Interlude on a plane

To kick off #NaNoWriMo, we proffer Sheila Heti's short inspired by The Flaming Lips' “Do You Realize?”

Taken from the July 2012 issue of Dazed & Confused:

I am not the only one to waste time in this life, just like I am not the only one who is forced to spend money on all the expenses of life. But just as it wasn’t until one day when I saw a woman throw down her credit card on top of a bill while staring at the table, having finished her meal, that I understood that other people had to give away their money, too, it was not until listening to Margaux in a diner in Saratoga in the middle of the night, while we waited for her bus, that I realised that we all want to make something of every minute –

“You know,” she said, “something terrible happened to me once, flying back from Boston to Toronto. I had to go to Montreal and then take a detour, and it was a seven-hour trip when it should have been a one-hour trip. I was like, Goddamnit! They put me on the wrong flight! But I decided I would try and make it worthwhile, so every person I came across and every person I sat next to – I engaged with them, trying to make it a valuable experience for me. But the only conversation I got into was with this guy who really tried to persuade me to read The Da Vinci Code.” 

Margaux was a painter. Earlier that day she had asked me, “Would you like to be in my movie?” 

“Of course, are you kidding? You know I used to be an actress and I miss it very much.”

In Spain, I’ll spend time with the women whose fruit look like limes but taste of melons, who huddle their children together, warning them from the storms

We went wig shopping and she put on my head an almost-white wig. Then we biked through the streets with the wig in a paper bag, and she asked about my hickey. What hickey? I asked. She said, You can’t hide it from me. I saw it while we were trying on wigs. I didn’t reply, but in my head, I was beginning to see how art is made. A hot dog. A wig. A hickey on a bicycle. Art is good combinations. 

I tried masturbating on the airplane, Alexei, but it didn’t quite work. As the days get shorter, it is harder to get anything done. Even up in the sky with the night’s blackness around us, we can still feel the days getting shorter. 

In Spain, I’ll spend time with the women whose fruit look like limes but taste of melons, who huddle their children together, warning them from the storms. The storms have been raining down on this earth, flooding the homes of so many people; a decade of floods it’s been. Do you remember the days when all you read about when you opened the papers were floodings? And what about the blood? What about the pestilence? We knew the mosquitoes carried all the diseases there were, so you and I huddled under a tent of netting to keep ourselves warm. 

Then you went to the latrines and returned with the tiniest bouquet of three flowers for me – to symbolise the three things I always liked about you best: your magic, your imagination, and the way you fucked. 

Still we were in that phase of our lives where there was nothing but the staleness of parties. You would look at my legs from the back, in my short green skirt – my legs which reminded you of the legs of the girl you were so hot for when you were five or six years old – and still you remembered how that little girl made you lose your fucking mind. 

Then there was all the cocaine, Alexei, and the crackhead girlfriends you used to speak to me of. Still we made it to the lake that summer. I came up later in the month. In your aloneness, you had sculpted the tree in the backyard unrecognisable to me, and you were also sculpted differently, and were also unrecognisable to me.

We should go for something else instead, this time around. With the burning of the sun on our arms, and the emptiness within us, maybe we can ask of this life: Where is the beauty? Where is the beauty?

You shook out the dustpan on the porch and all the dust swept back into the house on a gust of wind. That is when you lay down on the porch. I watched you lying there, and it was many days before you got up. 

That winter, the polar sun came out and melted all the snowmen. The sun came out with its ozone rays and melted to puddles all the igloos the elders had built up over the centuries, all throughout the Canadian north. The reporters watched it, crying. I read it slowly – about those guys on the rigs, getting rich and losing their arms, having escaped out there to recover from their addictions. They were running away from their girlfriends and their children. I knew they were building a new world for us, a world even I would get to live in, where we’d all be sunbathing till noon. 

Lying in the grass, a dark cloud began moving across the sky, and I caught a glimpse of the silver airplane Margaux was sitting in, listening to a man go on about The Da Vinci Code – as their plane went burning through the sky. 

Lying there at the end of the world, I remembered a professor who had once been a mountain climber, when he was still quite young. One day, he felt he’d had enough of conquering summits, and didn’t need to conquer any more. He began asking of himself instead, “Where is the beauty? Where is the beauty?” Instead of conquering, he would follow that. 

I, too, am done with summits. I am done with trying to ascend to the summit of my soul. We should go for something else instead, this time around. With the burning of the sun on our arms, and the emptiness within us, maybe we can ask of this life: Where is the beauty? Where is the beauty? 

This time I will follow the beauty, instead of following life to the top. My cell phone rang. It was Margaux, still up there in the sky. “Margaux!” I cried. 

“Sheila!” she said. “You’ll never believe what I was just thinking about!” “Really?” she asked, full of wonder and envy. “You were thinking?”

Throughout November we will be publishing an anthology of short stories from our favourite authors to celebrate #NaNoWriMo. Follow them all at http://www.dazeddigital.com/nanowrimo and share your stories with us by tweeting @DazedMagazine with the hashtag #NaNoWriMo.

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