This is one of those stories that I wrote and was starting to gather dust on my hard drive. So, this Friday I’m cheating by putting up a story I wrote *gasp* last year.
The Person in the Seat Next to You
After putting her hand luggage away, Gwen found her seat, next to an awkwardly obese man with sweat stains on his shirt and a vacant, almost absent, look in his eyes.
“Just my luck,” she muttered and squeezed in.
The man did not seem to notice her. Not until she, predictably enough, bumped up against his arm as she sat down. But the obese man just kept staring into the tray table in front of him.
For a moment he seemed to be turning his head towards her but it was just something of a twitch. Gwen made herself as comfortable as she could and tried to ignore the odor emanating from the man, feigning interest in the stewardesses’ safety dance. All she could think about, however, was the man she was leaving behind. A heartbroken wreck that, thanks to some cleverly planted evidence, was probably about to be picked up by the police at this exact moment.
Shortly after takeoff (always a tense moment for slightly-afraid-to-fly Gwen) the obese man moved. Soft pale skin rubbed against Gwen’s arm. She had almost forgotten about him, lost in her thoughts and doomed attempts at sleep. She shrunk back.
“Sorry,” she said, and quickly felt it should be him apologizing.
He turned his head and looked at her, a gesture requiring him to reposition his whole mass in the seat. He didn’t just look fat; he seemed inflated.
“No,” he said, mouth moving oddly out of time with the words. “I’m sorry. I hadn’t noticed you there.”
Unlikely, she thought, though his vacant look indicated he might really not be fully aware of his surroundings.
“I was just about to try to sleep,” she said and turned away.
“No problem, I understand. I always tell my friends that they should try to sleep on airplanes. It makes the ride pass quicker. Do your friends ever tell you that?”
Gwen looked around to see if anyone seemed to be accompanying the man, who she was starting to suspect might be “slow”. No one seemed to be looking in their direction.
“Yes, sure, sometimes.” she answered.
And soon one of them would likely be in handcuffs, being questioned for the murder of another. She closed her eyes.
“I bet your friends miss you,” he said, and laid a sweaty palm onto the back of her hand on the armrest. His skin was the color of a fish’s underbelly.
A twitch of static passed between them as he touched her and she pulled away, looked at the man and then pressed a button above their heads. A stewardess arrived.
“Is there another seat available?” she asked, nodding towards the obese man.
“I’m sorry, we’re fully booked. Is there anything else I can help you with?” The stewardess gave her a sympathetic look.
“No, I guess not” Gwen said.
The stewardess walked away, and Gwen was left with the man and the awkward conversation.
“Tell me about your friends,” the man said, words still somehow not coming out in time with the movement of his glistening lips. It was like watching a movie that was out of sync.
Gwen surprisingly found herself talking, almost without thinking. She did hesitate a little though.
“My friends…” she thought of her so called friends, one bleeding to death in a dark parking lot, and another who would be going to jail for it. She spoke of the others. “… are great, especially the ones in Sacramento. There’s Adam, who owns and works in a small bookstore that somehow refuses to go broke, and Liza…”
The man’s eyes lit up as she talked, seemed to inhale the life out of the way Gwen described her friends.
She found her mind wandering, vividly calling up images of her friends as she described them, moving from friend to friend. After listening to this the man, now seemingly a little deflated, smiled and extended his hand.
“I’m Raguel, by the way.” He didn’t seem as off-putting as when she first sat down. Even the sweat stains seemed less obvious. Gwen shook his hand.
“I’m Gwendolin,” she said, again surprising herself. She hadn’t introduced herself with her real name for years.
“That’s a pretty name. Gwendolin.” Raguel seemed to be tasting the name. Savoring the syllables. Gwen. Do. Lin.
“Thank you,” she said, shuddering at the man’s sincere kindness.
“Why are you leaving L.A.?” he asked.
“I, uh…” she found the truth wanting to come out, her brain showing her images of blood she’d rather staid hidden. “I just needed to go to a new place. You know, get away for a while.” For a quick moment, the look in Raguel’s eyes indicated that he knew she wasn’t telling him everything.
“I understand,” Raguel said, his face taking on a more pleasant aspect, his eyes growing vibrant as he looked into hers. “I know what it is like to want to leave it all behind.”
She was captivated, and felt a bit of Raguel stirring within herself. Who was this man, who just a moment ago had been an inert mass of pale flesh, now a granite pillar of assurance? If he lost a little weight, well, a lot of weight, he might even be her type.
For a while.
“So, you’ve also done something you really shouldn’t have?” She asked, intrigued.
“Oh,” he said, and brought his face right up to hers, mouth open wide. “I’m about to.”
While the passengers were leaving the plane, a stewardess stopped the handsome man as he got out of his seat. She pointed to the pale obese woman with the vacant look in her eyes. “Is someone coming to pick her up?”
“I’m not sure. She didn’t talk much, though I did try to make conversation. All I know is her name. Gwen-do-lin,” he said, savoring the syllables.