by Ben Simon
David encounters strange dreams of another man's life during a turbulent flight.
| David sank back into his airplane seat and immediately felt himself begin to drift off into slumber. His body ached, and not just the shoulder which would very soon be surgically repaired. If felt as if every bit of muscle tissue was experiencing some form of dull pain or fatigue to a greater or lesser degree, and he was not sure if he had ever felt this level of exhaustion before. He thought that perhaps his manager and his agent were correct, that he was pushing himself too hard and had tried to return too early. It hardly mattered now, though, as he would have plenty of time to rest once he was released from the hospital in Boston. He closed his eyes and felt the world around him begin to shift and turn. He then opened his eyes quickly, as if he were afraid of what the slumber may bring him. He immediately wondered why his first reaction to slumber would be fear, but thought no more of it as he noticed the pretty young stewardess walking his way, a spectacular grin highlighting her gorgeous features.
"I'm sorry to bother you," she said through her smile, "and I never do this, it's really unprofessional, but can I ask you a question?"
"You're David Langer, aren't you?"
"That would be me, Dorothy, is it," David said, reading the stewardess' name tag.
"I thought that was you. I'm a huge fan. I've watched you since they brought you up in Pittsburgh. I thought that game you pitched against St. Louis last year was the best game I've ever seen in my life."
"Well, thank you. You're a big baseball fan?"
"I'm a Pittsburgh fan. My dad used to take me once a month during the season when I was growing up, and I played a little softball in high school, but I really don't follow any of the other teams, just Pittsburgh. So, when do you think you'll be back?"
"I'm not sure, I'll have a better idea after tomorrow. I'm heading to Boston to get surgery done on the shoulder."
"Well, good luck. I'd sure like to see you play next year."
"I won't bother you any more. I just wanted to tell you how much I love seeing you play. Can I get you anything, a drink or something?"
"No, not right now, at least. I'll be sure to call if I need anything, okay, Dorothy?"
Dorothy nodded her head and, still smiling, returned to the front of the cabin. David rubbed his eyes with his right hand and settled further into his seat. The stewardess had been pleasant enough, both on his eyes and in her manner, and he could not understand why it annoyed him so to speak with her. His fiancee, Sharon, was in Baltimore for business and typically he would have tried to arrange for some form of tryst with a creature so lovely and so smitten as Dorothy. He attributed his failed libido to his weariness and once again he thought of his need for rest. The first-class section was strangely empty except for a meticulous young woman sitting on the other side of the plane that David quickly judged to be the most beautiful woman in all the Earth. She noticed David looking at her and gave him a brief smile before returning to the magazine she was reading. David turned away and buried his head into the pillow on his seat and, closing his eyes, began to surrender to sleep.
It was decades earlier, and David was at a baseball stadium in St. Louis, only he was no longer David, and he was younger, maybe elementary school age. The grass was a vibrant green, the sky a brilliant blue, and the air felt of spring. He was surrounded by the smells of hotdogs and cigars, beer and urine, and the excited chatter of the fans echoed through his ears. The athletes on the field seemed to his young mind as if they were gods, effortlessly throwing the baseball around the mound or cracking a hit through the outfield. David was sitting next to a big man in wrinkled clothes who held a crumpled scorecard in one hand and a half-finished beer in the other. The big man was screaming at the players on the field, his bloated face having turned an unnatural shade of red, and. . .
"Are you okay?"
"Wha. . .," David muttered, having not completely escaped his dreamworld.
"Are you okay? You were moving around a lot while you were sleeping, I thought maybe you were in trouble."
David opened his eyes completely and was immediately happy that he did so. The young woman from the other side of the plane was now seated next to him, a look of concern on her angellic features. David was now certain that she was the most beautiful woman on Earth.
"No, no I'm fine," he said, moving up a bit in his chair and finding it painfully hard to do so. "Thanks for caring, though."
"That's okay. I guess we're never too old for nightmares."
"That's true, except I'm pretty sure I wasn't having a nightmare. I don't know why I was moving around so much."
The airplane suddenly lurched, and the motion caused pain to shoot through David's body.
"Oh, man, I hate that," the woman said. "It's one reason I don't fly that often, because of the turbulence."
"You get used to it, I suppose."
"Well, anyway, you seem to be okay. I'll go back to my seat. Sorry to have waked you."
