The hair. The first, foremost, fundamental thing is the hair.
Predictably it’s blonde—blonde, beautiful, abundant. Well, not quite blonde. Not exactly. Not the blonde of models and movie stars. But blonde with variations of color, probably enhanced by various products and chemicals, although that doesn’t seem to matter. Blonde but also red and brown and gold and other lesser hues hardly ever seen lushly thriving on the human (female) head. All mixed together, a tasteful swirl. And freshly shampooed, too. So that you want to reach out and stroke it, the hair, her hair, the woman sitting in front of you on this short flight—San Francisco to Los Angeles, barely enough time for the drink cart to make its dottering passage down the aisle—and who reminds you of something, someone, a feeling, a time, a place, something. You don’t date much, or rather not at all (these days at least), and this is partly why: your inability to see people as actual people and not as stand-ins or symbols for someone or something else. You are aware.
She is also traveling alone. Ah. And what’s the story there? And what is it about the pleasant, even somewhat sexy, anonymity of air travel? It is time away from ourselves, time removed. We can shed our jobs, our frustrations and limitations, our wedding rings. Every passenger a possibility, another life that you can slip into. An hour, or two, or five (depending on the destination), in which we are actors and actresses, writers, busy executives, nature photographers on assignment, all leading glamorous, bursting lives. You are none of these things. You can vividly picture the blank stare that would accompany your description of what you “do.” What you “do” is ho-hum. What you “do” actually has nothing to do with who you are, your buried essence. You imagine trying to tell her this, too, all the words coming out wrong, another language entirely, a tongue lost to the ages.
You are both aisles. This seems significant. Not windows, but aisles.
The flight attendant comes by and you say no thanks to the offer of a drink and snack, even though you are thirsty and hungry. You do not want to lose your focus as you continue filling in the blanks. She travels for work. Has had the same, or similar, thoughts. She is searching; a vague loneliness to her days and nights.
You stand up, stretch, make the first of two trips to the bathroom. She doesn’t look up as you pass, both times. There could be a beauty mark above the left eyebrow, but you’re not sure. She has long legs and a long neck and long hands. Reading, but it’s a gossip magazine, glossy and thick and perfumed. You take in all you can and then return to your seat. You like the view from the back better anyway. From there, it’s just hair. Fewer complications. She’s all yours.
The idea that cannot die—no matter how engrossing the in-flight magazine, the pathos in the faces of those depicted as about to die in the laminated emergency card or the conversation about living gluten-free going on behind you: to reach out and touch this hair. Nothing weird, nothing sexual. Just touch. Just confirmation of something. Well, maybe it is sexual, a little. But not licentious sexual. Not porn sexual. Just the affirmation that you have love and that you are willing to give it, even though you wonder if it, your love, will be too much or too little, or if these things can even be quantified in such a quantifiable manner. Probably not.
But if you did it, reached out and touched the blonde hair that is not technically blonde hair (again, there are many colors, many hues) it could get ugly. There would be stares, accusations, charges. Legal action perhaps. And isn’t that what the big retard guy in Of Mice and Men wanted to do? Just touch that woman’s hair? And then he did. And then she freaked. And then he freaked. And then he panicked and killed her. You’ll have to look it up when you get home, see if you have a copy of the book somewhere, leftover from college and rotting away next to your Hemingway, your Fitzgerald, your Vonnegut and Tom Robbins.
The plane lands. The seatbelts come off in one communal click. Then the passengers stand even though they can’t move yet. She, however, chooses to sit until it’s her turn to merge into the aisle—evidence, you decide, of her wisdom; you always do the same thing as well. You plan on jockeying to slip in right behind her, closer proximity at last, but another man—large and meaty and oblivious—snakes his way in between the two of you, his rollered carryon bag almost clocking you on the side of the head as he extracts it from the overhead bin. Once inside the airport, the woman gets caught up in a cluster ahead of you. And you have to piss. You really have to piss. So: you give up. You pull back. You start to forget the woman, her hair.
The shuttle bus that takes you to Parking Lot B is crowded. So crowded that you have to stand. Dark outside now, light when you left San Francisco. There is the drive home, the settling in at home, the coming of tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. The challenge: to remember the woman, the hair, the possibilities you felt. But you know you won’t. It doesn’t work that way, and it’s not like this hasn’t happened before. You don’t want to miss the shuttle bus stop because then you’ll have to loop around the parking lot again. No one on the bus speaks. You wait for the driver to call out your stop, and then he does, and then you obey and step off the bus, the night air rushing up at you as if it had been waiting.