I ordered the kosher meal when I booked the ticket. Not because I am an observant Jew—the only time I show my face in shul is on the High Holy Days—but because it is, mark my words, the best meal on the plane. This one was better than most: well-prepared gefilte fish, a blintz, and a cup of kosher wine on the side. If I had to guess, I’d say that it was because it was the Days of Awe.
“This is shit,” said The Drunkard. He unwrapped his fork and knife from the plastic, took the fork in his hands, and duly snapped it in half without trying. “For God’s sake.”
“Should have ordered the kosher meal,” I suggested. My meal came with solid steel cutlery; it felt a little like being in first class.
“You think this is shit,” said the Traveler, cutting his chicken into bite-sized pieces and spreading what was supposed to be gravy on it, “you should have seen one of the flights I was on in India. I shit you not, the chicken had the consistency of a wet sponge.” He popped some chicken in his mouth. “This? Not so bad at all.”
The Stalker murmured something. Not knowing what to do, and frankly scared to ask him to repeat himself, we all chuckled.
The Writer cleared his throat. “I must agree with The Traveler. Once, in order to properly understand what it would be like to be a starving man on the streets, I fasted for a week straight. After, I ate only beans and drank only water. It was preparation for a story, you see.”
In front of us, The Drunkard cursed. He turned around and poked his head over the chair. “You just don’t know when to stop, do you?”
“Stop your fucking lying for once.”
The Writer didn’t respond for a moment, and we all ate in awkward silence. “You’re right,” he said. “I apologize. But still,” he nibbled at the desert portion that came with the meal, “the cake’s good.”
We all agreed, and ate on.
After we laid down our meals, and threw them away when the cabin steward came by—I, of course, placed mine in a specially-marked cutlery dispenser that was to be washed on its own, after everything else had been disposed of—the Student put the book he was reading in the pocket in front of him and said, “So, who’s next?”
“How bout you?” asked The Drunkard.
The Student blushed. “I, uh, I don’t believe that—well, you know the thing is that when—er, I—”
“Not you,” concluded The Drunkard. He cast his eye to The Stalker, who was leaning out from the side of his seat and staring at a woman in the back of the plane. “Not you, either,” remarked The Drunkard.
“Huh?” asked The Stalker.
“Exactly.” He looked at me.
“Not yet, for I have a plan of my own.”
“Fair enough.” He looked at The Writer. “Well, I think it’s about time for The Dandy to show his skills.”
The Writer arched an eyebrow. “The Dandy? You know, I feel like I’ve had about enough of your aggressive attitude. It’s been completely unprovoked, and yet at every turn, you man—”
“Want me to stop? Best way to get me to stop talking is to have me enraptured in what you have to tell. After all, you are the only Published Author here, right?”
“Yeah,” said The Traveler, nudging The Writer in the ribs with his elbow. “After trying to shoot down my story with such a vengeance, I think the least you could do would be to try and top it.”
“Ha!” laughed The Writer. “Try to top it? My friend, I could top that rancid heap of dog dung in my sleep, blind folded, and with the flu to boot. Very well,” he said, clearing his throat and straightening himself in his chair, “I shall tell you all a tale. It shall have moral merit, and it shall be what The Traveler’s Tale oh so dearly lacked: A firm grounding in reality, brought on by what I perceive to be the central problems in the world, or at least something which we all face at one point or another.”
He took a deep breath, prepared to go on more. The Drunkard looked at The Traveler, “What hath we wrought?”
“Quiet, you,” said The Writer. The Student snickered, and The Stalker held up a paper doll with ‘The Writer’ written on it. He flicked the head a few times with his index finger, and The Writer, whether playing along or not I do not know, rubbed the top of his skull. “Right. This is a story that has been brewing up in my head for a while now, and you are all lucky enough to be the first listeners. Do try and allow yourselves the option of being amazed by it, touched by the honesty and truth—for to do otherwise would cheapen the value of fiction. When we shut our—”
“You might want to start, else everyone might shut their eyes and go to sleep,” said The Traveler.