Issue #52

Fall 2014

The Man on the Plane

by Tom Whalen

My head is spinning, I feel faint. What's come over me? Not as much as over these thumbnail chapters that want me to accept their reality, when in fact I've read tabloids more real than these sketches concocted for the benefit of readers with little time on their hands, in need of a quick fix of prose on their e-readers, something that lets them ride for a moment on a cascade of words, a river of syntax for a page or two, to be put aside whenever they want without loss of coherence to the overall design, which anyway hangs by a hope and a thread the plane won't crash (or land?). We all have meetings to attend, sites to update, pictures to download, results to obtain before we can go on to the next chapter, wherein the man on the plane (always the same setting with the same protagonist though the passengers and crew change) this time denies he is on a plane, only to have the woman in the seat next to him agree with him, as does everyone else, including the crew and the pilot. At which point our eponymous figure realizes how alone he is in the world, that his wife isn't his wife, his son not his son, his hands not his hands, his eyes not his eyes, his brain the brain of a cephalopod from a distant planet housed in an alternate universe in a tea tin that sits atop the mantel in his two-room apartment back in Great Bend. So who is the wife, who the son he thought would be waiting for him when they landed? Surely they didn't live with him in a two-room apartment. Maybe he's divorced. Maybe he dreamed them. Maybe they live in the tea tin and come out only when he needs them, for example when clients visit. Clients? Did he have clients? "Do I have clients?" he asks the woman next to him, who only a moment before agreed with him that they weren't on a plane. "But of course," she says. "I'm one of them and so is everyone else on this plane." "But I thought we weren't on a plane." "We're not," she says, "but I think you've misunderstood me." End of Chapter 3 of 114.

In Chapter 34 the woman next to him is his wife and she relates the story of her birthday party, the one where he gave her moonstone earrings as a present. In Chapter 87 the plane is hijacked by a radical group of hackers threatening to crash it into the Eiffel Tower. In Chapter 103 the man on the plane remembers that the Eiffel Tower was what attracted him to this planet in the first place and recalls his honeymoon in Paris. In Chapter 109 I make a cup of tea from the tin that sits on my mantel and realize I'm a facsimile of the man on the plane whose overall design is that of a project manager for a software firm who needed to spend more time with his family. In Chapter 111 I concoct a scheme to blackmail my company into giving me a raise. In Chapter 114 I'm still in the air, which is one reason I'm feeling a little dizzy.

Author Bio

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Tom Whalen has written for Agni, Asymptote, Bookforum, Brooklyn Rail, Chicago Review, Film Quarterly, The Iowa Review, The Literary Review, the Washington Post and other publications. His books include Dolls, Elongated Figures, The Birth of Death and Other Comedies: The Novels of Russell H. Greenan, and the novels The President in Her Towers, Roithamer's Universe, and The Straw That Broke. He teaches film at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany.