Flash Fiction: Overhead Lights by Megan Cannella

Photo by Gus Ruballo on Unsplash

The fuck is this? is all Ryan could think as her overhead light was clicked off, and she felt the man in the middle seat lower his arm onto the armrest between them in a way that jabbed into her side, even as she was already making herself as small as possible. She was on a short Vegas to Reno flight. A college junior, she’d been visiting her family for the long weekend, and now, she was just trying to study for the test she was returning to. But she wouldn’t be able to highlight notes in the dark cabin of this 7somethingsomething plane. But if she turned the light back on, she’d have to deal with this guy who just announced to no one in particular and also everyone in the back half of this plane, that a girl her age shouldn’t have an aisle seat. He didn’t even seem that much older than her, so she wasn’t sure what he meant. Except she knew exactly what he meant. She exhaled, thinking, I just want to get home.

I just wanted to get home is all Cara could think as she saw the asshole sitting next to her—honestly, he was practically on her lap at this point—reach over and turn off the overhead light of the woman sitting in the aisle seat. Cara’s light was on. The cabin lights were even still on, so what difference could that light make, she thought, shaking her head and returning her focus to her book. If she met her reading goal, she wouldn’t have to bullshit her students in class tomorrow, and then, the 11 pm Taco Bell she was planning to get on her drive home from the airport could be Job Well Done! Taco Bell instead of Exhausted After Traveling All Day Late Night Sunday Taco Bell. He reached over and turned off Aisle Seat’s light again. She turned it on again. Cara paused her playlist, but kept her giant, lime green, over-the-ear, don’t-bother-me-headphones on, so she could listen to what was going on next to her. She had a feeling.

She had a feeling. Ryan recognized this feeling as the same one she gets on her walk home from her night class when someone is walking three blocks behind her. The same one got that time her English prof called on her in class. Instead of letting her answer the question, he just made that gross pull-up-your-neckline hand motion that only perverts and church ladies do—both with the same expectant, snide look on their faces. She had a feeling, and now, she had to do something about it, didn’t she?

She had a feeling, and now, she had to do something about it, didn’t she? The same one she gets when she knows the shit she’s about to take is a period shit, and she isn’t sure she has enough energy to survive it—even if it will make her feel less pained. Cara could hear this guy tell Aisle Seat she should defer to her elders. Except, Cara wasn’t even sure this guy is older than Aisle Seat. But maybe, she considered, elders wasn’t as much the point as the drunken slur that accompanied it. It was the kind of drunken slur that comes with the entitlement to manipulate other people’s bodies. Bodies can’t do much in airplane seats, but they sure can tense up. After a lifetime of slurs, Cara’s knowledge of this particular kind of slur was primal and corporeal. She assumed the same was true for Aisle Seat. Looking past Middle Seat Guy, Cara could tell she’d been doing this at least 15 years longer than Aisle Seat. Plus, Aisle Seat is trying to study, and Cara is a teacher. That makes Cara the default adult here. So, it was her turn to talk now. Deep breath.

“Hey. Leave her alone,” Cara says, reaching across Middle Seat to turn on Aisle Seat’s overhead light. She has a long wingspan. She is old and has dealt with Him before.

“She isn’t being respectful of her elders. I should have that seat,” Middle Seat said with a threatening whine.

“I am a teacher. I am not gonna let you fuck with her while she is studying. Leave her alone. Enough.” Sometimes, tone is enough, Cara reminded herself. Tone will be enough here, she manifested.

He deflated. Keeping his hands to himself, but turning to talk to Cara for the rest of the flight—that is, the entire flight—about the indignities of his life: a dead wife, a job, friends who work at a bus company that he thinks she might know. She’s never heard of the bus company. Cara relents and says she doesn’t know these people he’s talking about, so he tells her that he’s coming back from visiting his step-daughter. His dead wife’s daughter. She lives with her grandparents. He tries to be involved as much as possible, but that’s hard. He misses her and is starting to feel like he doesn’t know her anymore. Cara isn’t sure if he’s talking about the dead wife or the step-daughter. She doesn’t ask him to clarify. She decides it doesn’t matter.

Ryan listens as this guy’s drunken rants to Window Lady. Ryan tries to make sense of the notes and study guide in front of her. She should be able to focus now. She shouldn’t have to worry. He is redirected.

He is redirected. She shouldn’t have to worry. She should be able to focus now.

Megan Cannella (she/they) is a Midwestern transplant currently living in Nevada. Her debut chapbook, Confrontational Crotch and Other Real Housewives Musings, is out now and available at https://linktr.ee/mcannella. You can find Megan on Twitter at @megancannella.

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