Flight Papers

feminism and creativity, art, madness, and play

Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

Emphasis.

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

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She smeared long trails on her face and jeans as she worked. Bits clung to her ankles. “It’s not so bad,” she said, sawing. “It’s not like I killed them all.”

9. witness

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

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He is fucking me. On a thin blanket laid out on a concrete floor in the middle of a tiny Indian apartment, he is fucking me. I can smell the faint residue of his Bidis and whiskey on his face. His chin and cheeks rub roughly against my face as he thrusts, my makeup smearing. He grunts with each thrust. I’ve wrapped my legs around him, and I’m trying to keep up. Together, we smell like beer and smoke and sandalwood and sex.

His cock pulls me wider, wider, more open.

I scream as he fucks, and it’s part pain, part pleasure, part the raw intensity of the sensation.

“Hijra pussy is the best,” He says between grunts, and I don’t correct him.

(more…)

8. grief

Monday, July 27th, 2009

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My mother cries the night before her mother’s funeral. I know this because we—her, the cousins, her brother—are sharing a room, a cramped sleeping space next to a larger one, where her sisters are sleeping. Her brother speaks to her in Hindi for a while, hugging her, but eventually, even he has to go to sleep.

I am sleeping just next to her. She puts a hand on my shoulder; I tense.

“You were always such a beautiful boy,” she whispers in the darkness. “I think I’m losing you.”

“I’m just afraid,” she says.

(more…)

5. avial

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

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My mother and her brother pick me up from the airport. There would generally be more family members here—her four sisters, perhaps some of my cousins—but I think she wanted to look me over first. I’m simply thankful for the reprieve. I hug my mother, and as she kisses my cheek I can’t help but notice how many grey streaks have appeared since last I’d seen her. My uncle, smiling, tells me I looked very handsome. My mother doesn’t say anything.

We drive through heavy Bangalore traffic for over an hour. Petrol is more expensive, and my uncle’s car, like most in India, doesn’t have air conditioning. It’s well over a hundred degrees as they quiz me about London, New York, Katie, and I reply in the most mundane way possible. New York was nice. London was prettier. Yes, of course, I’m very excited to see everyone.

My uncle’s house is concrete, spacious, and painted a brilliant turquoise on the outside. It glows in the hot sun.

“We’ve been making a lot,” my mother says. Her eyes look sunken when she says it, and I wonder how much sleep she’s had over the last few days, “Cooking a lot. So you and your cousins can eat together.”

I have six cousins on my mom’s side of the family. Present: Akhil, Kavita, Prema, and Swasti. Laksmi and Pravti are in Trivandrum, with their father. They’re sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor, talking. They have banana leaves in front of them, but there’s no food on them yet.

“Come on,” Akhil gestures me over, “You all remember ______?”

They all smile, searching my face, trying to find the few hints of familiarity. I embrace them.

“They’ve been cooking for us all day,” Kavita says. “I think it’s helping give my mom something to do.”

“But they didn’t let us eat it until you got here. I’m famished. We cut down banana leaves for you.”

Because, of course, few people in India actually eat on banana leaves anymore. Plates, cups, even flatware, it’s all stainless steel.

There’s a constant presence when Indian families gather. It doesn’t matter if it’s a homecoming or a birthday; a wedding or a funeral. When we come together, there is always food. When a lot of the family comes together, there is a lot of food. And today, with our family grieving, the food doesn’t stop coming.

First, since it’s still morning, there are dahi vadas and medu vadas, idlis, coconut and tamarind chutneys, sambar and dosas and potato pollia. There’s chai and mango juice (the same brand, I note amusedly, that is sold in every Indian store in the States) and coconut water, taken directly from the coconut. And then, almost immediately, there’s lunch: avial and rasaam, channa masala and Bisibelebath.

Each dish, each bite, evokes family. Memories of spices, soft cooking smoke that made me cough as a girl; the sweetness, the simple, uncomplicated pleasure of eating together. That’s the point of this. That’s why my Indian mother, when she took a break, urges me to eat more. She doesn’t think I’m skinny. She had surely noticed that my hips, my cheeks, my chest have all filled out. But she knows the food is a tool of bonding. She is trying, actively and subconsciously, to draw out that connection once more.

She asks if she can feed me some food.

It’s something that mothers and grandmothers do with very small children. They feed them, manually—that is, with their hands. It’s usually yoghurt rice, with salt and cumin, or if they’re older, pilaf or avial. I want to tell her no, that it would embarrass me and her, but looking at her eyes, her hair, I can’t do it. I ask for avial.

She pushes some avial in her plate, balling it in her hands and taking it between her fingers. I open my mouth, and she pushes it in.

Ignoring my cousin’s averted eyes, it almost feels, for a second, like home.

4. liminal

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

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“Your mother passed away this morning.”

“What? Mom, are you—?”

“No, my mother. I’m sorry. She didn’t get to see you before she died. When will you be here?”

“I’m getting on the plane now.”


I enjoy flying quite a lot. I enjoy the parts of it that most people hate. The scuttling, the shuffling—print boarding pass, go to security, shoes off, purse in one tray, backpack in another, x-ray on, thanks ma’am you can go through, x-ray off, backpack on, purse on, shoes on, go to the gate, wait, board. I’ve loved it since I was a little girl, the ritual of travel, the anticipation of change.

This is always better when leaving. Going somewhere new. Returning home has never lifted my heart in the same way.

That night, my backpack felt heavy, my back ached, my purse didn’t sit right. I smoked before going in the terminal, and immediately kicked myself—I wouldn’t have a way to shower before seeing my mother. The residue seemed to cling to everything, my hair, my skin, my lungs, the terminal walls. It was choking—in my mind, it smelled of sandalwood.

The ritual felt like a funeral procession. I suppose it was.


I love taking off, tearing away from the earth.

I like landing, returning to the ground someplace new.

The parts in-between, I could do without.

Whatever your level of excitement, at some point it becomes evident that you are in a metal tube with five hundred other people, and you will be in this tube, hearing every cough, every sneeze, every god-help-you baby’s cry, for the next several hours. Eleven, in this case.

I usually try to sleep, forgetting whatever sleep schedule I had and forcing my body to shut down. I can’t usually read, and for the same reason, I can’t usually write. On a more recent flight, I actually talked to my seatmate. We groused about the movie and talked about our respective significant others. She was in a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend—they had sex maybe once a month. I had just been away from my girlfriend for all of a week, and that by itself was difficult. Then we sneaked into the lavatory and I went down on her as she tried not to scream into a regulation blue airline pillow, until the Fasten Seat Belt sign pinged on and an elderly flight attendant tapped on the door and politely asked us to return to our seats, where we groused further about the movie.

On this flight, though, I didn’t feel like talking, and even thoughts of the previous night were tinged with an ineffable grief. For eleven hours, my night, I tried to sleep, and could not.


I arrive in Bangalore. The airport is dirty, though there are a few people cleaning it somewhat forlornly. I wonder how much they are paid. I wonder if they are paid, and if they will ever in their lives be able to take for granted the experience I just did.

Thanks to the miracle and horror of time zones, it’s now nearing mid-day. Through the windows, the sun is obscenely bright. The sky looks perpetually over-exposed.

My family will be waiting for me outside the security area. The security area, in this instance, feels safe. Secure. It feels like the last such place that will ever be.

I contemplate, seriously, finding another flight and getting on it, possibly without a ticket. I contemplate begging, pleading. I contemplate stealing a boarding pass. I contemplate spending the last of my own money. I don’t.

I go into the bathroom and begin to change.

I enter a stall and pull off my t-shirt, smudging some makeup onto it in the process. I take off my bra. From my backpack, from the very bottom, I pull out an ace bandage and some small clips (sometimes, they won’t let you through security with safety pins). The bandage does not match my skin. I wrap the bandage slowly, tightly, starting mid-way up my ribs. It’s uncomfortable. I pull it tighter, until my tits are jammed tight, nearly flat against my ribcage. It’s tight, tight enough, tight enough to hurt, but not tight enough to account for the tears streaking down my face. I clip it securely.

I find another shirt, looser and less revealing than the previous, and I go out to the mirrors. I brush my teeth, getting rid of as much of the smoke taste as I can. I brush dry shampoo into my hair. I carefully reapply my makeup, wiping away smudges and tapping on concealer and finishing powder until my skin is smooth again. I wipe off all the makeup around my eyes. My reflection looks nearly dead. I chide myself for thinking so, then add a bit of lightening concealer beneath my eyes. I don’t wear lipstick, but I wipe off the remnants of my slightly tinted, slightly shiny chap stick, and resolve to buy a new, clear tube.

Thus changed, I go to meet my family.

3. gone

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

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London whips by in a blur.

We go to Westminster Abbey, and fail to see the changing of the guard. We fly the London Eye once, the world opening up at its apogee as if offered to us by Satan on a silver platter. Camden town brings us cute clothes, Oxford—a day trip—brings me a somewhat novel desire to go to graduate school.

We sleep in our hostel, on a raver’s floor, on trains and buses. We don’t speak for a day—not for any particular reason, only because it had become tiring and unnecessary. We twine our fingers hourly, even then.

Today is our last day in London. It’s our last day together, for a small eternity, at least. We flew the Eye again, earlier, and the whole flight felt less a temptation and more an extended goodbye to my friend, who I love, and this city, which I have also come to.

We tumble through the streets and circles and alleys, still dizzy from the Eye’s height or something else. We end up in Leicester square, curled on a bench in the gardens. These are old gardens. Old buildings. Old homes.

“Let’s stay another night.”

Katie looks at me, hugs me close, closer. She speaks softly: “Come on.”

“I thought that was our, y’know.” I stop for a beat and consider. “Our goodbye.”

“No.” She runs her fingers down my face. “No. No. No.” With a timing possible only in movies and life, the phone in my purse starts to hum distantly.

(more…)

2. arrival

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

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For the first hour we were in London, I felt like little pieces of me were being dragged across the Atlantic, waiting to catch up. That was the first hour. Then my soul snapped back, and I discovered that London felt more like home than any place I’d been.

(more…)

1. undertow

Monday, June 15th, 2009

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There’s something almost pathologically beautiful about the New York subways. Why, for one thing, are the cars fitted with windows? It makes little sense, from a practical standpoint—either the trains will be in motion through dark tunnels, or they will be at a station, and their doors will open. Yet, I’m truly grateful to whoever decided they needed windows, because the twisting curves of light as our train makes its turns are hauntingly lovely. On the straightaways, if you stare out into the tubes for long enough, your eyes will start to adjust to the movement of shadows in the tunnels. You can see the disused train platforms flicker by, other passages splitting off from your own track at strange angles. People live there. Other things, too. Giant alligators and other monsters, assuredly. There are meant to be miles of tunnels—some with tracks, others not—that simply sit under the city, not used for anything anymore. Just waiting.

Katie tells me later that there’s a whole community of “sewerers”–people who go spelunking in sewers and abandoned buildings. It isn’t exactly safe, obviously, but I’m fascinated, partially by her magnificent prescience.

And then she asks me, in almost the same breath, why I am going to India by way of half the cities in the continent.

(more…)

Three touches.

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

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The first time I touched a woman, her name was Kate, and we were in the eighth grade, and I didn’t want to. We were at a party with the boys—her boyfriend and mine, and some other miscellaneous friends. We had gotten a bottle of vodka somewhere, probably somewhere illegal, and we were passing it between us. I don’t remember who or why, but someone said that Kate and I should kiss. They didn’t phrase it like that—it was less a command and more of a distant, almost academic observation. Something like, “gawd, it’s really fucking hot when girls kiss.” Our task was, nevertheless, clear.

(more…)

Peculiar Creatures, One.

Friday, March 14th, 2008

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I didn’t go looking for the man. We crossed paths in the street, and he spun like I was a magnetic thing.

Hey. Hey, girly. Hey!

He stumbled slightly, not drunk, just unsure of his feet. I tried to walk past him, but he was stuck on. Shoe-bubblegum. I stopped, I turned. The man was surprisingly clean, his face shaved, his hair cut, his breath was musky but not terrible. His eyes were clicking around in their sockets, but they focused on me, and I felt a muscle clench just above my stomach.

“You know something? You know what? You know what? I did it. You see that guy? Did you see him? On the corner?”

He gestured vividly to a building, behind which was a street lined with yellow tape.

“The police were there,” I said. Trying to say: and that is because it is their job to be there. In the same way that it is not yours and not mine. In the same way that we are not a part of this, not even if you pulled a random trigger on a random guy on a random street. And so you should run away. You should go home to your sixteen-year-old wife and two-year-old kid and you should forget me and forget this street and if you walk away right now and never come back, you will be free in a way you can’t even imagine.

I suppose it didn’t get across, because the man continued, “’cuz I blew his brains out. I shot him in the head.”

You couldn’t have shot his brains out, I did not tell him, because he stumbled two blocks before collapsing in front of that restaurant. The waiters came out, and he mumbled. Said some guy tried to mug him, said he ran. They called 911. And when the paramedics came to take him away, he muttered something that nobody else could hear. They lifted him into the ambulance, and he muttered more, the parts of his brain still there firing at random. It was beautiful day. Lovely and white and crisply chilly, and it was so bright that there was nothing to do but lie down on the sidewalk and try to die. He left a pool of blood behind, which it is somebody’s job to clean up.

A reporter came up to me as I left the place, and asked if I’d seen anything. I hadn’t, save for the medics, and the blood.

