The thing about a non-stop flight to Vegas is that everyone on it is going to Vegas. This otherwise reasonably diverse cross section of humanity – and there is diversity among us: we are young and old, singles, families, groups, newlyweds and those soon to be so, Vegas virgins and the already miserably addicted – is united. Vegas itself, its fickle wealth, its glittering corruptions, its suspension of responsibility and mandatory forgiveness, becomes a singularity of purpose. We file on board like jubilant sheep. Stowing our carry-ons is an act of celebration, a symbolic commencement of our collective vacation. Where are you staying? Caesars? Paris? The Venetian? Me too! Me too!
Exceptions, though rare, do exist. Norah heaves her bag into the overhead with an air not of gaiety, but of heavy reality. Boarding the plane is not the suspension of anything. She is not on vacation, and will not see you on the strip. She is not, with the stowing of her luggage, embracing a weekend of debauchery.
Norah is from Vegas.
When she confesses this fact – when she used to – her fellow travelers always reacted with a sudden, predictable surprise. People are from Vegas?
Their reflexive curiosity is followed, inevitably, by vague disappointment. Sitting with Norah on a flight to Vegas is like trying to get blackout at the bar and finding yourself stuck with someone in AA. Oh, you’re sober? We have literally nothing in common right now.
A woman stops beside Norah and gestures around her at the seat – 12C – by the window. Norah recognizes her; not her specifically, but her type. She is a Vegas fun time party girl: 28, slim, long blonde hair. Norah stands up and the woman shimmies her way past into the window seat. The plane fills. The seat between them remains empty. The attendants take an efficient head count. We are safety briefed. We taxi. We are in the air. As we reach the Midwest, our flight attendant, Helene, comes with the drink cart. Norah shakes her head, but 12C accepts a glass of what they refer to as sparkling.
She gestures to the empty seat. “I want his too.”
Helene, who doesn’t judge, pours the second one without hesitation. 12C holds both without seeming to want either. “It’s not my fault he isn’t on the flight,” she says.
Norah says, “Excuse me?”
“It’s not my fault.”
“No,” Norah says, agreeing.
The plane trembles through an abrupt turbulence. Five seconds. The seatbelt light blinks to life. Ten seconds. We glance nervously out the windows, drawn uncomfortably down from our celebratory high. Then we’re clear, and it’s smooth and easy and fun again.
“I’m Michelle,” 12C says. She holds out one of champagne flutes, and Norah takes it, even though she just refused it from Helene. “I’m on my honeymoon.”
Michelle snorts. “Exactly,” she says.
Norah looks pointedly at the empty seat.
“Yeah,” Michelle says. “He’s not coming.” They both sip. “Fucker.”
“Hi Norah. What are you in for?”
“I’m going to my stepfather’s funeral.”
“Oh, we’re the fun row.” Michelle finishes her drink in one long swallow, grimacing a little. Then she says “I’m sorry,” sincerely, looking Norah right in the eyes.
“We weren’t close.”
Helene returns, walking backwards pulling the cart slowly along, stopping frequently, patient and accommodating of our many small demands. Michelle holds her glass up and shakes it, Vegas for “more please.” Helene obliges.
“You still have your ring on,” Norah says, noticing.
“I’m going to sell it in Vegas,” Michelle says. “Put it all on red.”
The plane dips hard, a sudden, shocking drop. We fidget, and exchange tight non-smiles, resentful at the intrusion.
“What about your mother,” Michelle asks. “Are you close with her?”
We jostle once more. A Texan in the rear section lets out a yeehaw, an attempt to convert our anxiety into something like excitement. Norah swallows the yellow bubbles, buying time. It is unlike her to talk about her family with a stranger yet she finds herself wanting to.
“She’s dead, actually. She died in a car accident. He was driving. He was drunk actually. He went to jail. Sorry, I’m not good at telling it.”
Michelle ignores the last part. “How old were you?”
“Jesus,” Michelle says. Norah is reminded why she so rarely shares these details. Somehow, though, she doesn’t mind.
“Sorry to ask, why the fuck are you going to the funeral?”
“My cousin. And lawyers. Mostly my cousin.”
“He left his estate to me. I don’t know. Atonement, I guess.”
“Is it anything you want?”
“It’s money. The lawyer said he sold his stuff – he had a house and some investments – so it’s pretty much straight up cash.” Norah pauses, considering whether his money would fall into the category of things she wanted. “Maybe I’ll put it all on red.”
Michelle flashes her diamond. “It’s one approach.”
The plane drops, hard and serious. The captain asks us to return to our seats and fasten our seatbelts. We start to murmur, a quiet ripple of complaint. Worrying about the risks of air travel is not on our Vegas agenda. Cirque du Soliel? Yes. Violent death plummet? No, thank you.
“Why are you going on the honeymoon?”
“At first it was mostly revenge but now,” Michelle shrugs, considering. The plane sheers right, jolts and shudders again. At the front of the cabin, Helene flips down the attendant seat and buckles herself in. “I think I’m just avoiding my family.”
Our stomachs lift. Our hearts drop. We clasp hands – our own or each other’s as our relationships dictate – and whisper expressions of love, forgiveness and blame. Norah raises the arm rest between herself and the empty seat so she can shift sideways, drawing her knees up. “God knows I get that,” she says, looking past Michelle to the indigo Nevada sky.
Michelle bats idly at the dangling oxygen mask with her empty champagne flute.
We gasp and fall.
About the Writer
Sandra Maxson is a public servant and writer whose short fiction has appeared in Canadian literary publications. Sandra lives and works on the west coast, dividing her time between Vancouver and Victoria BC, with her wife and three children. She is at work on her first novel.