For Vesna Vulović
/ one hundred and seventy / You’re standing in the aisle of a plane, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 / one hundred sixty-nine / It is 1972. You're working a flight from Stockholm to Belgrade. / one hundred sixty-eight / Someone sneezes. Someone dings a flight attendant. / one hundred sixty-seven / Three fourths of an hour into the flight you walk to the galley in the tail, / one hundred sixty-six / tuck a wisp of your blond hair behind your ear, / one hundred sixty-five / the last normal gesture you make. / one hundred sixty-four / You feel the engines’ vibrations through your feet, a / one hundred sixty-three / shutter of turbulence then fire and sound and the world lurches / one hundred sixty-two / people scream / one hundred sixty-one / claw at themselves / one hundred and sixty / a howl so horrible that maybe you pass out / one hundred fifty-nine / gravity is wrong / one hundred fifty-eight / so wrong that it knuckles you against the galley’s lockers / one hundred fifty-seven / a food cart, heavier than ever before / one hundred fifty-six / rams against your ribs, breaks a few / one hundred fifty-five / a passenger shatters into the wall next to you / one hundred fifty-four / eyes twin budges of skull / one hundred fifty-three / doubled over like a safety pin / one hundred fifty-two / the world is filled with ragdolls / one hundred fifty-one / you try to inhale / one hundred and fifty / the most human of gestures / one hundred forty-nine / but even this fails in the / one hundred forty-eight / hurricane of nothing / one hundred forty-seven / your eyelids freeze shut / one hundred forty-six / your tongue lulls against your locked jaws / one hundred forty-five / the rest of the plane sheers away / one hundred forty-four / sheers everyone away / one hundred forty-three / confetti in a tornado / one hundred forty-two / less than that / one hundred forty-one / the temperature is -55° Celsius / one hundred and forty / something like -70° Fahrenheit / one hundred thirty-nine / your eardrums rupture / one hundred thirty-eight / frost forms along your cuticles / one hundred thirty-seven / and inside your nostrils / one hundred thirty-six / did you know that wind can blow so hard / one hundred thirty-five / it becomes a maw / one hundred thirty-four / ravenous / one hundred thirty-three / you tumble / one hundred thirty-two / the tail of the plane / one hundred thirty-one / all of reality / one hundred and thirty / the horizon above and beside you / one hundred twenty-nine / so fast it’s simultaneous / one hundred twenty-eight / for the first time in this new world / one hundred twenty-seven / your lungs fill with air / one hundred twenty-six / the only right thing about all this / one hundred twenty-five / you wake / one hundred twenty-four / maybe / one hundred twenty-three / the most important mercy / one hundred twenty-two / your neck cracks as a whip / one hundred twenty-one / you shatter your upper molar / one hundred and twenty / the small things are important here / one hundred nineteen / the house key in your pocket / one hundred eighteen / a bit bent because of a sticky lock / one hundred seventeen / the garnet ring that has always been too tight / one hundred sixteen / the outline of the rip in your cardigan that you mended by hand / one hundred fifteen / these will be the things they use to identify your body / one hundred fourteen / these will be the things they mail to your mother in a neatly taped package / one hundred thirteen / centrifugal force / one hundred twelve / is called a false gravity / one hundred eleven / but there’s nothing false about how it / one hundred and ten / tramples you against the lockers / one hundred and nine / crushes the drink cart against you / one hundred and eight / you don’t know this yet / one hundred and seven / but that cart is saving your life even as it cracks more of your ribs / one hundred and six / your whole existence is reduced to / one hundred and five / cells and cells and cells / one hundred and four / faced with a physics problem / one hundred and three / the plane had been cruising at over 33,000 feet / one hundred and two / six and a quarter miles in the sky / one hundred and one / if you were walking it would take you two hours / one hundred / to cover this distance / ninety-nine / if you were running at a world record pace / ninety-eight / it would take you twenty-six minutes / ninety-seven / but you / ninety-six / you're about reach the ground in less than three minutes / ninety-five / at two hundred miles an hour / ninety-four / all of reality is condensed to cause and effect / ninety-three / as if this is ever not true / ninety-two / whenever the tail whips around / ninety-one / screeches against the wind / ninety / the windows are / eighty-nine / filled with streaks of brown and blue / eighty-eight / that old pilot joke / eighty-seven / the one that goes / eighty-six / when crashing / eighty-five / it isn’t speed that will kill you / eighty-four / it’s the deceleration / eighty-three / do you think of your grandmother’s stories / eighty-two / of Vikhor, the spirit of the whirlwind / eighty-one / do you think about the other Vesna / eighty / that other stewardess / seventy-nine / the one for whom the airline’s scheduler mistook you / seventy-eight / because you aren't supposed to be on this flight / seventy-seven / the most cosmic of jokes / seventy-six / do you think about how, right now, that other Vesna might be at the butchers / seventy-five / do you think about how it'll take her longer to receive a cut of meat / seventy-four / then it will for you to hit the ground / seventy-three / do you think about the passengers / seventy-two / still buckled into unmoored seats / seventy-one / a constellation / seventy / of bodies / sixty-nine / drops of rain / sixty-eight / do you think of the Croatian nationalists / sixty-seven / who planted the bomb in the luggage compartment / sixty-six / or do you think / sixty-five / of gravity and all that / sixty-four / you curl your fingers into fists / sixty-three / the only part you can move / sixty-two / the worst of all dreams / sixty-one / you, half-awake / sixty / primordially frozen by / fifty-nine / a silence that you know isn't there / fifty-eight / you hallucinate / fifty-seven / not of death / fifty-six / not for you / fifty-five / not this time / fifty-four / and without asking, you know that / fifty-three / when the plane crashes / fifty-two / when the falling stops / fifty-one / sometimes in a snowy field and sometimes on a wooded slope / fifty / the force will rip your three-inch stilettos from your feet / forty-nine / you'll break your left tibia / forty-eight / you'll fracture your skull and crush two vertebrae / forty-seven / you'll snap your pelvis in two places, three more ribs, and your right femur / forty-six / you'll be dying only because you won’t be dead / forty-five / but here’s your secret, the one that is going to keep you alive / forty-four / the one that almost disqualified you from working for an airline in the first place / forty-three / it’s your low blood pressure / forty-two / which is so low that to pass the physical exam / forty-one / you drank enough coffee that you shook through the whole thing / forty / so low that when the plane impacts / thirty-nine / your heart won't burst in your chest / thirty-eight / and there is luck here too / thirty-seven / a whole life’s worth, a world's worth / thirty-six / used in one moment / thirty-five / you don’t survive something like this without it / thirty-four / the only reason you weren't sucked out of the plane / thirty-three / like the rest / thirty-two / was because you were in the galley, crushed by that food cart / thirty-one / the only reason your bones won't liquify on impact / thirty / is because the fuselage will land right-side up / twenty-nine / crumpling the bottom, not the metal around your head / twenty-eight / the only reason you won't bleed out in the wreckage is because / twenty-seven / your low blood pressure will slow your bleeding / twenty-six / long enough for your screams to attract help / twenty-five / because you’ll be awake / twenty-four / of course you will / twenty-three / and the only reason you'll live long enough to reach a hospital / twenty-two / is because the first person who will find you, a woodsman / twenty-one / of all things, was a medic in World War II / twenty / how’s that for luck / nineteen / how many coins will land on edge the moment the plane hits / eighteen / right up until a brain hemorrhage will put you in a coma for ten days / seventeen / you'll hear the doctors say you won’t live / sixteen / and if you do you won’t walk / fifteen / but you know that the first thing you'll do when you wake is to ask for a cigarette / fourteen / and a month or two later, you’ll be strolling around the hospital / thirteen / won't even have a limp / twelve / all thanks to what you'll say is a childhood diet of chocolate, spinach, and fish oil / eleven / you know that in the future, whenever you board a plane / ten / which you'll do often because you resume you job as a flight attendant / nine / people will want to sit next to you / eight / especially those who are afraid of flying / seven / but you aren't there yet / six / for now, you're still falling / five / a blink from the ground / four / what else is there to say but / three / here / two / it / one / comes /
Patrick Kelling received his doctorate in Creative Writing from the University of Denver and is the fiction editor for the literature magazine Gambling the Aisle (www.gamblingtheaisle.com). His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and to Best New American Voices and Best Small Fictions.
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