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I blew his brains out! And that motherfucker ran! He was running, even as his brains were leaking out! Like he’s a fucking Stranger. Do you think he was a Stranger? Man, if I killed one, that’d be it.”

He said “it” like he’s reveling in it. Like it’s a jubilation. Like he’s won the lottery, and all he has to do is pick up the check.

There was a bulge in his jacket pocket. I hadn’t noticed it before, but once I did, it was impossible to not see. It expanded like a cancer, becoming bigger than the man, bigger than me.

“He didn’t do it right, you know? When someone has a gun, you respect them, right?” It’s not a question. “That’s what you do. That’s what’s done. But he was, like, I’m bigger than you. I know you. I have power over you. But whose brains are now on the sidewalk all like paint?”

I felt a burning in the back of my throat, rising up very slowly.

“Jesus! Why are you talking to me? Why are you saying these things? Why are you saying these things to me?”

“I guess I just like you,” he grinned a little, goofy and genuine. And then he was all business. “But you’ve seen me.”

His hands slide towards to the pocket-balloon-cancer-gun, and my legs lock up. The sun is just dipping below the buildings, spilling that brilliant red-orange glow over the glass and concrete, and I realize once again that knowing the future does not bring calm.

“You can’t just go. You can’t. Isn’t how it’s done.”

“That’s stupid,” and I am at this point very aware that I’m reading from a script, “I don’t know you. I couldn’t pick you out from a bunch of random guys. Witnesses don’t mean shit. Our eyes lie, your face lies”

“You can’t,” he shook his head vigorously, “You can’t.”

I tried to look him straight in the eyes, but they were sliding over the street and buildings and twitching into the sun.

“You are not going to enjoy the next few minutes of your life. I am a Stranger.” And as I turned away, he tore out the just-a-gun, and pulled the trigger.

If you don’t know you’re going to get shot, I’m told, it’s not so bad. Shock sets in immediately, and every medic has a story of someone who comes in not even knowing they got shot. When you know you’re going to get shot, it’s all different. You tense up. Every muscle just locks into on, and this is the most worthless possible response. And knowing the pain is coming, your brain looks for it, and finds it before the shock jumps in and cuts all the switches.

He fired two bullets. One went into my leg, and cracked my femur, and broke into nine separate pieces. One went straight through my left lung. I screamed in a way that’s so loud and so piercing that it doesn’t have a sound. They don’t make sounds like that, not after Babel.

He’s saying something, but at that point, crumpled and screaming on the sidewalk, I was somehow much more concerned about the mess I was leaving than I was worried about what he was going to do. He just drifted away, like I was being pulled into a bog, and he couldn’t keep up. His voice and footsteps dulled, became soothing and muted and rhythmic.

The Stranger pulled me up again, and I had no choice but to spasm, choke for air, and swear profusely.

“Fuck. Fuck! God.”

“Shh. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. Not meeting him today.”

Her voice was light, and clean, and crisp. She held my head up and massaged my scalp as her fingers probed inside the hole in my torso. This hurt exactly as much as it sounds like it might.

It was almost dark.

“Jesus, Naz. How long?”

“Five minutes, honey. Sorry.”

“Had to take a shit?”

“There’s a lot of damage here.”

I could feel her fingers inside me, pulling and kneading tissues together like they’re putty, repairing me like a damaged sculpture, trying to avoid the nerves that would cause me the most pain. I try to avoid thinking about how her hands must look right now, while they’re inside.

“They get him?”

“Kasta and Ikasi bound him. They’re waiting for the police.”

I had to laugh at that, slightly, though I immediately regretted doing so. She became more serious.

“He’s very damaged. You shouldn’t play with them.”

“Fuck, Naz. This isn’t a game. Which of us is dying, huh?”

I tried to look up at her, but my eyes could barely open through the pain. I had seen her before, though. Gleaming. Pure. The Protector. Her eyes are white, her hair the pearly-clear of fiber-optics and polar bear pelts. These were natural; she was born an albino. Her skin is not skin, but a coat of tiny, soft feathers. You would not notice this from afar, and it is, relatively speaking, a recent development.

“You are not dying,” she told me, her fingers now twisting tiny lead shards out of my leg. “You are the opposite of that.”

I heard another bullet fragment drip onto the sidewalk. I heard, far away, a three-eyed man and a winged woman moving on the ground. They were holding a man in thin chains not made of silver, with a scarf not made of silk tied around his jaw and head, and something similar wound around his heart to keep him quiet. He and they were waiting. And I heard, far, far away, a gunshot, a scream, dripping blood, running.

“So if it is either of us,” she worked a bit free—twist, twist, plink—“Then it must be me.”