Friday, October 23, 2009

The Streak - 50

It was good to fly out, not to fly back in. There were two reasons for that: One was hope. When you flew out, there was hope you might quietly win a game or two, out there on the road, far from the derisive chants of fans and the oppressive scrutiny of the New York media. The other was beer. Management banned it from flights back home a few years back, thinking it would lessen the odds that one of their precious charges would slam his BMW into a tollbooth on the Jersey Turnpike. Fair enough – even though most players took a limo home from Newark. But beer on flights out, that was sacred. You could put a buzz on, take a nap. Fall into your bed at the Marriott or Hilton or Hyatt or whatever the fuck in whichever medium-to-large market metropolis you were spirited away to, snug as a bug.

When Evan reached the end of the Jetway he lifted his right hand and touched the fuselage for good luck, his only superstition outside baseball. He'd done this so many times, so reflexively, that he hardly thought about it anymore. But this time the cool, smooth aluminum membrane sent a strange jolt through his fingers, down his arm, and to the place deep within his brain where rawest, wordless terror hides. He balked. He did not want to get into this plane. This fragile contraption, woefully human, predisposed to tragedy. In a moment he willed himself forward, locking up his fear for later observation. Not now.

He settled into a window seat on the port side. Kyle sat down beside him. Evan popped his first Budweiser before the plane pushed off and was on his third by the time they reached cruising altitude, high above the Lehigh Valley: Easton, Nazareth lay below them; Bethlehem twinkled from afar. He placed a salted almond in his mouth, split it in two, and ran the top of his tongue under the silken surface of a half.

"You like warm nuts in your mouth," observed Kyle.

"Fuck my mother," responded Evan.

Now the food started coming. Steaks, shrimp, warm rolls and buttered peas. Rice, tossed salad. Lasagna. Chicken cordon bleu, green beans and mashed potatoes. Chocolate cake, brownies, Dove bars and M&Ms. Evan noticed with mild aggravation that everything lacked savor. It looked good. But there was something wrong with it all. He shook more salt on his meat, poured more dressing on his salad.

"Does this food taste right to you?" he asked Kyle.

"It's fuckin' regular food. It's airplane food."

"That's not what I asked."

"It's fuckin' fine."

Evan was masticating the last bite of his steak when he felt something bounce off the top of his head. Something small, compact and slightly wet. It struck the bulkhead and rolled to a rest beside his foot.

It was pea-sized. It was a pea.

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