by Brian Rowe
Agatha sat in a window seat of the Boeing 737, fiddling with her thumbs and trying to stay calm. This wasn’t one of her better days — her claustrophobia was starting to overwhelm her as much as the stinging in her heart.
She peered to her right to see a middle-aged man in the window seat on the other side. With his short salt-and-pepper hair and thick black framed-glasses, he reminded her of her only child she had buried the day before. He looked up from his thin paperback and nodded to her. She quickly faced forward.
A stream of people of all shapes and sizes started heading down the middle aisle. She made it the day’s mission to avoid eye contact with all the passers-by. She wanted her space. She wanted to be left alone.
“Is this seat taken?” a man asked.
Agatha didn’t respond right away. Despite recently celebrating her eighty-sixth birthday and developing a mild case of glaucoma in her left eye, her hearing hadn’t faded one bit. She had heard the man.
Yes. Both seats. Please go away.
He sat down anyway, plopping himself in the aisle seat. He buckled his seatbelt, leaned back, and put his left foot up on the chair in front of him, clearly making himself at home.
He was a slickly dressed pretty boy in his late twenties. His obnoxiously small Bluetooth earpiece signaled to all those around him just what an important person he was.
“ — it’s the last time I’m gonna tell you, Bob,” the man said at a boisterous volume, continuing a rapid conversation into his earpiece, “he’s not gonna pony up a single dime. If you want to see a return on that P&A money, the last thing you want to do is deal with a lying, manipulative prick like Todd Raphaelson — ”
The man’s inanity grated on Agatha with every word spoken, and for the first time in her life, she wished both her eardrums would explode simultaneously, not to cause her any pain but so that she could sit in silence.
“Please keep your voice down,” she managed to say out loud, but the man didn’t hear her, or, more likely, chose to ignore her.
She shifted her weight closer to the window. It was finally starting to get dark outside.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a female voice said over the speakers, “I just wanted to remind you that this is a completely full flight. Please take the first available seat so that we can back out of the gate and get you on your way as soon as possible.”
The thought of sitting two seats over from this certified nincompoop for the next couple hours filled Agatha with a quiet despair, but another person in between them, giving her no room to breathe, would really challenge her increasingly volatile mental state.
She watched as three dozen more people fumbled their ways to their seats. One of the last individuals to board the plane, a young blonde girl who looked obnoxiously comfortable in her tanned skin, pulled off an over-sized pair of sunglasses and pursed her lips as she tried to seek out an empty seat.
Please don’t look over here. Please don’t look over here.
“Oh my God, Jeremy?” she asked in a high-pitched voice.
A second later: “Zoe?”
The old woman watched with disdain as her neighbor unbuckled his seat belt and stood up to hug the girl.
“Hey Bob,” he said into his earpiece, “I’ll call you back after the flight.” He pressed the phone off and wrapped his arms around the girl. She looked no older than twenty-five. “Zoe! It’s so nice to see you!”
“You, too,” she said. “It’s been a while.”
“When did we last see each other?”
She took a moment to think, but Agatha could tell this girl knew exactly the last time she had seen this man. “Last summer, I think? Mike’s Fourth of July party?”
“That’s right,” the guy said, nodding, appearing a tad uncomfortable. “So what are you doing in Seattle?”
“Oh, just visiting some family. What are you doing here?”
“Just working. You know how it is. Man, I can’t believe I haven’t seen you since last summer. You look fantastic.”
“Thanks.” She pointed to the middle seat. “Is anyone sitting there?”
He smiled and took a step back. “Nope, nobody. Have a seat.”
Agatha swallowed before letting out a sorrowful sigh.
The plane had been in the air for thirty minutes, and the two simpletons sitting next to her hadn’t once stopped their babbling. She looked out at the nighttime sky from her tiny window and tried her best to keep the frivolous chatter out of her head.
“Something to drink?” a flight attendant asked, momentarily interrupting their conversation.
“Vodka Tonic,” the guy said.
“That’ll be five dollars. And you, Miss?”
“Diet Coke, please,” the girl said.
“And you, Ma’am?”
Agatha barely made eye contact. “I’m fine.”
After swiping his credit card, the flight attendant shuffled to the other side of the row, and the blonde girl started laughing in a cryptic, evil manner.
“What is it?” the guy asked.
“I remember how much you love the vodka. Check this out.” She leaned over and pulled a bunch of mini bottles out of her purse. “It’s a shame for you to spend the five bucks. I swiped ten of these on my way inside the plane!”
“You’re joking,” he said, examining the bottles of vodka and rum.
“I don’t joke,” she said with a laugh. “Want to make it a double?”
He smiled, showing off his gargantuan pearly whites. “Let’s make it a triple!”
The two clinked a pair of mini bottles together and started roaring with laughter so loud that Agatha thought her agitated brain might explode.
She watched with animosity as the two kept downing shots, the guy always drinking the vodka, the girl always drinking the rum, their conversation becoming louder with each passing minute.
“ — and that scene when they’re sleep-walking together,” the guy said, two lines of drool running down his goateed chin, “he crushes the Oreos and just waves the bag around his head!”
He started laughing so hard he couldn’t have possibly heard the girl’s next comment: “No, no, Step Brothers is funny, but Anchorman is genius.”
“Oh, it’s the best! And Old School! And Zoolander!”
“And I loved the one where he was the basketball player with the afro.”
“So good!” the guy shouted, lifting his butt off his seat as if he were going to tackle the poor girl. “What was that one called?”
“I don’t remember.”
“I don’t either. Blades of Glory?”
“No, that’s the ice skating one.”
Agatha didn’t mean for it to happen, but she got caught in the guy’s eye-line.
“Old lady!” he shouted with a guffaw. “Uhh, hey Grandma, would you happen to know?”
Agatha turned away. Every molecule in her petite body kept her from reaching over and ripping the guy’s head off. “No.”
“What was that?” he asked, now leaning over the blonde girl.
“No,” Agatha repeated. “I don’t know.”
“Psh! Big help you are!”
He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. Agatha wasn’t the only one perturbed by the guy’s behavior; others in nearby rows were glancing over in annoyance.
“You all right?” the girl asked the guy.
He tapped on her right leg. “Never better. You got any more of the good stuff? How ‘bout I try some of that rum!”
“Sorry. You wiped me out.”
“Damn it.” He stared forward for a moment without uttering a single word. Agatha thought he might finally pass out when he said: “I gotta take a piss.”
He jumped into the aisle and balanced himself on the chair in front of him. He had a glazed look on his face — it was unclear if he had the stamina to make it all the way to the bathroom.
Agatha watched as he stumbled down the aisle toward the back of the plane and stuffed himself into the miniscule lavatory.
Now’s my chance for a little one-on-one.
“Will you excuse me?” Agatha asked, standing up and making her way to the center aisle with the agility of a woman half her age.
She slinked toward the bathroom, her eyes filled with malicious contempt toward that thing inside.
She lightly tapped her knuckles against the door, which said vacant instead of occupied. “Excuse me? Young man? I need to speak to you.”
She expected an answer right away; instead, she found silence. She couldn’t even hear the muffled sounds of sink water or urination.
“Hello?” she asked, raising her voice. “I know you’re in there!”
Maybe he’s scared of me.
She stared down at the vacant sign.
As he should be.
She pulled on the awkward door handle and stumbled inside, tripping over the man’s legs and crashing the top of her head into the bathroom mirror before she even had a chance to scream.
Jeremy upchucked for the third time into the lugubrious metallic toilet.
What the hell was that?
He had felt something strike his legs, followed by a swift gasp. He pressed his left arm against the cold bathroom surface and looked over his right shoulder to see an old woman’s head pressed against a shattered mirror. No glass had fallen, but a thin stream of blood ran down from the bottom of her wrinkly chin toward the top of the tiny sink.
Jeremy opened his mouth to yell for assistance when a terrifying thought entered his pounding head.
I just killed this woman.
He tried to shake it but couldn’t.
This woman’s dead because of me.
He promptly shut and locked the door, his mind racing, thoughts of handcuffs, courtrooms, and crowded jail cells blending in with the nausea and pulsating migraine.
