You find your seat in the tail section, jam your bag in the foot space, buckle tight and pull some hair out of your arm, then a few strands from your eyebrow.
You don’t do this because it hurts.
You do this because you’re nervous and afraid of dying.
You think airplanes seem like they’re getting bigger every few years, while the elbow-room narrows, stuffing us like a more civilized version of how we used to ship slaves.
It’s a five-hour flight from Burbank to MIA and Amistad Airlines charges ten big ones for in-flight meals.
The flight attendant gives you this information with a mouthful of whites and sparkly blue California eyes.
You are absolutely positive her expression would be the same if she’d come over to tell you that you had a terminal disease, or that your girlfriend was stabbed to death in an SUV, along with three of your closest friends.
What if you don’t have ten dollars, you want Carol to explain.
Five hours can last a lifetime when all you’ve had since you left your motel room in North Hollywood is a Redline and stale peanuts.
Things you would never consider putting in your mouth seem all of a sudden desirable and worth exploring.
You imagine the boat ride to the new world, lying on one of those slippery slave slabs covered in essential fluids, staring straight up at the back of someone’s head for six months.
Could be your girlfriend or your sister lying next to you, and before too long, you might snap one of their necks and chew your way through just to breathe.
Some food for thought, but what you think you would do, you’d never do it like you’re thinking.
Besides, how can it be murder if you don’t mean it, if there was never any choice, except choosing between them?
Is it so hard to accept that when it comes down to it, you might love yourself more than them, or others more than some?
You pull a crumpled up ten out of your pocket and unfold it.
Someone’s written Anything to Wake Up in red ink.
You press the help me button and Carol brings your food.
You stab the last bite of chicken between your cheeks as the captain says to prepare for the initial approach into the Miami area and not to turn on our cell phones until we’ve landed and begun taxiing, because if we turn on our phones, we will cause a mid-air explosion.
If we think about turning on our phones, we will cause a mid-air explosion and if we think about a mid-air explosion, survival is imminent, and all of these things are fine, because you haven’t turned on your phone in over five months.
On your lap lives a small pile of brown hair you pulled out of your hands, arms and head strand by strand just before takeoff and during some unexpected turbulence.
It’s not always stress-related.
Sometimes it’s mindless, other times you do this in your sleep, and more often than not, it’s just really fucking stimulating, kind of like the juicy popping sound when you pull your eyelid by the lashes.
You live for that sound.
When you step out of the gate, you’re running on fumes.
You hit the bathroom and while you’re washing the airplane off your hands, you gaze in the mirror at the crusty, chapped-pink-under-the-eyes guy with bushy brows and doughy muscles you’ve become.
Your clothes are a baggy T-shirt and cargos as always.
On your left arm shines a tattoo of Harriet Tubman waving a pistol.
Over your shoulder you carry an orange duffel with some college football team’s faded emblem.
Your fellow cabin-mates continue deplaning with the same proud, chin-high glare.
Some rush for the yogurt kiosk, some step onto the moving walkway and stand on display, others stop to watch twenty-four-hour news channels on their way to baggage claim, heads cocked upwards, a laptop bag in one hand and peanut crumbs falling off their peach-colored golf shirts.
They don’t see you standing in front of the pay phone closest to the water fountain, watching them watch with careful concern like the newscast airs with them in mind.
You’re waiting for a phone call.
They told you to stand in this spot for further instructions.
Right now it’s one-thirty-something in the AM and you’re in a noisy claustrophobic airport that smells like a wet dog in a brand new car.
You tell yourself it’s about keeping things in motion.
You tell yourself it’s about not stepping backwards.
The phone rings and your hand braces the chipped receiver.
You reach up, twist and pull and before you know it, there’s a tiny bird’s nest in your palm that you shake off from between your fingers and watch as it floats downward.
You were such a nice boy when you were younger, at least that’s what your grandparents used to say when they saw you turning into a weirdo.
A weirdo trying to be an actor, trying to be other people, the kind of people who always make the right choices.
Your future was supposed to be different from this twisted mess that gets more tangled every time you try to unravel things.
You could try your sister, who’s probably calling your cell phone from another airport in God-knows-where, but why stick the blade back in both of your wounds?
The ringing gets louder and even though there’s more than enough hair on your body to wait it out, you asked for this.
You’re fresh out of excuses.
Go ahead. Do it.
Come on, you gutless loser.
You big faker.
This phone call could make all the pain go away if you’d just slip out of your brain and let it save you.
This could be your big break.
ADAM CUSHMAN‘s short stories have appeared in The Ampersand Review, Trop, The St. Petersburg Review, El Portal and elsewhere. He teaches fiction writing at Writing Workshops Los Angeles and is the President of Red 14 Films. His novel CUT releases in April 2014 from Black Mountain Press.
Adapted from CUT, by Adam Cushman, Copyright © 2014 by Adam Cushman. With the permission of the publisher, Black Mountain Press.