The Morning Plane to Oklahoma
At eleven, she headed to her new gate. She wanted to find a seat where she would not be bothered. She had no interest in making small talk about knitting or dogs or the weather. She just wanted silence.
At the gate, there was an open seat next to a teenager wearing headphones. He was deeply engrossed in his phone and didn’t even glance her way when she sunk into the chair next to him, but then, just as she brought out a magazine, he pushed back his headphones. “You were on the flight that got cancelled,” he said.
She smiled and nodded, moving her attention back to the magazine.
“Why are you going to Oklahoma City?” he asked.
The kid was seventeen, maybe eighteen, and greasy almost everywhere. An oily sheen coated his hair, forehead, nose, and chin. It could have been a hormonal thing or a not-showering thing. Hannah couldn’t tell.
“I’m visiting friends,” she said, which was mostly true. She would be staying with her college roommate, but really, the primary focus of her trip was to sleep with a boy she used to sleep with in college.
The sex was a revenge thing, which Hannah knew was stupid, but she didn’t care. She was going to do it anyway. It was a response. It was something she could do in a situation where she was otherwise powerless. After all, two months ago, Sam, Hannah’s boyfriend, had taken off with a large chunk of Hannah’s savings account. Also, her cousin Ginny. It seemed they went off the grid—they couldn’t be reached, and no one had a clue where they’d gone—until pictures surfaced on Instagram of the new couple cavorting through Beijing. There they were with bowls full of steaming noodles. There they were in a market, holding pickled pigs’ ears up to their own. There they were making kissy-faces at the Temple of Heaven. Hannah couldn’t bring herself to un-follow Sam’s account, even though it meant she started each morning looking at a picture that made her want to die.
Never been this happy! was the caption beneath a picture of Sam and Ginny at the Great Wall. When Hannah had seen that, her first response was to throw her phone across the room, where it potted itself in the soil of an unloved ficus. Her second response was to book a flight to Oklahoma.
Now, the boy sitting next to her was waiting. It was clear he wanted her to inquire why he was travelling, and she could find no way around it. It was too late to ignore him.
“Why are you going to Oklahoma?” she asked.
He kicked the duffel bag at his feet. Something inside clanked. “I enlisted,” he said.
“You enlisted?” she said.
He grinned, wearing his youth so flagrantly it was painful.
“What did your mother say?” Hannah asked.
His face fell. “My mother can’t really say anything,” he said. “I’m eighteen.”
“Eighteen,” Hannah said. “My God.” She stared at him: too-big clothes, clunky feet, dirty fingernails, a crease of worry on his forehead. “Is this your first time on a plane?” she asked. He nodded, and Hannah flattened a hand to her heart. “Jesus,” she said. “And when you land, they’re going to give you a gun.”
“Well, not as soon as I land,” he said. “I mean, there’s, like, some tests and stuff we do first.” He leaned on her armrest. “Are you some kind of crazy kumbaya gun control person?”
“Not exactly,” Hannah said. She’d grown up in the country, and her father and grandfather were avid hunters. She understood guns and why people might want them. But still, if taking guns away would do something good—like keep people from getting shot in the face while attending trigonometry or getting medical care at a Planned Parenthood—then, fine! Take them! Have them all! But that wasn’t a conversation she was interested in having with this boy.
“I’m just tired of people hurting people,” she said.
“Oh.” The boy made a face. “So you’re anti-war.”
The tender beginnings of a headache unfurled in Hannah’s temples. She bent to gather her carry-on. “You say that like it’s a bad thing,” she said. She turned to survey the waiting area. There were some empty seats by the window a few rows back. It would likely be freezing, but at least she could get away from all this. She started to rise.
The boy looked panicked. His hand shot out and grabbed her bag, forcing it back to the floor. “Hey,” he said, “I’m sorry. Really. I shouldn’t shoot my mouth off like that.”
Hannah pulled at her bag, but he had a good grip. “Let go,” she said. “Don’t make me get you in trouble.”
“Hang on.” His voice was suddenly very high, very young. He looked like he was on the verge of tears. “We got off on the wrong foot. I’m sorry. I just wanted to talk to someone.”
Hannah stared at him, trying to make her face stern, but he just gazed up at her, pitiful. She swore she could see the way his morning had gone: waking at three to make it to the city for his flight, his mother nervously fussing around his bags, begging him to reconsider showering. He swatted her away, but then, sick with grief, he buried his face in her shoulder, and she cried. Hannah lowered back into her seat.
“Fine,” she said.
“Start over?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, drawing the word out in a long, irritated syllable. She sighed, then held out
her hand. “Hannah,” she said.
“Brandon,” he said. “It’s really nice to meet you.”
Brandon, it turned out, was a talker. In the time it took for their plane to arrive, he told Hannah many pertinent details of his life. He was the oldest child in a family of three boys, and his younger brothers were talented. Seriously talented. One was a piano virtuoso, and the other was some basketball prodigy known for his elegant free throws.
“They call him the Gene Kelly of the Hardwood,”