The main flight attendant for his section of the plane, Vincent discovered, had a buoyant sense of humor.
That’s all I need now, he thought. All he really wanted was an uneventful flying experience. Get settled and buckled, ignore the safety announcements, keep his eyes on his book, get his complimentary snack and beverage, and rest his eyes if he was that lucky.
Now he had an amateur comedian announcing the rundown of basic safety concerns. She wanted everyone to rivet their attention to her litany of bland rules and instructions, and she wasn’t afraid to misuse both her brassy voice and the very concepts of comedy to achieve this. Vincent was now certain that he was being punished for a string of unknown sins.
“In the event of a loss of cabin pressure,” the woman said, “oxygen masks will automatically descend from the panel above your seat. Simply place the mask over your face…” She mimicked the action, putting the yellow section of a sample mask she held close to her mouth and nose. “…adjust the straps…” She pulled at the pale rubber band that hooked onto either side of the mask. “…and pull on the tube to start the flow of oxygen.” She demonstrated, straightening the clear plastic tube in front of her. “Not much of a fashion accessory, but it gets the job done,” she concluded. Many of the passengers chuckled good-naturedly. Vincent made an effort not to mold his expression into more of a scowl than it already appeared.
“Now if you’re assisting someone with a mask, make sure you put on your own mask before putting on theirs,” she continued, smiling broadly at her captive audience. “You’re not going to do them a lot of good if you conk out, now are you?” More polite laughs. Vincent focused on the book he held in his lap and offered a silent plea to heaven to deliver him from this soon. Even if that deliverance necessitated the activation of the emergency oxygen system. At least then the flight attendant would be forced to shut up.
After making jests about seat cushions serving not only as emergency floatation devices but also as excellent stadium pillows, warning that smoking in the restrooms would be caught on hidden webcams, and promising that the beverage service would be delivered that evening by cart, not flung from the ends of the aisles, the routine ground to a conclusion. Vincent realized he had been reading the same sentence for the past two minutes, and closed the book for a few moments to rest.
He felt members of the cabin crew passing by his shoulder as they hurried about their duties. Vincent had recently concluded that they in fact had no real duties, apart from the little speeches and the bartending. All the hurrying, he believed, was just filler. Busywork. Justification for their salaries. Oh, wait. They also closed the overhead bins and fetched the occasional pillow. Still, Vincent thought he might prefer it if they’d just sit down and relax.
In the bag tucked under the seat in front of him, Vincent had a variety of reading materials, but the one that most obsessed him even though he hadn’t read through it in over a week was a tight stack of letters written in a familiar loopy scrawl. These were the dispatches he’d received from Pancakes over the past year or so, scattershot details that she dashed off every so often. They were always impressionistic. Pancakes didn’t much enjoy composing formal letters, but she frequently felt a desire to jot down ideas and stray thoughts for an hour or so, and then she scrawled out a quick salutation and signature and proclaimed these as letters. Most of these went to Pastina, but when they didn’t go to her, they went to Vincent or to Pancakes’s father, Emiliano.
Despite the fact that her letters rarely had much more than a general mood or theme, the trend of those he’d received over the previous dozen months was unmistakable. As rare and as unlikely as it seemed to those who knew her best, Pancakes was in love. Vincent could almost feel himself sneer as the phrase floated through his head.
Pancakes was in love. Vincent felt cheated by it, even though he thought he’d put the idea of her ever being in love with him out of his mind years ago. But then this new guy had come along, this guy Claude, and it was as if all the years he’d spent dutifully being Pancakes’s platonic friend faded in a few moments. He was jealous and he was obsessed. And he still had to go and be just her friend. He considered ordering a cocktail when the time came, but he knew it would probably just make him sick at this point. His stomach hurt already.
Vincent remembered one particular line from Pancakes’s letter back in September. It wasn’t that details about Claude flooded out at him. They didn’t, actually. Claude was mentioned only twice. But the whole personality of that letter stood in sharp contrast to the usual Pancakes Dunst missive. The tone was, Vincent realized a few weeks after reading it (after reading it, in fact, fourteen times) completely unexasperated. That, he concluded, was shockingly new for Pancakes.
Not that she sounded content. If she had, Vincent would have called immediately to ask Pastina exactly when their friend had been kidnapped and replaced with an alien drone. Instead she mentioned feeling “idiotically optimistic, and totally ashamed of it.” She called Pastina “painfully hell-bent on having good intentions even while considering what it might feel like to strangle me.” She even suggested that her mother “almost sounded like she was thinking of talking sense for a change.”
Something had most decidedly come over Pancakes. And right now, Vincent imagined, that something was looking forward to ringing in the new year with her. Unless something happened in the next few hours to make the flight attendant’s emergency warnings suddenly pertinent, Vincent would soon arrive at his destination so he could pretend to be happy for them.