November '05 -- guest edited by Claudia Smith
The sky is filled with clouds. It is the first holiday for them, and the sky is filled with clouds. Still she looks out of the window. He sits next to her, his headphones plugged in, a book in his hands.
Suddenly the plane crosses the line of white turning to blue, and the sun appears. Hard to believe that it is shining up there, while grey rain is drizzling the morning underneath. Hard to believe that it is always shining up there, every single day of the year. Sunland, she thinks, watching the clouds from above. They look different now. Like a landscape made of all kinds of white. There is shaded white. Light white. Blue white. Dark white. White like snow. White like ice.
In fact, it is Iceland, she remembers. The white ground in the air, it is crystallized water, it is H2O molecules forming patterns and layers, turning into clouds, into an insubstantial landscape, into a world without rough edges.
The edgeless sky doesn't last long, though. Some miles later, sharp cliffs cut through the softness.
"It's mountain peaks," she says and points through the window.
He doesn't react. She turns, and remembers that he's plugged to his mp3 player. She puts her hand on his shoulder to catch his attention.
"Look, mountains," she repeats.
He nods and gives her a half smile. The kind of smile children receive when they get excited about the most common things, about a driving car, about a yawning dog, about a passing cloud.
"This is like a panorama flight," she adds, trying once more to start a conversation.
But he is not in the mood for exchanging thoughts. At least not with her. He is absent, wandering through the pages of his book, his music surrounding him like an invisible sphere, even though he's sitting right next to her.
Pretending not to care, she shrugs and turns to the clouds again. They are like a page to her now, like a painting, only that they are alive, moving in their own speed, cruising the atmosphere like giant ghosts. Or like sheets of white linen, woven by the wind, to dress the world for some miles, yet not for long. She can see holes appearing already, cut into the white gown by mountain peaks that slice though the clouds, splitting them, opening spaces for the valleys that are shining black underneath.
"We are crossing the border to France now, heading towards Marseille," the captain says.
She looks down to the ground, trying to see the difference the border makes. But to her, the scenery doesn't express any nationality. They could as well be crossing the border to Canada, heading towards Vancouver. Or crossing the unknown territories, heading towards a nameless country. I want a picture of this, she thinks. Her camera is in the green backpack she carried as hand luggage. Trying not to disturb him with her moves, she reaches for it. It's easier to watch the clouds than to take a photo of them, she has to learn. She feels stupid while she waits for the right moment, knowing already that she will miss it, that she will click the button too early or too late. And of course, she does. The cloud she wanted to capture, the cloud with the soft spin to it, it has sailed away already. All that is left are some white flurry spots.
Then there is blue, finally. The end of all sights, the ocean. Some last islands, black stones thrown in water. No ships, no waves. The only trace that they aren't alone here, that there is more to the world than this: the memories of the before, and the parallel trail of white lines, left by an airplane that crossed their way some minutes ago, some hundred metres below. And then, out of a sudden, there is a golden glow. Maybe it's the morning sun reflected in the sea, she thinks, and searches for her cameras with her hand, while her eyes remain with the glow. Almost hypnotized by it, she's afraid that it might escape her. But the shimmer stays, it moves with the plane, for whatever reason. Maybe some effect of light reflection. Maybe a miracle. She has never seen something like this before, she needs to have picture of it. But it doesn't happen.
Her hand, while getting her camera, knocks against the tray, knocks over the tea.
"Damned," she whispers, trying to move the plastic cup back into an upright position as quickly as possible. The cup wasn't full, there might have been just a third of tea left in it. For a moment she thinks the liquid stayed inside, hasn't spilled out at all. But there is tea on the tray, on her trouser, on the seat, on the floor.
He hands her his coffee napkin, doesn't say a thing.
"It's just some drops," she says, as she tries to dry her jeans with the napkin.
He takes the cup from her tray. When he sees that there are some sips left, he hands her the cup, waits for her to finish it, and puts it inside the empty cup on his tray. Again, she feels like a child. Be more careful, he tells her with the gesture of his hand, without a word.
This has never happened to me before, she wants to explain, aloud. I am not the kind of person whose planes are delayed, and who knocks over cups in the sky. I'm not a silly kid. But the harm is done, or so it seems.
If only there hadn't been the delay, she thinks. Then they wouldn't be here at all. Or rather: they would have been here an hour ago. They would have seen the sunrise, he wouldn't be listening to his mp3s, and she wouldn't have spilled the tea.
If only he would put down his headphones and return from his sphere.
She thinks of asking him for it, but that wouldn't work, wouldn't count. He had to feel it by himself, he had to do this for them, not for her. She watches him from the corners of her eye, trying to figure out what he is thinking, what the right words would be. But they haven't been here before, haven't known each other long enough to know how to get out of the tension zone in a sentence, with a gesture. Here, now, every sentence seemed too much and not enough.
When she looks out of the window again, there is nothing left but endless blue. No clouds, no borders. Only the one rough line between sky and sea, between water and water.