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The man dropped my arm as if I'd burned him, and grimaced, his face distorted in the dim blue and white light of the aisle bulbs. Badly frightened, I burst out laughing at his exaggerated gestures, and he rushed off to find a stewardess.
I finally managed to unlock my cramped, throbbing fingers from around the EXIT handle and took more deep breaths. When I looked up, the stewardess was leaning over the seat next to me, staring at me, her look of horror barely masked by her plastic smile. "Excuse me, Miss..." she paused, paging frantically through her passenger list to locate my name.
"Turn on a real goddamned light!" The elderly gentleman hovered at her elbow, clearly convinced he'd saved the lives of everyone on the aircraft.
"Please sir, I understand your concern, but I must ask you to please keep your voice down and go back to your seat." The stewardess turned her hysterical toothy grin on him.
"This is my seat," he snapped, sitting down suddenly in the seat next to me, "and I expect protection in my own country from the likes of foreigners like her!"
The stewardess ignored him and fastened her eyes on me. "Are you all right, Ms. Kite?"
"I didn't realize the plane ticket included a therapy session," I said calmly, though I still felt badly shaken. My second death dream in as many nights. "If this happens three times," Brigitte had told me, "you will have to die."
The stewardess smiled grimly now. "Ms. Kite, I'm going to have to ask you to come with me."
I peered out the portal window without answering her.
"Into custody. You have committed a federal offense endangering the lives of everyone on board." She gripped my arm, the plastic smile gone. "Let's go. I'm reporting this to the captain."
I pulled back and held out my hand, palm up, fingers straight, crying at the pain the instinctive movement had cost me. My heart pounding, I looked right into her tense, angry face. Taken into custody. I glanced up at the overhead bin which held my precious burial objects. After locking me up again, they'd go through them, find the catnip, the jingle ball, the stone wisp of blue-grey smoke. And this time, they'd probably take my chisels, my hammers, my other sculpting tools as well. My free hand went to my pocket and felt for the keys to my studio where I kept my oven, my rods and glass mixtures, my stone trees, my lamb, my scorpions, my felucas, my mother's stones - I couldn't be locked up again. I wiped away my tears and fought to remain calm. "No, please, I'm sorry." I tried not to tremble, still achy and nauseated. "I just had a nightmare. I wasn't trying to endanger us, please, I'm awake, it's okay now, please..."
The stewardess looked right at me, her jaw clenched, her eyes narrowed.
My fingers throbbing in time with a tiny twitch in my left eye, I returned her gaze, hoping she couldn't see my fear. She drew in a loud breath, tightened her lips, and cast another look around. Everyone else appeared to be asleep; no other reading lights were on. The emergency lights cast a sick blue hue on her face. "What you've done constitutes a very serious crime. I should have you arrested."
"Please. Don't arrest me."
"I would have you moved if there was any room on the plane, but we're full."
"Nothing else will happen," I promised.
She nodded. "That's right, because I will keep an eye on you, Ms. Kite."
"That's it?" my seat partner whispered, barely able to contain his rage. "You women always giving each other a break - I'm going to report this to the captain and the airline, and I'll have your job and your head on a platter."
The stewardess stared at him, her plastic smile back. Only this time, it masked rage rather than fear. But her voice remained perfectly polite. "Mr. Jones, I will be happy to move you up to a seat in first class where you will be entitled to all the amenities as well as give you two round-trip tickets good indefinitely to anywhere in the world this airline flies."
He glared at her. "Two first class tickets."
"Of course," she returned coolly, her eyes meeting mine once more as she handed me a blanket. He snorted and made ready to follow her to the first-class cabin.
I nodded and they moved away down the aisle. Her head. Mother. My fingers twitched under the scratchy, dark blue airline blanket, itching to pull that EXIT handle. I looked instead for my other half a Valium. Akio didn't know I had it, didn't know I took it for the too many times when the pain in my joints grew too heavy, too stiff. I got jittery after I saw other passengers rooting around in the overhead bin where my bags were. I knew they were just looking for somewhere to put their own
luggage, but I had to stop myself from reaching up and closing the bin doors so they'd get away from my things. People aren't going to steal from you anymore, I kept telling myself, but I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that they could quite simply and easily take my things for the funeral. The stone smoke, the cat toys.
I got out my pill case and opened it. The tiny, yellow half a disk was barely the size of a fingernail paring. I swallowed it dry. "V for valentine, eh?" Danny had said, laughing when I told him the stenciled center of the pills looked like a heart. He was the one who first got me Valium, after finding me rubbing my fingers and crying on the floor in front of my mural wall at the Home because it hurt too much to finish painting the outstretched wings of the Bennu Bird in my Egyptian landscape. "This'll keep you going, even after you finish the felucas and the scorpions," he scoffed and slipped a tablet to me. He wasn't addicted to Valium. "Addiction means you're afraid," he'd say. He just used to keep it around for when he really freaked about something, which was almost never. Said it made nothing matter, that you just floated. The Home didn't seem real after Valium. It made all the full-to-bursting ache in my veins recede. Best of all, it permitted me the sleep of the dead. Danny was afraid one time after I took it because I fell asleep so hard that he was shouting my name
and shaking me until I came awake, both fists flying.