A Storyby Stuart Dybek
The boy in row nineteen has a cold.
“Don’t lean on my armrest,” he cautions his sister. “You’ll get germs. They’ll stuff you up, it will hurt to fly, and like last vacation we’ll all have to listen to you whining, ‘I can’t unplug my ears.’ ”
The boy sits on the aisle and his sister, a little girl in braids, has the window, although—germs aside—she’s agreed to switch seats halfway through the flight, which means she gets to see the plane rise from Detroit, and he to see it land in Paris. She’ll probably grow into a beauty, but she needn’t contend with that yet, nor with the censorship that physical beauty can sometimes impose. Without a hint of self-consciousness, she sings an unrecognizable song, no doubt inspired by the view, as its only lyric seems to be floating, floating, floating . . .
It’s her brother who’s embarrassed.
“Do you always have to hum?” he inquires.
She ignores him. Perhaps she’s one of those people who always hears music. The song expands to: Floating, floating, floating on the clouds . . .
“I’ll always be older and taller than you,” he brags.