Boarding for Tampa, Florida

By Joey Hedger

Your slow, steady collapse begins with the words, just my luck, spoken from your own lips as you recline against a crinkly seat at Gate 12, where on a ceiling-mounted television across the crowd reporters discuss plane accidents or something of the sort, the noise barely reaching you between the voice of a nearby mother saying that’s enough now, I mean it to a boy crawling on hands and knees looking for dimes and pennies across the carpeting where shoes have plodded on and on for centuries—oxfords, narrow nose, slick leather, wingtips, flip-flops, stilettos, flats, blue suede, Birkenstocks, Crocs; so the boy climbs onto his glow-up Nikes and takes a seat on the other end of the aisle from you, his eyes still casting about as though in the dark for dirty coins that store clerks would barely accept anymore, and the mother exhales for a moment, relieved at relief, while beside her, a uniformed flight attendant tries to conduct an official-sounding personal call on her smartphone, saying into it I agree with Betty that more direct data would help for making this decision and Could you hold for a moment, please as she spots a free power outlet where she can find her own solace in unlimited energy—yet you bear through the noise to interpret one more thing said on the TV, that great white encounters are up from recent years, possibly due to global warming, which can only resurface the anxiety you managed to bury about returning to your old home in the state most ready to dip off into the ocean at any second—Tampa, Florida, calls the gate attendant, boarding for Tampa, Florida; and getting up, you forget that most passengers still must line up and find their seats before you, based on the instructions printed across your boarding pass, but you still get up and go off to stand beneath another half-audible TV reporting on proper packing rituals for summer vacationing; when you are finally nestled onto the seat, 32F, by the window, you lean into the felt cushion, feeling yourself grow heavier and heavier as the plane takes off, and you wonder if this is indicative of your own weight, your own body growing denser and denser the higher you go, then beginning to weigh down the plane gradually until it slowly sinks back toward the earth, breaking past the land mass and zooming over the Gulf of Mexico, still sinking closer toward the waterline, toward the great white sharks, toward the unpacked sunscreen and seagulls and sandbars—it is out of your control, this density in your bones, this pain you find buried in your own veins at the very idea of facing the new lens of this old town, the new events, the funerals, the absent family, the growing population, the tourists, the eroding beaches—until it, the plane, careens into the airport, sidles up to a gate, and lets you all out with a wheeze, and here in his new airport, you ask the boy who plucks a penny up from beside a trash can whether he found it face up or face down, and the boy, not seeming to understand the question, runs off, leaving you nervously waiting for your bag, not ready to leave the building and see for yourself whether or not the land is still there or whether the ocean and sharks have already eaten it whole.



Joey Hedger lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and can be found at joeyhedger.com.


Art by Nick Botka, who runs the cassette tape label, StillVHS, and who snaps stills of VHS @stillvhs.