Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mutual Distress Over a Plane Crash Begins a Love Affair

In writing my book STALKING THE SKY, I wanted to show how, in the course of talking about her feelings about the death of her co-worker in their airline's recent plane crash and her fears about flying again, flight attendant Donna Harney can develop a rapport with the novel's protagonist, Will Nye, an executive with the airline, that can blossom into an intimate personal relationship.

Here's an excerpt:

Donna was standing in the doorway.

"Can I speak to you?" she asked.

He nodded.

She closed the door behind her. The blue eyes were anxious.

"You were kind before . . . and I have to tell someone."

The words seemed to hang back, like outnumbered soldiers. "Now that I know you’re with the company, maybe you can tell them for me."

She was leaning against the wall, relying on it. "I’ve never been afraid to fly. I never really thought about anything happening up there. The evacuation drills, the oxygen masks and life vests were just something you did as part of the job, not because you might need them." She paused to refocus her thoughts. A hint of her fear was beginning to quicken her words. "I should have been on that plane last night. Jeanne would be alive. I barely knew her. Jeanne was just a stew who happened to live in my new building and was willing to switch trips with me."

She turned on her listener. "You can’t understand what it’s like knowing you’ve caused another person’s death, and this isn’t the end of it. Every day I’d have to wake up to a job of flying in something that can kill me and hundreds of other people in an instant."

"Whether I understand or not isn’t the point," Will responded. "If you want to quit, I’ll call Personnel for you and advise them. Do you have another way to pay for your apartment?"

"We’re talking about my life!"

"Your home seemed awfully important a few hours ago."

"A lot has happened since then. I’ll just have to get another job. With a normal schedule maybe I can go to college."

"How are you getting back to Denver?"

"What difference does that make? Train. Bus."

"They take a long time. If you wait a few hours or so and can bring yourself to fly one more time, I’ll be able to tell you when the Westwind is heading back."

"You really are an annoying bastard," she said, anger beginning to replace the fear and the sorrow. "I was right about you last night, I really was."

"I gather then you don’t want a lift back to Denver."

Unexpectedly, she laughed. "I hoped you would at least give me the satisfaction of talking me out of quitting."

The laugh had been warm, her distress genuine. Will was caught off-guard by the unanticipated intimacy. His own tone softened.

"If it’s cheap advice you want, I’ll give it to you. But let’s get some lunch. I’ve got a two-thirty appointment I can’t be late for."

He held the door for her. She did not move.

"You know," she said, not bothering to mask the surprise in her voice, "it just occurred to me that you’re probably important enough to get me fired, the way I talked to you last night."

"You just said you were quitting."

With a smile she allowed the surprise to burst on her features again. "I knew I heard that somewhere."

Donna did not bother to change out of her uniform, but while she washed up, Will read newspaper accounts of the crash. With a sinking feeling Will realized that the intimations of a criminal cause could lay the blame for failing to prevent the mass deaths at his own door.


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