I’m Exaggerating

Kate Wisel

Serena wore a navy two-piece suit, sensible flats, twisted-up hair, a buttoned cuff over the wrist—read the faded blah blah blah script. Her first flight was to Wichita, and she had asked Niko if he knew what Wichita looked like from the sky. She wanted to hurt him. For him to picture her cloud-height, off the ground, sixteen hundred miles to the middle, untouchable.

She scooped ice and twisted bottle caps. Balanced her palms on headrests during dips. The aisle a tightrope. It rattled: the overheads, the ice, her fingers. Sometimes the pilot and the co-pilot looked like the cops who rapped on her door the month before. In the cockpit, their hands on the gears against the bright, complicated look of the control panel. The backs of their heads against the bright, complicated look of the sky. She cracked the front door, chain off the bolt, swollen eye. Her smile a cross, index finger against her lip. Niko was passed out in boxers, in the bedroom, in a deep sleep. The cops pushed through, ignored her.

“I made a mistake,” she said. She paced, the blood in her hair graffiti orange and stiff. Blood on the white table, sprays of droplets from huffs where her mucus went loose under the break, her wrists twisted back.

“I’m exaggerating!” she told the cops, then recognized it as something he would tell her. Right in her ear like a basketball coach fighting the side-line.

“Get up,” Niko would say. “You’re faking all of this.”

Wichita was not what she thought. Little Rock, Providence. Nowhere she’d been, or belonged, but all familiar. She had a day off in Spokane. Bumpy wheels of luggage by her heel, she roamed down Division St., smokestacks spilling filth up towards an ocean-colored mountain. Janis Joplin on a brick wall, fingers outstretched. Towards the river, the smell of spoiled milk and a sign: near nature, near perfect. Pine trees that could see inside homes and for miles.

Back on the plane she found passengers to their rows. Locked in the Clorox-blue of the bathroom, she fingered her new insignia, a wing pin she wore like a crucifix and to sleep. And on the dark seat, facing backward, going forward, she thought of what to do. This she thought of terminally. What was down there. What wasn’t. There was no losing of a baby or liters of liquor in desk drawers.

Maybe there was a lost baby; to be exact is to lie.

She had enough money to run up a credit card. There was a lease, the stain of their signatures, one under the other. Hers under his, as if he could hold her down with ink.

Somewhere above Lake Superior she heard an infant’s cry. It was a salt-water gargle, as disturbing and rangy as a vocal warm up. She walked down the aisle, nearing the sound, and found a mother dozing on the seat. She lifted the infant from the mother’s sleeping arms. Her tee-shirt was splotched with milk at the nipples, her slump vaguely sexual like she’d been slipped a mickey.

Serena strode the aisle with the infant in her arms, its wail an emergency. It filled the cabin with an engine-like force, though those fat-ringed thighs kicking against her stomach went nowhere. She watched as a business man’s eye’s popped open. She gazed at them, felt his shock upon waking. Mid-air. Mid-shriek. She palmed the little one’s wet head, the mask of a soft wet scalp under her eyes. The seam of her lips by an ear the size of a bottle cap.

She whispered, “Hey there.”

She whispered, “Don’t be quiet.”

She whispered, “Keep screaming.”

Kate Wisel is originally from Boston. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, the ForgeNew Delta Review, the PinchRedivider as winner of The Beacon Street Prize, and elsewhere. She is currently a Carol Houck Smith fiction fellow at The University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches fiction and is at work on her book.