I have to get back to my seat.
He tiptoed around the body, which somehow remained upright despite the last breath having escaped the senior woman’s mouth. Jeremy could see her eyes in the mirror, still open, looking not deathly but full of rage.
Making sure not to touch the body or the blood, he opened the bathroom door and slammed it shut upon entering the aisle.
The captain had been speaking over the intercom. “…and so I’m going to turn on the fasten-the-seatbelt sign. We should be landing shortly.”
Jeremy peered forward to see the backs of a hundred heads. Nobody had heard a peep from the bathroom. He was scot-free.
As long as nobody goes in there.
He bee-lined for his seat and smashed his buttocks against the blonde girl’s hand, which was resting on top of his armrest.
“Sorry,” he said, putting his seat belt back on and shoving his back against the chair. Enough sweat dripped down his forehead to make him appear as if he had just spent the last five minutes in a sauna.
She shook her pained hand in the air before observing his meltdown. “What happened? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” he said. “I think I drank too much.”
“Did you throw up?”
“A few times, yeah. It’s weird. I’m usually not such a lightweight.”
“You definitely weren’t the last time I saw you,” she said with an exaggerated grin. “Here, have some water.”
She handed him a bottled water from her bag, and he downed almost half of it.
“Thanks,” he said, giving it back before looking over his right shoulder to see a teenager standing in the aisle near the back. He was searching the bins for his bag.
Sit down, asshole.
He watched as the teen sat back down in his seat and started playfully punching a friend. Jeremy darted his eyes to the right to see that the area near the bathroom was still unoccupied.
He turned back around to see the girl staring at him.
“You’re not looking too good,” she said.
His headache and nausea hadn’t gotten worse, but he was starting to feel sharp pains in his stomach, along with a burning sensation in his throat.
Then his breathing started intensifying.
What the hell is happening to me?
A whisper entered his left ear: “Semi-Pro.”
He moved his eyes toward hers, an act so unusually arduous he thought he might faint then and there. “What?”
She smiled. “The Will Ferrell movie.”
The girl punched him in his Adam’s apple so fast not a single other passenger noticed.
Jeremy tried to scream, but his throat closed up, cutting off his oxygen supply.
The girl ripped away his Bluetooth earpiece. “By the way, I wasn’t very honest with you earlier,” she whispered, gripping her hands on the sides of his stomach. “Those mini bottles you drank out of? That wasn’t vodka. It was a potent dose of a little friend of mine called antimony.”
He tried to maneuver from side to side, but she wouldn’t let him move.
As he attempted a final breath, his bloodshot eyes met hers.
“You shouldn’t have taken advantage of me last summer, Jeremy,” she continued to whisper into his left ear, her eyes swirling with black venom. “If you were just a decent human being, you could’ve avoided this. You could’ve had your whole life ahead of you.”
His mouth opened wide, and a rush of fear moved through every vein in his face.
She did remember.
She kissed him on his sweaty cheek. “Oh well.”
Jeremy slumped over and hit his head against the chair in front of him with a violent thwack.
Zoe placed a lavender blanket over the man’s body and turned his face toward hers to make it appear like he was sleeping. She got comfortable in her seat and enjoyed a deep, satisfying breath as the plane touched down on the Sacramento runway.
The deed is done.
Seconds before the plane came to a complete stop, Zoe grabbed her bag, jumped out of her row, and raced down the aisle before anyone could block her exit out of the airplane. She waited an agonizing minute for the door to be opened, during which time she examined her boarding pass for her immediate flight back east.
She glanced back only once, noticing that the body, although slumped into the middle seat a tad awkwardly, looked simply like a man passed out from having one too many of those over-priced drinks.
As she moved her eyes a bit to the right to see an empty window seat, her spirited smile formed into a frown of confusion.
What the hell happened to that old lady?
When the door finally unveiled an empty gate, Zoe raced toward the terminal and boarded a hastily departing red eye flight. Her plane had already reached 10,000 feet by the time a pair of high-pitched screams from the Sacramento runway echoed up into the chilly night skies.