Black Box

April 12, 2012

There was screaming in the coach cabin, a soprano to the scream of the engines’ contralto. Miranda realized the folks in the rear cabin had a better view.

She clung to the armrests and breathed in the general panic. Before the cabin went dark, she’d seen the faces of the flight attendants as they strapped themselves into jump seats. One young female attendant was weeping. The other attendant, a slightly older man, strapped himself in with deceptive calm, as if he was participating in a drill of some sort. His nonchalance didn’t fool Miranda. She’d seen the look on his face. Acceptance. Inevitability. That’s when it hit home: They weren’t going to land in Oslo.

The frigid Norwegian Sea was below them and that was as far as this plane was going. Return your seats to an upright position and check the overhead bins for personal belongings before deplaning.

Miranda turned in her seat and pressed her face to the small window. The starboard wing was aflame, brilliant in the dusky sky.

She felt a slight touch on her hand and glanced at the passenger beside her. Carefully coiffed and impeccably dressed, the older woman raised her eyebrows.

Miranda shook her head.

The woman nodded. Taking her hand from Miranda’s, she reached into her jacket and withdrew a pack of cigarettes. Mind if I – ?

Might as well, Miranda’s eyes responded.

Oxygen masks with their ridiculous yellow cups fell and dangled. The female flight attendant already had a portable oxygen unit in place to cover her sobs. Her male counterpart did not. He stared inexorably ahead, one of his hands on each of his knees.

No smoking, no smoking, the tiny LED alerts blinked above their seats. Miranda exchanged an amused glance with the woman beside her who sat with the unlit cigarette between her lips, shuddering. The cigarette. The woman. The plane. Shuddering.

Miranda looked out the window one last time and thought about her family, her job, her dog, her car payment, her potted plants…

Thank God I’m not in coach. There are children back there. There are babies. If I was back there I’d –

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