Oddly Enough, It Wasn’t About Larry Walters At All

Jonathan Pinnock


I can tell I’m already too late because my flight number has vanished from the displays over the check-in desk but I’ve got to get on this flight because she’s going to be on it and without her my life is meaningless. We’d arranged to meet up in the departure lounge and I would have warned her except I haven’t got my phone with me and now I come to think of it I don’t even know her number. The woman at the check-in desk gives me a precisely-calibrated sympathetic smile and tells me that boarding will be closing very soon and there’s no way that I’ll get to the gate in time.

So I start to get angry and her tone changes and it’s clear that not only has she got conflict resolution skills, she’s also not afraid to use them: she’s firm, assertive, totally non-negotiable and am I aware that if I continue with this kind of behaviour I can get myself banned from flying altogether? So I calm down, apologise, and ask her whether there is any infinitesimally possible way at all that I can get on that flight, maybe if I pay a bit extra, a lot extra, anything she wants? I beg her, I beseech her, I implore her: please, please, pretty please? She softens a little and asks if I have any baggage with me. I say no, although I’m sure I had some when I arrived at the airport. She nods and says she’ll see if she can arrange something. She picks up her phone, speaks to someone and then tells me I’m in luck – as long as I’m prepared to travel in one of the special seats.

By the time I get to the gate, it’s all closed up and there’s no sign of my companion; she must be on board by now. There’s an airline employee mooching around the desk, tidying up and filing stuff away, so I wave my special boarding pass at her. She looks at me, shakes her head and lets me through. I have this odd feeling that she’s laughing at me and when I get onto the tarmac I see why.

My seat is a garden chair attached to the starboard wing by a couple of frayed leather straps. The ground crew brings one of those mobile staircase things up to it so I can climb aboard. Once I’m seated they move the stairs away with a cheery cry of “Good luck, mate!” and I’m on my own. I look across to the body of the plane and then I see her – the woman I love – looking out of one of the portholes at me. She looks concerned and she’s mouthing something. I try to shout back at her but the engines have started up now and I can’t make myself heard. After a while she gives up and turns away. A moment later one of the stewardesses appears at the window next to her. She puts her hands up in front of her face and does an odd sort of opening-and-closing mime and I realise that I haven’t done my seat belt up yet.

The take-off is absolutely terrifying but once we’re airborne it’s not too bad and actually quite exhilarating, if a little on the cold side. But after a while I get the feeling that the pilot’s having some fun at my expense because he seems to be undertaking some pretty unnecessary manoeuvres, zigzagging backwards and forwards across the sky and tilting the wings up and down. It’s during one of these that one of the straps holding me to the wing breaks. I know this because I’m now crashing wildly from side to side and I’m looking at the other strap and I can see that it isn’t going to last much longer either. So I start to wave at the other passengers and suddenly every window is full of strangers pointing at me and laughing. Then the second strap goes and the chair and I slide off into free fall.

At this point I remember my safety drill so I look under my seat and all I can find is a crappy little bag of balloons, some string and a pair of blunt scissors. I’m frantically blowing up the balloons as fast as I can and trying to attach them to the arms of the chair with string and the ground is coming closer and closer and I really don’t think I’m going to make it in time and …


“And that’s where it ends?” she says.

“Yeah,” I say. The chair is soft and comfortable with a soothing smell of new leather that blends perfectly with the vanilla scent from the candles. I’m sure I recognise that picture on the wall, Hockney, perhaps?

“Good, good. So what do you think?” she says. She’s had her hair done since last time and I’m still not sure if I like it or not. I think she’s changed the colour slightly—there’s a hint of chestnut in it now—and it’s been cut in a fierce bob. I have no idea how old she is. Looks mid-thirties, could be older, though.

“Sorry? What do I think?”

“Yes, that’s what I’m asking.”

“I thought … I’m not sure … I mean, it’s obviously about that bloke in America who tied a load of balloons to his chair and … isn’t it? I mean, didn’t he … he had a gun, as well… he was going to shoot the balloons, one by one and – ”

“Leave the balloons for a moment.”

She’s wearing a tight, green roll-neck top. I don’t know if green suits her, to be honest, but I like the way the material clings to her and emphasises …

“Try scrolling back a bit,” she’s saying.


“Why do you think you’ve arrived too late for the flight?”

“Because I got held up? Bad traffic? There are always road works—”

I can see that I’m trying her patience. She closes her eyes for a moment and makes that “slow down” gesture with her hands. It’s a message to herself, though, not me. I’m the one who needs to catch up.

“Maybe … I want … to be late?”

Her smile is lovely. It’s a smile that you have to work for. A smile you’d fly across the Atlantic for.


“So … you’re saying … I don’t actually want to catch the plane? Surely—”

“On a conscious level you probably do, but deep down you’re—”


She looks hard at me.

“What are you afraid of, Michael?” she says.

I shrug.

“Do you know who the woman on the plane is?”

I hope she doesn’t see me blushing. “No,” I say, a bit too quickly. “I have no idea who she is.”

“That’s unusual,” she says. “Are you sure?”

She knows. Oh Christ, she knows. I shake my head. “No, I really have no idea at all.”

She leans back in her chair, steeples her fingers and looks at me over them, not saying anything for a while. The skirt is short with a Black Watch tartan pattern. Her legs are crossed and she’s wearing navy—tights? stockings? Dear God, please let it be stockings that go all the way up to the top where they disappear into that dark, mysterious …

“Let’s talk about what happens when you get on the plane, then,” she says.

Right. The plane. Flying. “OK, well obviously flying dreams are all about sex aren’t they?” I say. That’s about the start and end of my knowledge. Oh, and the cigar thing.


“And what?”

One of her shoes is dangling off her foot in a rather fetching way. Around the ankle there is a fine gold chain. She’s playing with me.

“—do you masturbate?” she’s saying.

“I … what?”

“I was asking how often you masturbated,” she says. “If we are to get to the bottom of your issues, we need to have everything out on the table.”

“I … I, well … um … gosh … well … I think I’d probably rather not have that on the table for now,” I say.

She shrugs. “As you wish. I should warn you that it might take a little longer that way.” She looks at her watch. “Well, then,” she says. “In any case, we will have to continue this another time.”

“But surely?”

“Sorry. Time’s up, I’m afraid. If you have a word with my secretary, she’ll book you in for another appointment.”

I get up to leave, feeling more than a little cheated. As she opens the door for me to go, she tips her head on one side. “You know,” she says. “You would get so much more out of these sessions if you were to turn up on time for once.”

I know, I say to myself. I know.

Jonathan Pinnock has had over a hundred stories and poems published in places both illustrious and downright insalubrious. He has also won a few prizes and has had work broadcast on the BBC. His debut novel, Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens, was published by Proxima Books in September 2011, and his Scott Prize-winning debut collection of short stories, Dot Dash, was published by Salt in November 2012. He blogs at www.jonathanpinnock.com and he tweets as @jonpinnock.