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Flight 2200

 

The waiting room is nearly full. When I sign in, there are a dozen names ahead of mine on the list. The doctor is running behind, I think. I pick up a magazine and sit down. I must still be having jet lag. I’m really tired.

The U.S. News is three months old, but at least I haven’t read it before. Water was getting scarcer in western states. Gas prices were still going up. A hundred and twenty people were killed in Baghdad . Could have been yesterday, or last year. I have a feeling that time has stood still. A couple across the narrow room are talking about something, but I can’t hear what they are saying over the loud rush of the air conditioner. It sounds like I’m in a jet at thirty thousand feet.

I am into an article about the Islamic rebellion in Thailand when the sound changes. In the roar that fills the room, I can hear the engines spool down slowly. We must be dropping down from cruising altitude, getting close to Detroit. The compressed voice of the pilot over the p.a. system is saying something that I can’t quite make out over the roar. I think I catch the words “descending” and “seat belts,” but the rest of it is lost. I always fly with my seat belt fastened anyway, so I continue to read my magazine. On June fourth, insurgents were blamed for a train derailment that caused the entire rail network in the south of Thailand to grind to a halt.

Then the engines spool up again, very slowly. Odd, I don’t feel the expected acceleration against my back. I guess we have dropped to our new altitude for the final leg, ready to enter the pattern at Detroit Metro. Someone opposite me is saying something to her neighbor, but I can’t hear it over the roar. I swallow to clear my ears. I feel a little breeze at my neck—the air is coming on again. There is a noticeable wavering in the sound of the engines, a rising and falling that indicates that the pilot hasn’t synchronized his throttles precisely. It reminds me of my days on the Coast Guard cutter, when it was my job while we were underway to monitor the twin engines, standing ready to tweak the throttles to get them to exactly the same rpms. Otherwise, the whole boat would begin to vibrate.

There it goes again—the change in pitch as the engines slow. Odd, how a jet engine rotating at a hundred thousand revolutions per minute, as well as making that shriek that bothers people on the ground so much, also makes a low-pitched growl that one inside the aircraft feels almost as much as one hears it. And the engines are again slowing down. But the roar of air past the airplane should also be easing off if we are slowing down to enter the airport pattern. And it isn’t. That means that we are still hurtling through the Michigan sky at five hundred knots. That’s not good. I try to find my place in the magazine. I’m really tired.

* * *

“Mister Skiff?” The flight attendant is calling my name. What for? Why wouldn’t she come to where I am sitting? Still holding these questions—that could be important questions about where we actually are, and why the aircraft is behaving so strangely—I look up toward the voice.

“You’re next, Mister Skiff.” She smiles, holding the door to the office open. I rise, suddenly chagrinned to realize that I had not fastened my seat belt.

The roar of the aircraft slowly transforms into the roar of air conditioners in the doctor’s waiting room. I turn and drop the magazine onto my chair, and follow the nurse into the inner offices.

 

Donald Skiff, June 19, 2007

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