By Paul Hagen
(Lights up on the interior of a plane. PAUL sits, super decked out for travel – he’s got a sleeping mask, neck pillow, earplugs: the works. He reaches up, as though to turn on his reading light, and is illuminated by its beam. He leans forward toward the audience as one would lean in to tell a juicy story to a friend over lunch.)
So here’s how it happened: I’m at this strange party;
The hors d’oeuvres were plentiful and pretty hearty;
It seems, Sweden was throwing a fete for the gays -
And transgenders, I guess, and those who swing both ways;
But especially the gays – celebrating gays wedding
By marrying couples in planes while they’re heading
Back to the U.S. And the couples were cute.
And the staff of the flight all sang to them, to boot.
(A flight attendant approaches PAUL. We hear the sound of a record scratching.)
Can I get you anything sir?
Oh, I’m sorry. Did I accidentally push my call button?
No, it was just—
I didn’t think so.
(PAUL stares daggers at the FLIGHT ATTENDANT, who hurries away. He leans back in toward the audience.)
Now where was I? Ah yes – it was all quite a sight,
Then the strangest thing happened, toward the end of the night.
A broad-shouldered Swede – he rose to the mic;
Promised he’d not take long but, he said, he would like
To announce which attendee would receive a prize;
Then he paused for a moment, and to my surprise:
It was MY name that he announced: a lucky break.
(Though at first I thought there’d been some kind of mistake.)
So I stepped up on stage with the couples and crew,
I shook hands with the broad-shouldered Swede, and I knew
That it would be a nightmare to schedule the trip,
But I smiled at the crowd and tried to get a grip.
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT returns. Again, we hear the sound of a record scratching.)
Sir, can I offer you a glass of water?
Oh, but will that require you go away? You know, to get the water?
It will, sir, but-
Then by all means, yes.
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT scurries away, and PAUL returns his attention to the audience.)
Since my boyfriend just got a new job, it was clear;
We’d prob’ly not schedule the trip for a year.
But we picked out a date, hoped we’d still be together,
We bought Swedish phrase books and shopped for cold weather.
In what seemed not too long, the whole year had gone by;
And we both headed off to the airport to fly.
The first thing I realized: I didn’t buy gum,
And I’d never once flown without chewing on some.
“They’ll have gum at the airport,” Justin patiently said.
(like he meant, “Don’t you worry your warped little head.”)
And, indeed, gum was found – though its price was quite high,
And I chewed it as we rose up into the sky:
I’d been worried, I – since I was young, had bad ears,
Especially for flying, but – no need for fears.
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT returns with the water.)
I’ve brought you your water, sir. Perhaps you’ll be-
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT hands PAUL the water bottle. He opens it and proceeds to turn it upside-down and drop it into the aisle.)
Oops! I seem to have spilled it. Would you be so kind as to go and get me another?
Of course, sir.
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT, somewhat steamed, heads away again. PAUL looks back to the audience.)
And just when I think that the danger has passed;
This – something – just hits me – almost like a blast
Of cold air from a car’s air conditioner vents;
My head’s suddenly tight and my body is tense;
And the light’s awfully bright; everything is too loud;
I’m aware of my nearness in space to the crowd;
I could only remember it from once before:
But it seemed I was having a migraine once more.
“But I can’t be,” I thought to myself – like a clown,
“‘Cause when you have a migraine, you have to lie down.
You need to be able to block out all light.
You need to not be on a nine hour flight!”
Attendants pass by, and one offers a drink;
I ask for a water but can barely think.
I manage to stand and from the overhead
Pull my toiletry bag – feeling like I’ll drop dead
Any second. I paw through it, barely can see.
I know I must find something soon to help me.
I grab anything that I think could help most
In amounts that might constitute an overdose:
Nighttime tylenol, xanax and also some nyquil.
I know it won’t stop the pain, but hope that I will
Pass out, and I press my palms into my eyes
And I issue a series of pained little sighs
And when they offer dinner, I push it away,
And for what it’s worth, lay my head down – and pray.
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT returns and opens the water bottle, handing it to PAUL, as – again – we hear the record scratching. PAUL takes it and sips it.)
Oh I’m so sorry. Do you have anything wetter?
I see your point. Then, maybe – colder?
I could get you ice.
Could you? Really? How perfectly perfect!
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT marches away and PAUL turns his attention back to the audience.)
When I come to, I think, well, I mean, I could swear
We MUST almost be done, but we’re just halfway there.
Justin asks how I am, asks as soft as a cloud,
But even that whisper is way, way too loud.
I rise to my feet, stumble into the aisle;
I’d laugh at myself but it hurts just to smile.
I wonder how it could have felt like so long
And yet, still, the headache’s impossibly strong.
And it might be the migraine, it might be some pill;
But the aisle won’t seem to stay steady or still;
And the world all around me seems, somehow, to buzz
At the edge of my vision, a frustrating fuzz.
So I get to the bathroom and back to my seat,
It’s a miracle that I don’t fall off my feet.
And I take some more pills, maybe just for good measure,
It’s relief to pass out again, if not a pleasure.
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT returns with a cup of ice. We hear the record scratch again.)
Your ice, sir.
Oh, in a plastic cup?
That’s what we use, sir. It’s safer.
Even in first class?
You’re not in first class.
And I’m not that thirsty, either. You can clear these both for me, can’t you?
Of course, sir.
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT takes the cup of ice and the water bottle PAUL hands her and stomps away, agitated. PAUL turns to the audience once more.)
By the time that we’ve landed, the worst has subsided;
As to whether I’m better, I’m still undecided.
The pain still feels near, as though at any moment,
It could roar right back, like a circling opponent.
Navigating the airport and down to the train,
I’m accosted by lights and noise, though not more pain.
When we’ve finally found a free automobile,
And we’re cruising through Stockholm, it doesn’t seem real.
The cab driver, he follows a long, curving road;
And soon, near a row of long building, he’s slowed.
There’s a torch that is lit just near the entranceway,
And it seems to say: Here, there is rest. Come and stay.
The desk clerk gets us checked in without delay,
Invites us to partake in the breakfast buffet.
I manage a few bites, then head to the room:
Bright and Swedish, but we make it dark like a tomb;
When the curtains are pulled – that is when I feel best,
And I sigh and unclench, for at last I can rest.
Though I know for the rest of my life, even then,
With each flight, I will fear, it will happen again.
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT returns, this time empty handed. The record scratches.)
Sir, I have tried to be patient with you, but the simple fact is: The other passengers are trying to sleep and you seem to be having a very animated conversation with nobody. Now are you going to quiet down or do I have to call the air marshall?
(PAUL stands and slaps the FLIGHT ATTENDANT hard in the face. She crumples into the aisle. PAUL nonchalantly sits and turns back to the audience.)
The great irony of it all – and this is true -
Is that one of the things you’re not supposed to do
Is to think about a migraine after it’s gone
Because thinking of them can bring a new one on.
So now even the memory’s enough to stir fears.
Oh well – at least it distracts from my ears.
(Lights up. PAUL has his sleeping mask on. He is fast asleep. He starts awake and lifts his mask, looking up at the FLIGHT ATTENDANT.)
I’m sorry to disturb you, but I brought you that water you asked for.
Thanks. Thanks so much.
(The FLIGHT ATTENDANT walks away. PAUL pulls a pill bottle out of his pocket and takes one with the water. He considers the bottle for a moment and then takes one more. And, as the lights fade, he takes one more just in case. Blackout.)