee with an ominous message.

Vincent looked at his left and right armrests. To his left was a snake-like creature, layers of flesh piled on flesh, a boa constrictor which hadn't ever shed its oily skin, a gelatinous slime coating that skin. It’s not his fault, Vincent tried to convince himself. He’s got no place for his arm. Though what I’d give for a saw right now.

Vincent bobbed forward and craned his neck toward the aisle, hoping to see what kind of watch the guy had on his left wrist. But trying to see to the guy’s wrist was like trying to spot what’s behind Mt. Fuji when you’re standing directly in front of the mountain. A sharp snap in Vincent’s neck sent lightning bolts of pain through his neck and shoulders. I think I pulled a muscle, maybe all of them. That was a stupid thing to try. 

Vincent pressed his fingertips into the back of his neck, willing their dance to undo the pain. He’d arrange for a massage at the hotel first thing. Make that second thing. Overpriced ibuprofen from an airport store was going to be the first order of business after landing.

The arm slithered closer, the fatty flesh undulating at different speeds toward Vincent. Vincent blew out another bubble of precious oxygen, but no matter how much he tried to shrink he couldn’t stop the slithering arm from touching his body. The more the arm pressed against Vincent, the thicker the pus that leaked out of the marble-sized pores became. Vincent thought that the layers of flesh and fat were on the verge of separating, each becoming a distinct creature determined to asphyxiate him. Guy couldn’t wear a long sleeve shirt? We’re going to Chicago — who wears a short sleeve shirt to Chicago in November? What’s the matter with him?

Vincent glanced to his right. “A long sleeve shirt is only marginally better,” he muttered, as the tentacle to his right undulated against his hip. Keep that thing away from my privates, Vincent prayed. Long sleeve, short sleeve, it didn’t make a difference, Vincent realized. The guy’s shirt and sleeve were soaked in brimy sweat, and now Vincent’s pants and shirt were looking like they’d been dipped into the Dead Sea.

I’m cold and these guys are ovens. If they shed a hundred kilos maybe they wouldn’t be sweating like pigs and I wouldn’t feel like I’m being consumed by a primordial peat bog.

I can’t breathe! I’m suffocating! 

Grand Seiko Spring Drive photo by Alex Thompson 
Vincent wanted to reach under the seat in front of him and extract a paperback from his carry-on bag, but he was fixed in place, like the keystone in an arch. Reading would distract him. Reading would carry him to another place, diluting his misery with adventure. But his carry-on bag might as well be in the luggage hold. And even if he managed to reach his bag and pull the book out, how was he going to hold it amidst the sea of corpulent flesh pressed against him?

Vincent hoped Lilith was faring better somewhere in the aisles behind him. Maybe Lilith didn’t have a middle seat. Maybe she’s sitting next to a fashion model who’s five weeks into a six week diet. No, fashion models don’t fly basic economy. Vincent couldn’t imagine Lilith being worse off than he was. But why were they separated in the first place? Vincent was sure he paid an extra twenty five dollars each for reserved seats. Completely sure. And yet, the airline’s will was stronger than his certainty. He had stopped arguing with the flight attendant about their seating assignments when he suspected her next words were going to be, “You’re off the plane. Have a nice day.”

I have to pee. 

Vincent looked at the man to his left again, and slowly shook his head. It would take that guy until the end of the flight to extricate himself from the seat. They should install some type of pulley system above seats. 

I have to pee badly. 

Vincent unstuck his arm from his seatmate, twisted his wrist, and glanced at the time. Three twenty-two. He had set his Grand Seiko to Chicago time before his seatmates deposited their asses into their locked positions. Good thing he set his watch when he did because no way he’d have had room to maneuver to perform even such an elemental task now. He had wanted to take a photo of his watch against the window with the passing clouds as a backdrop, a wristshot, his tradition on every flight, but the window was eclipsed by a belly. That was the least of his problems.

Two hours and six minutes to go. He doubted he could hold it for that long.

I have to pee more than I’ve ever had to pee before.  

Vincent’s eardrums imploded. The flight attendant who had been pushing a cart down the aisle flew to the ceiling as if she’d been expelled by a canon. Cups, tiny peanut bags, plastic knives and forks, ice cubes, and lemon slices scattered everywhere. Small, square napkins turned into a snow squall. A second boom left Vincent’s ears ringing, a high-pitched screech that blocked nearly all sound and thought. The flight attendant landed in his seatmate's lap, bounced off, and rolled onto the floor. After a few moments, she pressed her arms into the floor and lifted herself up, her blonde hair acquiring instant punk by the bright, red blood coating it. But she stood, so no bones broken.

VIncent’s stomach jolted right and up as the plane banked left and down. The flight attendant fell again. The man sitting to Vincent’s left grabbed his arm, and squeezed hard, his grip on Vincent’s arm increasing exponentially with each passing fraction of a second, moments away from crushing his bone. Vincent wriggled his other arm free from the girth of the man to his right, and slugged his left side seatmate hard in the arm. It worked. Jabba released him.

I’m in pain. 

Vincent wasn’t sure damage hadn’t been done to his arm. This fucking hurts. Fucking sumo wannabe. Fucking airline for losing my seat reservation. 

It took a few seconds for Vincent’s mind to free itself from agony’s claws. When he could think again, Vincent noticed the jet was flying straight and level and hadn’t become part of the Rocky Mountains.

The intercom crackled. “Ladies and gentlemen. This is your pilot speaking. Is there a Spring Drive on board?”

“What?” Vincent said to the man to his left. “Did he ask for Vincent Lang?”

“No, the pilot said, ‘Is there a Spring Drive on board?’” Mr. Sumo was massaging the spot on his arm where Vincent had punched him. He seemed oblivious to how that injury had occurred.

Spring Drive?

Always wear your Spring Drive when flying
because you never know when it will be
called into service. Photo by Arnaud of
Ikigai Watches
Vincent dug deep into his memory’s recesses, uncovering fragments of a post he’d seen on a watch forum, which he had dismissed as hearsay, the kind of nonsense that people send upstream to the internet all the time after chugging one too many beers. “I’m a 737 pilot. Our jet’s stabilization system uses a form of Seiko Spring Drive technology. A quartz crystal oscillating 32,768 times a second, used as an unerring reference for the watch’s movement, coordinated by a tri-synchro regulator, letting the second hand glide across the dial, rather than jumping in jarring intervals. The same mechanism is in the plane. That’s the key —  the smooth, precise glide movement. That’s the heart of what keeps a 737 on an even keel in flight. Of course we don’t use an actual watch to stabilize a 737, but a Spring Drive would work as a backup in a pinch.”

Vincent wondered how he remembered that. He didn’t recall when or on what watch forum he’d read that post. Must have been the bump in flight that jarred my memory loose, like a stalled car starting after you’ve kicked it.

Vincent looked at the seat card’s safety information. We’re on a Boeing 737 Max. Vincent snapped his eyes toward his watch, a Grand Seiko Spring Drive.

“Is there a Spring Drive on board?” the baritone voice repeated. “Would any passenger with a Grand Seiko Spring Drive please come to the cockpit immediately.”

“That’s me,” Vincent said to the man sitting between him and the aisle. “That’s me.” Vincent inhaled a deep breath, and as if his lungs had filled with helium, floated over the man, and skipped to the cockpit.


Thanks to everyone at the Grand Seiko Owners Club for their photos. 

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