“Yes, I did.”
“What can I get you?”
“May I please have a dinner roll, two butters and a glass of Chivas?”
“Of course. I’ll be back shortly”
Celeste turned off the call light of row 44GHJ, and walked back to the mid-section galley of the Air France Boeing 777-300ER. She also did two other things on her stroll back to her station.
First, she habitually eyeballed the passengers as she passed each row, noting which ones were already asleep, and which ones were engrossed in some kind of entertainment.
So far, about a third were already passed out from that soporific cocktail of travel fatigue, altitude, mediocre airplane food and alcohol. About par for the course for this point in their ten-hour journey from Chicago to Paris, she thought. Within two hours, that percentage would creep to nearly three-quarters, and that’s when life would get nice and quiet for her and her flight attendant colleagues.
The second action was a little more frontal lobe and frankly a lot more imaginative.
She wondered if the gentleman in 44G loved his wife.
That thought wasn’t really based on the man’s request for the extra dinner roll or the Chivas Regal twelve-year. It actually was born out of a look Celeste had seen so many times on these transatlantic flights. She’d long ago learned that such flights opened portals to what often ailed passengers’ souls.
These portals presented themselves in so many ways, some more subtle than others. Some passengers engaged her and their fellow passengers in almost rabid penetrating conversation, preferring the direct approach to filling their ongoing emptiness. Others enjoyed the equally unsubtle wink and physical clues that they hoped at least gave them some kind of out in the event the recipient summarily rejected their overtures.
And some simply asked for an extra dinner roll, two butters and a glass of Chivas.
Well, she thought, the request could be almost anything. She’d heard it all – a stick of gum, a magazine, a pillow. Hell, she’d even seen a man ask to try on a woman’s dress once. On a trip over the pond, anything could happen. The rules of engagement were as open as could be.
As she moved into the galley and began pouring the whisky for Mr. 44G, she nodded to Beatrice, who smiled briefly and then went back to reading her Oui! Magazine while she took her post-dinner service break.
Beatrice was several years junior to Celeste, and to her, the opportunities for a little mile-high interaction were still shiny and interesting. Usually within the first 30 minutes, Beatrice had the economy cabin pegged.
“32A broke up with someone, and I’m pretty sure it was her girlfriend. God, a distraught lesbian can be so hot. I’d almost give it a shot.”
“56B would prefer to be anywhere than with his wife in 56A, and I’m sure he’d join me in the left-aft bathroom if I gave him the nod.”
“64D hopes a few weeks of pastry-eating and some bistros will save her from a life of uselessness. She’d be wrong. And what’s with that ‘Wives of the O.C.’ haircut? Jesus!”
This was Beatrice’s game, as it was for each of the crew. For all of them knew that the key to surviving years of working at 36,000 feet was imagination. And the combined game of ‘what-if’ and role-playing were core to that skill.
All of which led Celeste back to the stranger, whose current address was the middle hamlet of row 44G.
Every once in a while, did he search the horizon for something more? When he went to his Parisian hotel, would he immediately dial someone he cared about, or would his mistress, Ms. Email, dominate his first hours on the ground?
Did he enjoy long talks in wool-knit sweaters by a roaring fire? Did the extra dinner roll, the two butters and the Chivas underlie a hunger for an attractive, 40-something Air France flight attendant, one who actually did like long talks in wool-knit sweaters by roaring fires?
OK, stop that, she mused. You’re getting creepy. If someone asked you that, you’d be totally skeeved out.
Celeste cleared her head just about the time she reached row 44, roll, butters and drink in hand. The mysterious passenger was waiting expectantly for his request, and gratefully accepted the food and drink.
And as he did, he turned to her with stormy-sea grey eyes she’d not noticed before, locked her gaze and said:
“Thank you. I find these settle the stomach.”