David wanted badly to stop the woman, to engage her in some sort of conversation that may lead to her accompanying him to his hotel room in Boston. But he could not, and it was not simply the weariness that had kept him from propositioning the stewardess. There seemed to be something indecent about any romantic inclinations towards the woman across the plane and David thought that she seemed to be familiar, but he could not remember seeing her before. He reminded himself that he had met thousands of women, that he had almost certainly met someone who had resembled her, and that he was weary enough that his mind could be playing tricks on him. Once again he laid his head back and felt the world disappear.
It was a cold February morning and the dawn had barely begun to appear around the dark, bulky brick buildings that surrounded David. Thick, billowy smoke exited the various smokestacks on the buildings, creating dingy artificial clouds above him which were illuminated by floodlights below. David blew into the canvas gloves that he was wearing and the warm moisture of his breath came back to his face. He stood behind a group of tired men of various ages, races and sizes, all waiting in front of an imposing iron gate with several notices posted on it. An unshaven man in a baseball cap turned to speak to David, and. . .
The plane lurched again and shocked David out of his slumber. The young woman had made her way across the aisle and was once again sitting next to him.
"I'm sorry, I know that I'm going to seem like a scared little girl, but I think I'd feel better if I sat over here."
"It's alright," David said, wiping the sleep out of his eyes. "But it's really just an air pocket or something. Nothing to be worried about."
"I know. Like I said, a little girl. I just read all these horror stories about a plane missing a bolt and falling from the sky. . ."
"Doesn't happen that often. And I doubt if I could save you if it did. But you're welcome to sit over here as long as you want."
The woman smiled, not the over-caffeinated type of smile that the stewardess had exhibited earlier, but a small, genuine smile which accentuated her remarkable features. She was a brunette, with soft thick hair that was tied to the back of her head in a professional manner. Her features were elfin with a hint of mischieviousness, with large, luminous brown eyes beneath thin, carefully manicured eyebrows, a straight, upturned nose and a smile that neither dominated nor was lost in her face, accentuated on the left corner by a diminutive beauty mark. Her oval face came down to a point at the chin, and a few wisps of hair which had escaped bondage caressed her long, graceful neck. She was smartly dressed in a plain white blouse with ruffles about the collar, a collar that was opened at the top to reveal the fullness of her neckline. She wore a gray, knee-length skirt that was obviously the bottom half of a business suit and dark hosiery with black pumps of which she nervously slid her feet in and out. She had an odd air about her, as she seemed vulnerably yet quite in control of herself, and this caused David to attempt to ignore his fatigue and try to learn more about this woman.
"So, if you feel the need to sit next to me, can you give me your name so that I can know who I'm protecting?"
She answered in a manner that was also playfully flippant, but oddly enough, David could not understand her. He thought that it may be rude to ask her to repeat it, so he decided to wait to see if he could ask again in some clever manner.
"And you," she continued, "to whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?"
"You don't know who I am?"
"Well, obviously no. Should I?"
"Maybe not. I guess I'm just used to people knowing who I am. That must seem a little vain, huh?"
"It depends. I'm guessing you're somebody famous?"
"I suppose that depends on what circles you run in. In your circle I'm obviously not that well-known."
"Okay, you've got me interested. You must be someone that I should know."
"It depends on whether you like baseball or not."
"It's okay, I guess. I really don't have that much time for sports or movies or anything that would make my life fun and keep me from growing old prematurely."
"You're too beautiful to grow old."
"Well, thank you," she said politely with no hint of embarassment.
"I'm a baseball player. I'm a pitcher and I play for Pittsburgh."
"Oh. And I take it you're pretty good."
"Good enough to keep my spot on the team. And win twice as many games as I lose. And have an ERA under 3.3. And maybe play in an All-Star Game or two. Say, you're not really one for stoking someone's ego, are you?"
"Not really. I thought ERA was some '70's thing having to do with equal rights."
"Now you're just playing dumb. My name's David Langer."
"Hello, David. And I honestly don't know what an ERA is. Do you think that makes me dumb?"
"Probably not, just uneducated. So what keeps you so busy that you can't pay attention to our favorite passtime?"
"I help people."
"You help people? How so?"
