“The difference between things / that are really the same / is called Three in the Morning.”
After ascending to optimal altitude, the plane settles. Lights dim. Seats recline. Starched and pressed blue uniforms disappear somehow through folds in the walls and reappear when an index finger presses the wrong button. Passengers thumb film on the individual touch screens installed into the back of the forward headrest, as if each could peer into another’s atrium, skimming dream, nightmare, skin. Those who prefer sleep insert earplugs, don eyeless masks, turn the cabin into a battery cage of fetal mice. Lovers reveal themselves through the ease and speed by which they rest their heads on the other’s shoulders.
The low universal jostling rumble evokes the mechanics of digestion, prompting you to reach for the noise-cancelling headphones.
Wind. Rain. A howl stills your otherwise twitching hands and feet to center: pulse and breath became regular, spinning stone. As your mind winds cedar and pine, your sense of self skips the needle and then slips the body entirely. One wolf fills the sky, low pitched and long. The rogation—rounded and gradual—beginsdeep in the throat, more moan than cry, then spins into harmonics, higher layers of sound, a parallel horizon. Then a second wolf, a swath of nascence streaking the sky. Voices coalesce, a modulated chorus changing pitch too rapidly to lodge structure or form. As their rallying brawls through forest and ridge, any notion of rigid outline disintegrates and scatters. Pitch modulation, rolling hills or steep ridges lead to, fall from mesas and plateaus. Granite worn glacier-smooth. The baby teeth of jagged peaks. Dissimilated earth. Dissolved sphere.
You’ve snapped back to Seat 43 H. A mother bounces her infant up and down the aisle, her arms two tides. Glancing at the flight screen (midway across the Atlantic) and time to destination (eight hours), you seize the bottle of water while the passengers next to you snore faintly, their mouths scrawled open, and settle back into your headphones.
Arising proclamation, low rumbles echo from sea bottom to wave crest. With each note, the synchronous vibrations infix currents of mackerel, squid, phytoplankton. A rhythmic vibrato ascends and modulates pitch, as per the Australian turndun. For the Navajo, a groaning stick repels evil spirits. In Greece, the rhombus dissolves the self. In New Zealand,thepūrerehuasummons rain: azure, cerulean, cobalt, ultramarine. Each melody irrupts, peaks, then troughs. Deep in the brain, spindle cells relay neural signals from amygdala to frontal cortex. Our blood traces the shoreline configuration, pulled by thermohaline circulation, gyre, the Coriolis effect; we are not ourselves. We are saltwater circuit, conductors of time and experience: asking why, singing no answer. The pauses between notes mount a tempest space. An incantation. For sound is not bound by gravity but rather by variation of the density of the particles: one particle must collide with another to propagate wave.
Open your eyes. The overhead lighting, once a soft white, blues, then as you squint, turquoises. The walls pause to flex and bend, the cabin a pulsing concavity. A blinding light. A small child on the opposite side of the plane opens her window. An enormous retina has awakened, you a lodger in the visual cortex struggling to process stimuli: clouds, sky, blue, white.A small child catches your eye and waves, her tiny hand a sharp five-pointed blur, and you can see her mouth open as if she is trying to speak, as if she is trying to tell you something.
This is how you find yourself disembarking.
Matthew Woodman teaches writing at California State University, Bakersfield and is the founding editor of Rabid Oak. His fiction can be found in recent issues of Tishman Review, Drunk Monkeys, Oblong, and Five:2:One, and he tweets from @rabidoak1