Out of the plane’s window, spread out beneath them as they climbed into the sky, Los Angeles was light. A glowing haze, a glittering sea, a hundred million brittle-bright flecks tracing out orange roads and pale skyscrapers and great soft sweeping curves of highways out towards the ocean. Until you were this high, until you saw it all by night, you lost a sense of scale, of how big the city actually was.
Emily looked out the window, watching the lights, thinking about Los Angeles as they climbed.
The sky was cloudy. There was a layer of haze and cloud above the city. As the plane passed through it, the cloud began to diffuse the city lights. Sharp points of light became wetly blurred, became a colourless, directionless glow, a mist of brightness softly reflecting back from the wings of the plane, and then, soon, even that was gone. Soon, the only lights out the windows were those of the plane itself and then, without any other light behind them, they were suddenly flashing so brightly that they began to hurt Emily’s eyes.
Emily was dazzled, but she kept staring out the window anyway. She kept watching until she was certain the ground below was completely lost in the clouds, and they had climbed through the cloud layer and up into the empty sky beyond, until darkness and night had completely taken the aircraft, and Los Angeles was gone and forgotten far below and behind.
She was glad to be leaving. She had never been so glad. Her arm hurt. Her face was bruised. When she had checked in the airport toilets, while waiting to board, her cheek was turning yellow and it looked as though she was getting a black eye. The emergency room had put her wrist in a white plastic splint, to brace it. They had told her not to use that arm, and to be careful with it, but that it was only sprained and didn’t need a cast.
It still hurt though. It hurt a lot.
She still wasn’t completely sure how everything had gone so wrong, so quickly.
The fight had been coming for a while, seething away between her and Luke. It had been simmering away, and about to erupt, but still, nothing like this had ever happened before. They had always shouted at each other. They had always sworn. They had never actually hit each other, though, but then suddenly Luke had. Suddenly he had changed what Emily thought were the rules. Frustrated and angry, he had hit her, and then immediately said he was sorry. Emily had lain on the floor, where she had landed, and told him to go fuck himself, that she was leaving. He hadn’t seemed to care. He hadn’t actually believed her, she thought. That was actually why. He had just watched quietly, as she packed the things she couldn’t bear to leave behind, and had seemed to think she was just making a point, pretending to pack to prove something. He had only believed her right at the end, as she was actually walking out, but had calmed down enough, by then, that he didn’t try very hard to stop her. He probably felt guilty, she supposed, and might still be a bit shocked at himself. And he was probably sorry, too. He had tried to stop her at the very last minute, had tried to block the doorway and keep her there, but she had faced him down, had told him he could hit her again, if he wanted to, but otherwise she was going, and so he had stepped aside and let her. He hadn’t been ready to hit her again, not then. He might wish he had, later, once he realised she was gone forever, but he’d been ashamed enough right then that he’d just quietly let her go.
She had taken a taxi to the hospital. Because she felt dizzy, from where his fist hit her face, and where she’d hit her head when she fell over, and because she was worried she’d done something to her wrist when she landed on it, too. She’d been looked at, and had lights shone in her eyes, and then told she was okay, that she wasn’t concussed and nothing was broken, but that she should speak to the police right away. She had said she would, but panicked a little at that idea, not wanting anything so legal or complicated. Instead of the police, she’d gone to airport, and just got on the first plane that was heading home.
She had waited nervously, and then it had taken off, and now, finally, she was gone. She was up in the air, up in the sky, flying high above the clouds, and Luke was behind her, and gone forever, and she didn’t need to worry about him any more.
She was glad. Sore but glad.
She stopped staring out the window, once there was only a dark sky out there. She sat back in her seat, and looked around.
The plane was half empty. There was no-one sitting next to her. The man in the seat beyond that, on the aisle, was watching her now and then.
When the seatbelt lights went out, while the pilot made a speech telling them all to stay seated and wear their belts anyway, Emily leaned forward, and got her bag out from beneath the seat in front of her, and found the bottle of pills the hospital had given her. She opened the top, and swallowed three. One after the other, swallowing them slightly awkwardly, but managing without anything to drink. Then she coughed. She was supposed to only have two, and with water, but she hurt, and didn’t have any water, and didn’t want to wait while cabin crew found her some. And she might as well take extra pills, she thought, might as well take the pills as not, since she probably couldn’t carry them though customs when she arrived. Or so she assumed.
The guy in the seat beside her watched her swallow, then leaned over and said quietly, “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Emily said, without looking at him. She didn’t really feel like talking.
“Do you need some water?” the man said.
“I could call the stewardess if you’d like?”
“I’m fine. It’s done.” She coughed again.
He was still looking at her, so she looked straight ahead, and ignored him. Maybe he was just trying to help, but maybe he was going to hit on her all the way to Sydney, so she didn’t take the chance of encouraging him. She wasn’t in the mood.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he said.
“I said I’m fine.”
He hesitated, then asked, “What happened?”
Emily sat there for a while, thinking, wondering what to say. She’d never been in this situation before, so she had no idea how she was supposed to respond to that question. She hadn’t know in the hospital, either, so she told this guy what she’d told the doctor. “Soccer,” she said, flatly. “A rough tackle.”
The guy got it, that she didn’t want to explain to him. That she didn’t have to explain to him. That neither of their lives were each other’s business.
He sat back in his seat, and seemed willing to leave her alone. He looked like some kind of business traveller, Emily thought, some salesman off to a meeting, or reporting back to head office. He probably spent as much time being talked to by people he didn’t want to know as talking to people he did. Maybe that helped convince him to leave her alone. Maybe that was why he got it. He stopped talking, anyway, and left her be. He stood up and got some papers and a laptop out of a battered briefcase in the overhead locker, and seemed about to settle down to work. He looked at the empty seat between them. He looked, and then carefully said, “Do you mind if I use that?”
He waited until Emily shrugged before spreading his papers out on the seat between them. He spread his papers, but only two-thirds of the way across the spare seat, very neatly, Emily thought, leaving her a little buffer so he wasn’t intruding on her.
Emily glanced down, being nosy. It looked like spreadsheets, she thought, tables of numbers. It could be sales figures, or it could be engineering, Emily wasn’t sure and didn’t really care.
She closed her eyes and tried to sleep.
She was glad to be leaving Los Angeles.