This is a flight from Paris, France, to Dublin, Ireland. My legs are packed tight in the slot between my chair and the framework of the chair in front of me, my face already pressed against the four inches of glass on the side of this airplane. I stare at the world and the world stares back.
In here, it smells like lint, fifty-percent-recycled air, and the sweet understated juice of Trident chewing gum. I am snapping a Trident between my teeth: watermelon twist, it says on the bright green flap of paper I am rubbing between my fingers, bursting with flavor. The foil is somewhere between the seats, where I expect it will be lost to time and the tipping and tilting of the carpeted floor beneath my beat-up sneakers.
A woman wearing a big puffy jacket is trying to heave her suitcase into the compartment above our seat. I can make out the bright orange highlighter on the suitcase tags and the hair caught in the wheels. We are all apologizing to each other: her, for her big suitcase and her existence; us, for our big knees and shoulders and our existences. She leaves us with a big puff of air and a sweaty smile, and we will never see her again.
Looking out, the clouds seem impossibly high above us, just scraping at the top of the window glass. Asphalt stretches out like a puddle at our feet. Tiny orange jackets walk across the expanse, waving their arms, pushing around suitcases. A tag flutters in the wind: hello.
“This is a flight from Paris, France, to Dublin, Ireland,” slurs the pilot through static. His voice buzzes through the plane as I tip my head against the vibrating window. The soles of my sneakers rattle. The pressure in my ears mounts. I chew and chew at my Trident watermelon twist gum. Outside, the world picks up speed and then becomes a blur of buzzing asphalt and orange jackets waving their arms. My teeth buzz a symphony in my skull and then for a moment we are weightless: “Ladies and gentlemen, takeoff.”
Did you know that Trident chewing gum loses its flavor the higher you climb into the air? I don’t notice anymore, too intent on watching the world fall away beneath me. The lakes of asphalt grow smaller and smaller in the window, dwindling to the size of my thumbnail, and then into flecks of grey nail polish. The airport dissolves into a wash of white clouds, setting me adrift on a sea of thick downy cotton.
There is something half-asleep about being suspended thirty-five thousand feet above home: something dreamlike about watching the inhabitants of my planet dwindle to the size of ants and their roaring automobiles slow to a crawl. The tethers holding me down to the sidewalks disappear into the sky like spider silk: the babble and murmur of the street drift off mid-sentence. My chest, torn open during takeoff, releases its insides to the water-vapor desert outside. I watch my heart drift away underneath the wing of the plane and tip my head against the window, waiting for it to return. For a moment, a single eternity, the world stops.
The static of the pilot’s voice crackles back into clarity. “We will be arriving at the Dublin airport in thirty minutes,” he says, tuning out the prickling of the speakers. My stomach begins to sink, as well as the rest of the plane: our descent will take much longer than our climb to apotheosis.
I unpeel a new stick of gum. Beneath us, the clouds begin to dissipate, revealing a patchwork of greens and golds: shamrock, chartreuse, sage, all so far below us that each field disappears underneath the press of my thumb on the window. The airplane tilts, the wing lifting higher into the endless sky, and cornflower blue floods my window. The seatbelt sign illuminates with a thrum: I am impatient, fighting the pull of gravity and quiet to try to glimpse the rim of green in my window. Up here, the only things that grow are clouds, spreading out like sand; below us, the earth comes to life.
Another swoop of my stomach and I blink away the summer sky. Miles underneath our little windows, fingers of dark forest curl around fields, tracing the lanes and trailing along the dusty highways. I drink in the fields, embossed on the earth like stamps: brown, tan, gold, emerald, dusty green; dark stains where cloud shadows tumble onto the countryside.
Inside the plane, the hubbub begins again: a stewardess rustles a paper bag, a passenger clicks his seatbelt, a bubble of Trident watermelon twist gum bursts with a pop. I let the sound cocoon me and my window as we watch the trees, the trucks crawling down the dusty highways. The press of the window glass sits warm against my skin. There are horses—sheep—a bright red Ford. A willow waves its arms in the breeze: hello. I almost blink and miss it, but I do not.
I want this, all of this: the oaks, the poplars, roaring in my ears and the roughness of the asphalt beneath our whirling wheels. “This has been a flight from Paris, France, to Dublin, Ireland,” says the pilot through the noise. I know: I was there.
“Neither here nor there” was awarded a Silver Key in the 2023 Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards.