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Free Fall

When Trust is Gone

By Harmony KentPublished about a year ago 9 min read
Top Story - April 2023
92
Free Fall
Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

A flight attendant pushed the drinks cart down the aisle of the Boeing 777. The compact metal contraption rattled as if in mimicry of Elena’s emotional distress. Shocked and reeling in disbelief, she gaped at her husband. After opening and closing her mouth a couple of times, momentarily mute, she accused him, ‘You did say that. Those were the first words out of your mouth when you got home last night.’

Peter scowled and gave her an incredulous look, which implied she were the liar here. ‘Well if I did, I don’t know why. There’s nothing owing … Gerald paid me in full yesterday afternoon.’ He shrugged and adopted a nonchalant attitude.

By their seats, the crew member paused with her trolley and glanced from Elena to Peter. On an impulse, and without regard for the possible consequences, Elena forced a smile. ‘I’ll have a double Laphroaig, please. No ice.’ Resolute, she ignored dear hubby’s raised brows and reached across him to accept the plastic tumbler and miniature whisky bottle from the attendant. ‘Thank you.’ Elena put all her focus on pouring the spirit from bottle to tumbler. At 50 ml, it made for a stingy double measure. It might have been more expedient to have ordered a quadruple instead, and to hell with the inevitable repercussions.

After securing himself a Diet Coke, Peter waited for the hostess to move on to the passengers behind. ‘Bit early, isn’t it?’

Elena sipped her drink and let the smoky liquid slide slowly over her tongue and down her throat. She relished the burn, which distracted her from the hot sting of hurt and humiliation in her chest. How dare he? So many times, now—too many—she’d caught Peter in a lie. Small ones. Big ones. Seemingly pointless ones. But why? What made him feel the need to mislead? When had the honesty … the respect … gone?

With impeccable timing, the captain’s voice sounded on the public address system. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your lap belts and remain in your seats. Due to an incoming storm, we’re likely to hit some pockets of turbulence. This could be a bumpy ride, but there’s nothing to worry about …’

Hah! Elena wasn’t quite so sure. The instructions droned on, but Elena zoned out, her attention taken by her whirling thoughts. She and Peter had plenty to worry about, and if they didn’t sort themselves out soon, their marriage would end up dashed on the rocks 35,000 feet below. Two weeks ago, her secure world had taken a nosedive when yet another petty argument had turned violent for the first time, with neither warning nor logic. Peter had lost it completely, all because she’d inadvertently displayed how fed up she felt with him for leaving hair shavings, and gross, stuck-solid orange bits from flossing, in the bathroom sink, when she’d paid the once-weekly cleaner for her excellent work only that morning.

The wheelchair put her head and the basin at the same height, and the mess had smacked her in the face. Much more so than if she’d been able to stand upright. Worse still, at 11:30 at night, her chronic fatigue had sucked her down to depths whose sheer weight of pressure even a hardy Snailfish couldn’t withstand. All of which meant Elena’s guard tumbled down, and she’d failed to hide her frown.

It went without saying that Elena understood she was no longer the woman Peter had wed just three and a half years prior. Although an amputee already, she’d been active and energetic—and slimmer. Where as these days, she needed the wheelchair to mobilise, had gained weight due to the reduced mobility and long term steroid treatment, and had little energy and lots of pain much of the time. However, in spite of everything, Elena’s acute sense of fun and robust humour had not only survived but thrived. So had her compassion, and she’d offered her husband an out on numerous occasions. Each time, he’d assured her he loved her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. Unfortunately, his actions belied what now felt like empty words.

Over and over, she agonised—why? What kept him around if he were so evidently miserable? With one last gulp, Elena finished the whisky and twisted around in her seat and half lifted so she could see the flight attendant. ‘Miss? Excuse me. Could I have another?’ Only then did she notice that all the cabin crew moved hurriedly in efforts to secure equipment and themselves ahead of the expected turbulence. Heat suffused Elena’s cheeks, and even her ears burned. The woman studied her, nodded, and grabbed another miniature. Quickly, Elena said, ‘Make it two.’ After a blink of surprise, the hostess recovered her neutral poise and produced a second bottle. As she snapped the cart lids closed, a sudden ripple in the airstream around the plane slammed the craft downwards. Although it felt as though they’d plummeted hundreds of feet, a couple of feet or so would be a more realistic estimate. Nonetheless, Elena’s stomach plummeted all the way down to her feet, which flattened against the thin floor under the strain.

A few of her fellow travellers shot Elena glowers of disgust and tutted at her, all as straight-backed as their upright seats. Even without looking, she could feel Peter roll his eyes. He may as well have yelled, ‘Really?’ The attendant plunked the miniatures down with a thunk, offered a brief smile—of commiseration? Pity?—and dashed toward the galley at the front of the cabin, where the remainder of the crew sat secured and watching while concern creased their usually smooth and implacable faces.

Ashamed, Elena felt the need to numb more acutely than she ever had. With haste, she splashed the two 50 ml measures into the tumbler, dropped the bottles into the bag at her feet, and kicked it beneath her chair. With the plastic glass in one hand, she pushed up the table and locked it in its upright position, then fumbled one-handed with her lap belt. After about twenty seconds of stony silence, Peter braced his coke between his knees and leant over and fastened the belt for her. ‘Thanks,’ she mumbled and hung her head.

Her husband let out a not-quite-suppressed sigh, retrieved his drink, and took her free hand, which he settled on the armrest between them before he gave her fingers a gentle squeeze. The gesture took her by surprise and left her flustered. His sudden and infrequent kindnesses and displays of affection seemed so at odds with the harsh brashness he’d adopted over recent months. No matter how often she used every skill and wile she had to invite him to open up, he remained as closed as a clam, as if protecting a developing pearl. Desperately, Elena wanted to tease out his lustrous, protected beads and encourage him to string them together into a necklace of love they could each wear and share. Sadly, all her efforts were in vain, and since the incident she’d grown reticent and comported herself with utmost caution and care.

Violent buffeting splashed some of her drink into her face, and the wet droplets thrust her—bodily—back to that night, when Peter’s spittle had sprayed her cheeks and nose and stung her shocked, wide-open eyes while he’d bent over her as she cowered in her wheelchair and he screamed continuously. When he’d switched to laughing maniacally, that had scared her badly. The screaming she could, sort of, understand. But that mocking laughter and gleeful glint in the eyes?—Nope. No way could she begin to comprehend that. Though it took a humongous effort, Elena squeezed back and managed to flash her husband a smile. As soon as she turned her face away, she blinked repeatedly in a furious attempt to hold her tears at bay. Never a weeper, and certainly not in public, Elena hated how easily she cried at the slightest provocation now.

This time, the Triple Seven really did plummet. Both Elena and Peter lifted from their seats, and only the lap belts, which jerked against the inverted gravity, saved them from having their heads dashed against the overhead bins. Along with Peter’s coke, the tumbler of whisky flew from her grasp and hit the ceiling with enough force to crack the plastic. The mixed liquids splashed over them both and coated them in a sticky residue, which—much like the fight would take Herculean efforts to wash off … if they survived at all.

A deafening boom preceded a high-pitched whine from the engines, which then roared. The jet dipped downward at a sharp angle, and Elena’s bag slid from beneath her seat and hit the back of her calves before pushing past and invading the space under the row in front. Every single unsecured object in the cabin slid, flew, and tumbled toward the head of the plane as the pilots lost the fight and the aircraft spun and twisted into a devastating nosedive. Screams reverberated throughout the long cabin. The passenger oxygen masks dropped downward and startled people further. Prayers for salvation jumbled together with curses and swearing.

Husband and wife locked hands and horrified gazes. Their shared terror reflected back at them from glazed, bulging eyes. In extremis, they clung to one another in body and spirit. ‘I love you,’ Elena cried at the same time as did Peter. Finally, the awful dissonance between them had dissolved, and they had found their synchronicity once more.

Until that moment, Elena had come to believe the worst feeling was having to doubt the very thing she’d thought was unquestionable. But that free fall was as nothing next to this. When death’s spectre settled a bony hand on her quaking shoulder by way of welcome, she found she needed a whole other kind of trust.

An ice age or two came and went, and Elena’s whole being froze from the stupor of terror and denial. Then, finally, by some miracle, the pilots wrestled back control, and the Boeing levelled off. It took longer yet for the nose to point upward and for the plane to climb. All the loose baggage and debris came barrelling back down toward the tail end and smashed painfully into vulnerable bodies. Something heavy crushed Elena’s right tibia, and she screamed in agony.

About ten minutes later, once the aircraft had reached cruising altitude again and had stabilised, and the cabin crew began to check on each passenger, the pilot’s shaky voice came over the intercom. ‘All right, folks, I’m sure you all felt a couple of G's for a minute there, but everything's going to be okay. We'll be just fine.’

Elena bloody well hoped so.

LoveShort Story
92

About the Creator

Harmony Kent

The multi-genre author who gets write into your head

I began writing at 40 after a life-changing injury. An avid reader & writer, I love to review & support my fellow authors.

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Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  3. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  4. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  5. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (41)

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a year ago

    Whoaaa, this was a ride! So many emotions and the issues with the plane. Fantastic story! Congratulations on your Top Story!

  • Hannah Mooreabout a year ago

    Really nice writing.

  • Donna Fox (HKB)about a year ago

    I appreciate your use of really unique words in this piece, really showing off your vocabulary. Your descriptive language is also amazing, I love the way you play on familiar emotions and senses for the reader. I liked the part where you described how it felt for her to take that first sip of whiskey! (Maybe I just really need a drink today 🤷‍♀️😋) Also the scene when the plan does a dive and their drinks fly in at the air, I was able to clearly see the scene play out in my mind. You did such a great job building Elena into a believable, relatable and diverse character. Sad to see her in what feels like such a turbulent and unsteady relationship, although that also added to her relatability. I like the storm and plane losing control reflected Elena’s own personal turmoil of how she felt her life and relationship with her husband was going/ what direction she felt its was headed in. This was such a great story, so well written, thought out and executed! Great work Harmony!

  • Soniaabout a year ago

    My new love story is published 😊

  • Robbie Cheadleabout a year ago

    This is an excellent story, Harmony.

  • Erika Ravnsborgabout a year ago

    Wow! What a story. It pulls out so many emotions.

  • Testabout a year ago

    Sad and poignant story with a little bit of hope. Amazing story-telling, leaving specifics mostly unsaid, which makes the story all the more powerful of the complexity of human relationships. Lovely - Anneliese💖

  • Sandra Coxabout a year ago

    Wow. What a ride. Well done, Harmony. Sandra

  • William Johnsonabout a year ago

    Your piece is an excellent example of persuasive writing.

  • Ethan Jacksonabout a year ago

    You have a way of making complex ideas easy to understand.

  • Olivia Davisabout a year ago

    You have a talent for storytelling that kept me hooked from beginning to end.

  • Samuel Oforiabout a year ago

    That was awesome

  • J. R. Loweabout a year ago

    Great story Harmony!! Love the tension you built throughout

  • Really great story! Your details are flowing and vivid and you put together a wonderful story. Beautifully done!

  • Talha Ansariabout a year ago

    Amazing

  • Dana Stewartabout a year ago

    Suspenseful and so well paced! Congratulations on Top Story, Harmony!

  • Stephanie J. Bradberryabout a year ago

    An air-infused rollercoaster of emotions. Congratulations on Top Story!

  • An interesting story, well-developed, omitting details ranging from the incident that left her in a wheelchair to the details of the violent argument some weeks back, giving us just enough to provide mood & atmosphere without distracting us from the present moment. I do have a question. Are you sure you have the physics correct? You have the bag (as well as other loose articles) moving forward during the nosedive. But wouldn't they first have flown upward (maintaining their direction & velocity) until they hit something (as with your drinks) & then, assuming the plane's velocity continued to increase as it fell nose first, wouldn't those loose objects have begun to slide toward the back, continuing their slide until control was regained & acceleration reversed? (Wow, four & a half lines for that last sentence. Try saying that out loud without taking a breath or passing out!)

  • JBazabout a year ago

    You built suspense and tension beautifully. Congratulations on Top Story

  • Congratulations on your Top Story😉✨💖🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉

  • Mariann Carrollabout a year ago

    Congratulations 🎊🎉 Top Story. Well Done

  • Babs Iversonabout a year ago

    An emotional ride!!! Well done!!!💖💖💕

  • Kristen Balyeatabout a year ago

    Oh- so much suspense! I was really wrapped up in the story and couldn’t stop my eyes from darting to the next line to see what happened! Great parallels tied up in there as well. Amazing work! Congrats on top story!

  • Dana Crandellabout a year ago

    Congratulations, Harmony! I had a feeling this one was going to end up a Top Story!

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