If you don’t count mock-up planes at the flight attendant training center, I’d only been on an airplane four times before today.
I looked up from the porthole window that made the earth below tiny and surreal.
I stared at the phone. I felt stupid and new, unable to remember who that chime meant was calling.
Mary had gone to first class to help Colleen as soon as the plane had leveled off, so there was no crew in the aft galley to pick it up. No one but me.
I took a breath. “Hello?”
“Thank God.” Deep breath. “I’m one of the cargo handlers.” Gasp. “I’m stuck in the cargo bin. Tell the captain…to turn on…the oxygen.”
He hung up. I didn’t realize it was possible to get stuck in cargo. Was this another dirty airline secret? Nothing would surprise me about this strange new world I have ventured in to. Nothing.
I called the flight purser.
“‘Lo,” Colleen answered.
“There’s a guy stuck in the cargo bin,” I said in a rush.
She snorted. “Happens all the time. Let the captain know.”
I didn’t ask her to call him, but I wanted to.
I dialed the cockpit with my heart pounding.
“Captain speaking.” There was no nonsense about him.
“Uh, this is Kari. There’s a guy in one of the cargo bins. He can’t breathe—“
“Again?” He sounded exasperated.
“He says there’s no oxygen.”
“There’s enough that it won’t kill him.”
That was that.
This is not what I signed up for. Or maybe it was exactly what I signed up for. The completely unexpected.
I was setting up the beverage cart when he called again. My fingers trailed across the caps of the minis as I counted them. Captain Morgan. Jim Beam. Johnny Walker.
“Did you tell him?” He was panicking. “I can’t breathe.”
“I told him—“
“Tell him again,” he snapped. “It’s horrible. Dark. Cold. I’m gonna die.”
“I — I will.”
“You’d better,” he said and abruptly hung up.
I peered down the aisle toward the front of the plane but didn’t see Mary or Colleen. Was this how it would always be? Me alone, setting up beverage carts while the rest of the crew drank coffee and read newspapers? I was warned about the seniority totem pole, but I didn’t think it would be like this.
I didn’t bother to call Colleen this time.
“Hi, it’s Kari. The guy in the cargo bin—“
“Not him again.” He was chewing on something.
“He says he still can’t breathe.”
“That idiot got himself locked in a cargo bin.” The captain was stern. “He’s going to cost BlueSkies a fortune in fuel to keep oxygen in cargo. He’ll take up a seat on a plane to get him back. In the meantime, Chicago is short one baggage handler. To top it off, he’ll probably try to sue the airline for his stupidity. He won’t die, but I’m not about to make it cozy for him.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Hey, can we get a couple of coffees up here?” He finished.
I tucked a stray hair back behind my ear. Except for that stray hair, I was BlueSkies perfect. Lipstick you could see from one end of the plane to the other. Earrings, no bigger than the size of a nickel. Pressed, blue polyester suit. Black two-inch heels.
I noted my fellow workers wore black flats. Mary had dyed the ends of her hair pink. Colleen had a small tattoo on the back of her neck. Things I couldn't dare while still in my probationary period. I guess that’s what comes with seniority.
It’s weird to think I might never work with these two again. It’s weird to think how every trip will be completely different. New cities. New crew. New passengers.
I walked down the aisle to the front galley. It was early, and most of the passengers were sleeping. Some quietly worked on the USA Today crossword puzzle.
I helped Mary and Colleen set up a cart to block the aisle toward the cockpit. Mary stood guard facing the sleepy passengers while Colleen set up a tray of coffees with all the fixings and a pair of muffins.
She pinned in the door code, and the cockpit door opened just as the phone rang.
I was the only one who could pick it up.
He was freaking out the moment I answered. “You tell that pilot to put the oxygen on before I sue everyone’s ass on this plane.”
It took me a moment to realize the odd echo wasn’t coming from the phone.
The cargo guy was still ranting in my ear as I peered around the corner into the cockpit.
The first officer was waiting for me to look in with a giant grin on his face.
The captain kept up his "cargo guy" charade for a moment longer and then turned, wiggled the phone at me, and winked.
The entire crew began to laugh.
For a moment I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or cry.
“You guys all suck,” I said.
They laughed even louder. I had to laugh.
Colleen’s eyes sparkled. “Welcome to BlueSkies Airways.”
Mary hugged me. “Welcome to the skies.”
My life was about to get exciting.
Charlotte Taylor lives in Massachusetts. When she is not teaching Ayurveda and yoga, she actively seeks a life of peace, study, creation, and fun. She can often be found surrounded by cats with a mug of tea enjoying a good story through books, movies, and her own pen. Sometimes, you’ll find her climbing mountains or crawling under barbed wire. You can find more of her original work at MusingClio.wordpress.com.
Carry On is a Fiction War Finalist entry. Please do not reproduce without permission from the author. Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: