“You’ve been dead for twelve years, three months and sixteen days.”
She looked down at her Apple watch. Mickey Mouse, smiling, tapping his feet without a care in the world, acting more like that bastard Bugs Bunny who definitely would have laughed about me getting such news.
I didn’t know what to say, would you? I mean how many times in your life, or then again maybe not in your life, are you told that you’re dead?
And this woman. I had seen her in the lounge prior to the flight taking off. If I had to describe her to a sketch artist I’d say she was in her early hundreds, but then again, I’m horrible with ages. She had curly hair and wore round wire rim glasses. She looked like she read the Saturday Evening Post, print, not the online edition, drove a Peugeot with all sorts of bumper stickers on the back supporting Greenpeace or the rain forests, but at least none of those stick figure families or anything with respect to her kids, who were probably in their eighties themselves, being the honor student of the week at their grade school. She lived in Scarsdale or Hastings or Rye Brook, in a big house that she won in the divorce from her husband, who, out of character for anyone in those towns, left her for an older woman. Of course, I knew none of this as her death proclamation was the first time I heard her voice.
“You’re dead, any questions?”
“I don’t know what to say.”
She swallowed what was left in her plastic cup and then just looked at me. Before I had a chance to say something or at least look away, the flight attendant came up. He was a guy in his thirties or maybe sixties, who looked like he could bench press a house, had a shaved head and a five o’clock shadow that boarded on the wrong side of being a douchebag. He was a
ringer for Stephen King, not the author, but the neighborhood bully who lived down the street from me when I was growing up. He was two years older, a grade behind, and gave me nightmares for decades. Back in the seventies, he ruled.
“Can I get you something else?”
“Another one for me, and get him a double.”
Stephen picked up her glass and left.
“Well, you’ve been caught in a loop. Most people go on for one, maybe two years tops, but you kept right on going. After a while, you got lost in the shuffle. Now we’ve decided it just has to end.”
I know she just spoke those words, but like everything else, it made no sense. And I knew, she knew, I had no clue. I think at this point she just liked screwing with me. She may have been about to say something more, but Stephen brought over our drinks.
“We land in twenty minutes so no more after this one.”
She drank it one gulp.
“I’ll take another one then.”
He shrugged, laughed and took her empty glass.
“So who are you…really?”
She then looked around and seeing the coast was clear, took out a vape, sucked in a big hit and then put her cover over her head, expelling the smoke into the blanket that I’m sure hadn’t been washed in years. She saw me look in disbelief and laughed.
“I mean, we only have twenty more minutes.”
You had to admire the old broad, but there was still the issue at hand.
“Ok, if I’m dead, how did it happen.”
“Blunt force trauma.”
She stared at me, like I was supposed to know.
“That doesn’t tell me anything.”
“Just outside Wickenberg, Arizona. You stopped at the McDonald’s, used the bathroom, got some large fries and a Diet Coke, and went on your way. “Annie Get your Gun” by Squeeze was playing on the radio and as usual, you were singing out of tune.”
“There’s no need to be mean.”
“I’m just presenting the facts. Anyway when you got to the chorus, you tried to pass that eighteen wheeler on the two lane stretch of highway, but miscalculated and drove into a tree. Such a shame, about five hundred feet up, the road opened up.”
I had taken that same route many times and that McDonald’s was always a bathroom lifesaver. “I remember that day. The guy was doing, like, fifty. I finally had an opening, made my move and the guy sped up. It was close, but I know I made it.”
“I’m sure I did.”
“I’m sure you didn’t.”
“Ok, so then what’s been happening with me? I have a life. My job, my golf, my travels. I do things everyday. Explain that.”
“Like I said you’re caught in a loop. All those things are just past memories. This is the first actual trip you’ve taken since the crash.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Think about it about it this way. You know the movie Groundhog Day. It’s like that. The same thing over and over again.”
“But in the movie Bill Murray realizes he’s in your so called loop.”
Ha, so much for this nonsense.
“Well, you’re not the Bill Murray character. You’re one of the supporting people who has no idea what’s going on. You do the same thing day after day and have been for the past twelve years, three months and sixteen days.”
Just then the final two chimes went off. I was happy to almost be down. She was starting to creep me out.
“Look, I’m not sure what’s going on, but I wish you luck in finding whatever help you need.” “IHOP 4AM.”
“It’s on the strip. Be there at 4AM and everything will be answered. It’s your time. It’s been long enough. It’s time to end this.”
“And what if I don’t show up?”
Bang. A screeching of wheels. And cheers and applause and shouting.
“Welcome to Vegas. Please stay seated until the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign. That will be your indication that’s its safe to leave your seat. Take care when opening the overhead bins as your luggage may have shifted. A uniformed attendant will be able to direct you to the baggage claim and any connecting flights. We once again apologize for the delay, and welcome to Vegas.”
A dream. It was all a dream. Proof positive was the three hundred pound guy in the light blue velour Adidas sweatsuit who most likely drove a Camaro with t-tops and no doubt was from New Jersey who was in the middle seat, but more accurately, was in my seat as confirmed by the sweat stain he left on my shirt as he pressed me against the window. I had never been happier to be so enveloped.
And what the hell was that dream about. Dead? In a loop? I mean I know I’m a creature of habit and always said that any amateur private eye would have no problem tailing me, but a loop, doing the exact same thing everyday for twelve plus years. Ridiculous.
Finally, the Sasquatch sitting next to me removed his body from mine and I was finally on my way. Walking down the aisle, I almost froze when I saw him, Stephen King, not the author or bully, but the flight attendant from the dream.
“Thank you…have a great time….thank you again…sorry for the delay…thank you…”
There has to be an explanation. Why is he here? It can only be that he was the last thing I saw before I drifted off to sleep. It’s why I can’t watch a murder show before bed or I spend the entirety of my REM cycle running from the cops for a crime I didn’t commit.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“What is it sir?”
“I know this is going to sound crazy, but at some point was there an old lady sitting next to me, pounding down gin and tonics and talking about me being dead?”
He just looked at me. It was at just that moment I saw the same smirk come across his face as the time Stephen King, not the author or flight attendant but, the bully, accused a bunch of us eleven year olds of stealing candy from the snack bar attached to the town pool when he was the real culprit. A week without swimming, I’ll never forget.
“No sir, no old woman. As I recall, you were asleep most of the flight.”
A dream, just as I thought. Why I even let these things get to me? It was time to put this nonsense behind me and…
“And by the way, enjoy IHOP.”
He winked and pushed me out the door. And with that, I walked into the light.