A flight attendant parks a meal cart in front of my seat. She is wearing a dark blue blazer and polite smile. The man by the window, who is also wearing a blazer, a brown one, orders a Bloody Mary. When he reaches for his drink his elbow brushes my chest. I realize that he is not coming on to me, but that we are confined to a small amount of space and groping each other is almost unavoidable when reaching for something. At first, I write one word.
I am on a small jet, heading to a low-residency writing program. The school is a far ways from the dry desert heat at home. Then again, it's strange to think of Texas as "home." I followed Chris there. He's an economist — a green profession to the current red of my writing career — and he suggested it would be practical to follow the money until I am done with my residency. I agreed and the deal was sealed. I quit my job and followed along. In a year or two, he said, it'll be your turn.
Lately, I find myself getting frustrated with Chris and lashing out at him for silly things, such as buying the wrong kind of milk. Honestly, I don't care whether or not Chris buys organic, but when I catch myself yelling about the extra weeks ultra-pasteurization adds to an expiration date, I worry that I'm not being rational. I worry that I'm mad at Chris for a decision that I made for myself. I write the words What if again and again.
What if I never find a new job in Texas?
What if I begin to blend with the desert background?
What if I become absorbed into the anonymity of being comfortably discontented?
What if I get stuck appreciating the anoles and armadillos, mindlessly, and the dry heat and puffy tacos become so much my routine that it will be too late?
What if I am seduced by the super church down the street that is always bringing me pamphlets?
What if I become sick or too tired to follow my dreams of writing?
What if I give up before it is 'my turn'?
If if were a fifth we'd all be drunk.
I forget where I heard this saying, but I write it below my list of questions, the questions that are below the word Journal. The man next to me scoots closer. I can smell the bullion and pepper on his breath. As I continue to write, I am cognizant that he is angling his head in a manner that suggests he is reading every word. His eyes are on my page.
I try to think of positive things to list such as the fact that I'm healthy, mobile ... in love, in graduate school ... then, I stop.
I close my notebook and the man's mouth opens. He says his name is Peter and that he works in real estate. He asks me what I'm writing. Haven't you been reading it this whole time?
Nothing, I say.
Peter has a thin mustache that covers his upper lip, and he seems to have applied some kind of gel or hairspray to it because it bobs up and down as he talks. He says, Just scribbling, eh?
I say, Yeah, I guess I am just scribbling. Peter has a beard, but it has only grown in patches, two patches that are located below the corners of his mouth, giving him a Fu Manchu. Chris threatened to grow one just like it during one of our fights.
I do some writing myself, Peter says. I nod. We are quiet as I tap my pen against the plastic back of the seat in front of me.
Check out that sky, he says. I lean slightly toward him and look out the window. There is a blanket of storm clouds below the plane, menacing and beautiful at the same time. My arm brushes his chest as I lean back in my seat.
Peter yawns and scoots back toward the middle of his seat. He props a small white pillow against the window and closes his eyes. I open my notebook. My pen is perched above the page for a long time. Peter is falling asleep, no longer interested, and I realize I have nothing to write. I have no audience.
Jen Knox is currently working as a fiction reader at Our Stories Literary Journal. She is a student of The Writing Workshops at Bennington College in Vermont. Jen earned her BA in Creative Writing from Otterbein College where she was the recipient of the John Kessler Memorial Endowment for the Arts Award. Jen's writing has been published in Kate, SLAB, Spring Street, and Quiz & Quill. She was a finalist in the 2008 Glimmer Train Family Matters Competition and she recently won first place for her essay "A Quick Landing" in the 2008 Quiz & Quill Awards. Jen lives in San Antonio, Texas.