:: Article

Arrows And Exit Paths

By Laura Waddell.



Friday 11:AM / 5:PM

The flight path, after an alarming stutter, appears on the screen above the tray-back on the seat in front of me and shows a small plane – lumpy, indistinct, a child’s drawing, even – hovering somewhere above a petrol blue sea I can only too easily imagine being real and deep.

I look at the miles yet to travel, the miles already travelled, and my eyes slide over them, slipping right off, forgetting in the looking. Just a few minutes have passed since I last forgot these strings of numbers, but it feels like ten, fifteen. The small pride I felt in my willpower trickles away, focus absorbed again by boredom.

The screen blinks. I’m vaguely aware of a multitude of other screens blinking in sequence. Impatient squares light up in uniform blue here and there on the 3-2-3 grid of seats. Entertainment menus of movies and games for passengers more able or more willing to switch off from the distance-from-ground reality of the situation reappear after a few seconds of routine electrical outage.

I extend a hand to tap my own information panel. The next screen displays arrows and exit paths, pointing to oxygen masks, where straps are to be fastened, and where the doors are to slide out from down an inflatable ramp to the sea. A small, calm, unisex figure, crudely drawn like a woodcut illustrates this silently, sliding smoothly with one hand raised as if waving from a carnival ride. The blank face displays no facial expression.

Zoom in on the body. The arrows dance around, position A to position B, stuck in a loop of tube to mouth; of life jacket to torso.

My eyes are static. Another 360 degrees through flight path, through distance, through safety instructions to realise I’m thinking about your body. A memory of it in white sheets. Red arrows superimposed on top, dancing around. Tube to mouth, life jacket to torso. Stuck in a loop. Small red electronic arrows all over your body.

The mental effect of the mileage lasts for days, and, unspeakably, longer afterwards. Fading in and out, facing forwards but not looking. Gazing at lips, moving but soundless, I have forgotten to speak when it is my turn, approximating a response in the long paused seconds after they pressed still. I even, once, took the wrong train. A variety of preoccupying angles are available. The way your mouth moved as I moved down you; a micro gesture, a flicker, has played over and over like a projector slide at the back of my eyes. The next screen is the metallic taste of your fingers. The unexpected, weightless swinging soar and strange pain at the sight of you buttoning up a white shirt in the morning, smiling at me under damp hair as I opened my eyes.

The screen stutters again and I’m jolted back. I panic about the fuel system, the wings. I have already assessed them; have already panicked then un-gripped my armrests and lulled. I have already thought about how I am over the sea, and you are not. I try to remember the steps of the safety instructions, just in case. I wonder how arrows can possibly save lives.




Laura Waddell is a freelance publishing professional. As a literary publicist specialising in translation, her clients include Les Fugitives, CB Editions, and Calisi Press, and was formerly Marketing Manager of Freight Books. She is also a Board Member of PEN Scotland, creator of Lunchtime Poetry, and a graduate of the University of Glasgow with an MLitt in Modernities. As a writer and reviewer, she has been published in the Independent, Sunday Mail, 3:AM, Gutter, Glasgow Review of Books, TYCI, and Parallel magazine and contributed to a number of print anthologies.



Image by Laura Waddell.



First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, January 10th, 2017.