It was sometime late in the Eisenhower years or early in the Kennedy years, and David was standing in an airport in St. Louis wearing some grungy overalls and feeling weary from a long day at work. He sat down on a bench and opened a bag of potato chips, popping a handful into his mouth. In his left hand he held a pristine baseball in a cloth, the baseball covered with signatures of varying size and legibility. David suddenly heard a young boys voice and, looking up, noticed an excited blonde-haired boy standing in front of a thin, meticulously-dressed woman. The boy started running towards David with a smile that enveloped his entire face, and. . .
"Am I boring you that badly?"
"What? Did I. . . I--I must have drifted off."
"That's okay. I enjoy talking to myself about myself for ten minutes before realizing that the person that I thought I was talking to is sound asleep." She was still trying to sound flip, but David could tell that she had actually been offended.
"Listen, I'm really sorry. Normally I would be willing to listen to someone such as yourself for as long as you could talk, no lie. I'm kind of in a lot of pain, though, I reinjured my shoulder the other night and the doctors have got me on painkillers that you wouldn't believe. I'm headed to Boston right now for surgery. Out the rest of the season. So it isn't you, it's me."
"I bet you say that to a lot of people," the woman said, but she began to move over David, as if to check on something beside him.
"No lie, like I said. Say, is there something over here that's bothering you. . ."
"No, it's just, your pillow had fallen down and I wanted to pick it up, that's all."
Before David could thank her the airplane hit another pocket of turbulence, and the cabin shook harder than it did before. The woman lurched sideway into David, and he moaned as he felt needles of pain shooting throughout his body.
"I'm sorry--I'm so sorry," the woman said, looking David over. "Are you okay, did I hurt you. . ."
"It's fine," David said, though the pain had not dissipated. "It's just that the shoulder's really killing me. The turbulence hurt more than you bumping into me did. That was actually kind of enjoyable."
"Don't say things like that," the woman's manner was suddenly stern.
"I'm sorry," David said weakly, but he did not know why.
The sternness passed, and the woman's face was gentle again. "Why don't we just sit here, and I'll try to keep quiet so that you can doze off again."
"I hate to be that way, it's just that I'm so tired. . ."
"It's okay. Just as long as you're here if another patch of turbulence comes along."
"Don't worry, I'm here to protect you. . ."
It was late on a moonless night and the woods in which David found himself were silent and eerie. It had been raining and the ground was soggy and the foliage that brushed by his hand and face was wet and slick. His clothes were damp and heavy and he was getting colder by the minute, he knew that he could not stay in these woods for much longer, but he had a hunch. He guided the beam of his flashlight to a small cove beside the creek that ran through the woods, and there, underneath some overhanging leaves, he spotted a small pair of bare feet. David drew back the leaves and he saw her there balled up into the fetal position, shivering and sobbing. He put a wet hand on her shoulder and she looked up and threw her arms around his neck. David lifted her up, calling out to the rest of the party, and. . .
This time the turbulence nearly shook David out of his seat. The pain was nauseating as he tried to lift himself up the best that he could. He looked around the cabin for the woman, but she was nowhere to be seen, and though he knew that she was probably in the bathroom or someplace else in the plane, he began to panic. This was not right, he knew it, and he began to fear that this flight was ill-fated. He had heard nothing from the pilot, in fact he had heard no announcements from the cockpit since the flight had began, which he suddenly realized was odd. He realized that it might be the painkillers, that they were certainly causing strange dreams, dreams from another man's life. Maybe, just maybe, they were causing delusions as well. Had the woman existed? Was he on a plane flight at all? He made another attempt to lift himself up and the plane hit turbulence once again, knocking him to the floor and causing him to pass out.
It was a cold, gray day. All days like this were cold and gray. David was seated in a wheelchair surrounded by a number of somber individuals speaking to him with faux kindness and sympathy. Someone behind him was pushing the wheelchair towards an imposing box-like building made of steel and glass, and next to him was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, the only one not speaking to him but rather gazing at him with an air of genuine concern. David felt weak and tired and truly wished that the droning voices of those about him would simply stop. A tall, thin man in a gray business suit was standing at the entrance to the building, smiling a smile meant to be comforting but appearing more to be ghoulish. The man reached down and placed a large hand on David's shoulder, began to speak, and. . .
