She was on an airplane, flying home from Kyoto. But home was New York, a vast unknown metropolis, instead of the rolling forests of west-central Virginia. She had been in Japan a long time, indefinitely it seemed, on some kind of educational mission. It was as if now that it was over, she had already forgotten it, and could not even tell its significance.
The flight wore on. Most passengers slept. The old Boeing creaked slightly in some turbulence, and the nearest TV screen was several rows in front of her, rolling endless credits for a film that never began or was always ending. The rows of seats seemed to shrink, and her leg muscles began cramping up. Reflexively, she twisted her body, in the hopes that rearrangement might give the illusion of spaciousness.
A woman's voice came over her headphones, soothing and firm, in beautiful, formal Japanese. Then, the gruff, curt voice of a man giving an English version.
"This plane will not be landing. New York has rejected us. We will simply continue flying until it is no longer possible to do so."
The passengers kept sleeping, or reading. Did no one else comprehend? That the rest of their lives was contained within this creaking, rocking passenger jet? There would be no New York, only a moment of weightlessness somewhere over the Rockies. She had to tell them, and make them understand the significance of the next 6 hours.
She stood up, climbed over the snoring salaryman next to her, knocking his 5 empty cans of Sapporo into the aisle. She began to shout,
"Minasan! Yoku kiite kudasai! Listen, everyone! This is the end of your life, you will never go to New York and the only thing left is whatever is in this plane with you until we all go down into the earth!"
No one looked up. She continued, screaming now,
"Naze wakaranaino? Why don't you understand? Listen! Look up! I am speaking your native language and you refuse it! I am trying to help you know your own life!"
Finally, a child in the back of the plane stood up on his seat.
"Baka gaijin," he said. "Stupid foreigner. Baka."
The plane stalled, dipped, descended. For a moment, Claire was weightless and free.
Claire looked down at her left hand. The engagement ring was so bright and heavy. White gold with a blood red ruby - bold, passionate and not quite traditional. The feeling of it on her finger had not yet faded, and she was constantly aware of the way it encircled and held her, like his arms on the night he'd asked her to marry him on the mossy wooden bridge in the foothills of Appalachia, or the night she had wept with all her strength because she held in that same hand the last in a long string of rejection letters from every prestigious composition program in the country. Then she printed a copy of her portfolio and burned it, page by page, sobbing the whole time, on the back porch. She wasn't brave enough to delete the files from her computer, and the lingering fragments of every one of those pieces still haunted her. The violin concerto, the song cycle, and the set of pieces for Pierot ensemble plus percussion - their sounds all came to her and asked, "What about me was wrong?"
"I just was too expressive. I exposed my heart, my life, in those pieces. No one likes that shit now. I have no austerity or reservation."
She hadn't composed since then, and had thrown the energies of her passionate creativity into her relationship with Patrick, which was now as solid as gemstone on her finger.
Her phone buzzed, a text message. It was from Geoff. She hadn't heard from him in a while; he'd been married a couple of years already, to a mutual friend from college. She still thought about the brightness of his eyes when they used to talk face to face.
"Hey, Claire...hope things are good. Can I call you tonight? I just need to talk to someone."