sidebrow

Flight

It was not him. It was some other man. In his house, a clock had been a precious thing. Almost every thing was a precious thing. His blanket. A thin, worn blanket worn nearly through what it came to him. Often he’d read, in those days, of prisoners with their thin blankets. And he identified with them, with his.

All imaginary of course. He was a boy safe and snug and not a prisoner at all. Yet he’d pull that thin blanket to his chin and pretend he was a prisoner. Unjustly imprisoned. He wondered why that fantasy, outside of the blanket, had had such appeal for him. A desire for a kind of order, perhaps. Perhaps any order no matter how harsh, so long as one could understand one’s place in it.

He realized he did not want what he’d always said he’d wanted.

No, he wanted nothing of the sort, and thank God he’d never been close to getting it.

This realization about his spoken desires, much less some boyhood thought of prison.

It was too tiring to think about and he was too tired to think about it and thinking about it led to other ideas, other thoughts, other fantasies he had at one time or another entertained so tiresome that dealing with them would wear him, he feared, to nothing.

All of this as he sat cramped and strapped in an airplane. At least he was headed home. At least that. In spite of the weariness, the boredom, the discomfort and the thin-edged anxiety that even now accompanied him in flight, that.

And that before he thought of the poet.

He was hungry. He knew if he waited they’d bring him something to drink and something to eat—pretzels maybe or peanuts or perhaps a cookie. He was hungry because he didn’t like to eat before he got on a plane because he didn’t, really, know how his stomach might react, whether he might feel bad, feel worse than he always felt when he was on an airplane, so he was used to flying hungry. It was part of the whole thing.

The plane, the hotel, the plane.

The poet.

They had worked hard putting together what they’d needed to put together on this trip. Work through lunch. There was no lunch. Stopped at a bar later, still working, and eaten some peanuts with the beer. Too late for lunch then. He had to work whether he was hungry or not. He owed his duty to work, not to appetite, although it was not this way for everyone. But he knew it was this way for him. It seemed at some time he may have had a choice though he could not remember making the choice nor could he identify the time when he might have elected to choose. But he believed he had—perhaps unwittingly—chosen, and when he had chosen, it seemed apparent now, he’d made the wrong choice.

So now if there was work—compelling work—he was compelled to work through mealtimes regardless of what the clock said.

It had something to do with loyalty. He wasn’t sure how. Or to what.

And pick it up later. Get something on the way in or order something from room service at the hotel.

He’d never gotten used to eating in a hotel. Or sleeping in one. Those sheets. What if a virus lived in them? Probably not, mostly unlikely, but how could one know? And while a virus might not be there today, one could mutate and live there tomorrow. Didn’t that happen every day? The viruses in the cooling tanks, in the dust, in the vegetable sprayers at the supermarket. The hotel dirty below the level of sight, fraught with microscopic menace. But he stayed there. More and more. More nights away every year. And for want? No use in thinking about that. Why let it torment him further? Why wouldn’t it die?

He had asked himself, he was always asking himself, you want to spend the rest of your life in meetings?

It was the airplane. That wasn’t all of it, obviously, but certainly there was nothing like the strapped and cramped experience of flight to depress him, to force some grim and pointless examination of his life he’d rather avoid. Why couldn’t he relax, sit back, close his eyes, and dream himself free of this world, of this, the this of this, life.

It wouldn’t be that long.

Below the brown fields looked like brown fields seen from above. What was wrong with that? Wasn’t that enough?

A man breaks into a museum and breaks a clock. An 18th-century clock of gold and grace and mechanical precision. Gilt or gilded, something like that. Smash the thing to bits, but no more. Not to powder. Smashed it enough so the parts came apart and the insides—disconnected—were visible to all. Something to see.

A revelation, he supposed, in some sense of the word.

Of course the thing of beauty, the mechanical wonder, the work of art was destroyed. Things were destroyed every second. Why should a museum piece be different? Entire museums were destroyed.

Not by one man with a hammer, true. Not by a citizen of a putatively enlightened and democratic nation, presumably.

Though this citizen was. This citizen who had smashed the clock a continent away in a presumably enlightened and democratic nation. A nation, like many of the nations of that continent, with an interest bleeding into obsession with its language. It’s precise language with a precise term for the smasher, a term translated as the clockbreaker.

Apparently they had enough of these clockbreakers to grant them their own noun.

It was hard to breathe in the airplane. The air was dry and stale and he felt a tightness in his chest and head. He hoped he was not coming down with something. The travel, the missed meals, and the hotels, more than anything the hotels, and now this mass confinement on the plane—it was a miracle he wasn’t sick all a time. In every room, it was like he had to absorb the leavings of every guest before him, as though he were always in the presence of the ghosts of others with their germs their viruses their DNA left heedlessly behind in wait for him.

And he was leaving his heedlessly.

His samples.

The air in the plane worse though, looked at rationally. In the room there were one, two, maybe three at a time. Here hundreds breathed the same air. The stewardess had offered him a blanket, that thin, filthy place piece of synthetic throw, used and reused. Not really a blanket all.

It was so beautiful. That was the comment ascribed to the clockbreaker upon his arrest. And either there was no elaboration in the press or the press was not interested in printing any elaboration there might have been. Made sense in a way. The press understood there was a point where you had to choke off the story. Left it neat. The deranged obsessive. The desire to possess or destroy. The beautiful sample so beautiful one cannot let it go.

All of that.

Or all of anything else that went into it. Still the clock was smashed.

Every sample, he supposed, destroyed and smashed in time.

Yes and the poet. The poet might have some understanding of this clockbreaker. It was odd, but he knew the poet. Odd because he did not often meet people like that—poets and so forth—in his line of work. And odder still, after he’d met the poet, that the poet had once off-handedly remarked that he had lost a brother.

As many people had.

He had seen the poet in a park on a breezy night when a group of poets was reading short pieces one after the next. Purely coincidental. He had been walking through the park unaware of the poetic event. But when he saw the poet, he went over and said hello and decided to wait and hear what the poet was reading. It was breezy and the poet was cold, so when it was time for the poet to read, he lent the poet his jacket.

Now crouched in this plane. Not much longer, and anyway, it was the all of it. Everything.

That poet dead now, he just heard lately, that poet, younger than he, dead some months.

And he looked out the window and felt what strange emotion as the plane was coming in low and thought how historically extraordinary, how rare in a historical experience, to descend as one witnessed his native city from above.