David woke to excrutiating pain. He was still laying on the floor of the plane, his bad shoulder resting against the bottom of the seat in front of him. With his good shoulder he attempted to raise himself but found himself too weak to do so. The angle of gravity did not feel right to him, as if the plane were falling or rising rapidly. He knew that there had to be something wrong with the plane and almost immediately began to think of his rapidly-approaching death. But it was not supposed to be this way, he knew that it was not supposed to be this way, but he did not know why he knew this was not supposed to happen.
"Lie still," the woman's voice came from above him.
"I can't move myself. What's happening?"
"You'll be okay. It's all going to be okay. We're just having a few problems. The--the pilot said everything will be alright."
But now the airplane began to shake more violently than before. David buried his face in the floor and tried to steady himself against the pain, but as he did so the turbulence became even more pronounced.
"You're going to be okay," the woman above him was saying repeatedly, "everything will be fine."
Marvin gripped the small rubber ball with the swirling orange and blue colors between the forefinger and thumb of his right hand, then launched the ball to the nearby counter, where it bounced up at an angle against the wall, then right back to Marvin, where he caught it in his left hand. It was the fifty-fourth time that he had successfully caught the ball on two bounces. A dozen more times and he would break his own record. He heard the double doors that led to the private rooms explode open and he knew that Damian had finished with Room 407.
"So, how is he," Marvin asked, bouncing the ball for the fifty-fifth time.
"Like normal," Damian said, stopping to place a couple of coins in the coffee machine. "You know, the first few weeks they always want to slip back into reality. Their systems can't take it and they start to crash physically. We fix 'em up with a few drugs and they're back to happy world before they know it."
"Kill me, I say."
"I say kill me. I'd rather be dead than do what they're doing."
"At the rate you're going, you'll be dead before you have the choice."
Marvin ignored him, but stopped to ensure himself that the count was now up to fifty-nine.
"You're on your way to the grave and you're depressed about the way your life turned out," Marvin continued, "so you have 'em put you in some electo-chemically-induced fantasy world where you're everything you ever wished you would be. What was this guy, a mechanic or something?"
"Something like that."
"And so he's upset that he never lived out his dream to be a race car driver or whatever so he hires our people to put him in some sort of dream illusion where he can live the rest of his life being something he never was while we try to keep him from drooling too much. Sound like much of an existence to you?"
"I don't know, Marv. It's just a job for me, you know, I just work here. I try not to think about it too much."
"Sure you don't. Hey, what about the old man's granddaughter?"
"The brunette with the mole on her cheek?"
"Yeah. She's kind of bossy, but I could do her."
"Okay, sure. When's the last time you were laid?"
"Hey, I'm in a dry spell, but things could be looking up."
"If you even get to first base with her, even get a date, I'll give you my next week's paycheck."
"You're on. Sorry you won't be able to pay your bills next week."
The two orderlies exited the break room together, and at the end of the hallway stood a smartly-dressed woman with brunette hair and a beauty mark beside the corner of her mouth. She walked directly up to the orderlies, stopping them as they walked.
"Are one of you taking care of Room 407," she asked in a stern voice.
"That's our floor. . ."
"Then you're the ones I want to speak to. Understand me, I wasn't happy to put my grandfather in here in the first place and there isn't anything that's happened here today that's made me any happier about it. Everyone's telling me he's stable now but I'm having a hard time believing any of you so listen to me good. I'm going back to my hotel to take care of a few things and I want you people to be checking on his room on a damned regular basis. If anything, and I mean anything, beyond the normal happens, you'd better be calling me. And I don't want to hear anything about how all this is normal. Clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," Marvin said, his eyes gazing in the general direction of the floor.
The woman passed by the two young men and walked briskly towards the exit, leaving them staring after her.
"Yep," Damian said after a moment's pause, "you're getting laid tonight."
"By the way, you get to clean up the mess in 407."
"I'm the one who got to wrestle with the old guy, you get to clean up the mess."
"Technically, you owe me next week's paycheck. You want me to call you on it?"
Marvin cursed under his breath but moved obediently yet relunctantly towards Room 407. He pushed the swinging door open and entered the darkened room illuminated only by the instruments surrounding the patient and an overhead light directly above the patient's head. The patient was peaceful now, his head tilted back, his toothless mouth opened slightly, the crevices in his face creating grotesque contours of shadow and light, electrodes branching out of his bald scalp. Marvin pulled a mop bucket out of a closet and began to mop the floor as the patient lay quietly, his mind in an airplane somewhere over Boston.