Samantha was busy in the tiny galley moving food from one place to another but Bianca only glanced at her before going up to aisle towards the cockpit. She couldn’t help her deal with the confirmation of their death. They all had to deal with it themselves.
Gary sat at a window seat in the middle of the plane, watching the people on the beach. Bianca stopped by him, worried by his blank face.
“You don’t have to look at them if that makes you sad,” she said.
“It doesn’t make me sad,” the boy said. As she sought for something to say to him, Gary darted out of his seat and sped down the aisle and out of the plane. Bianca followed him.
Michael’s “Hey, Gary” and Rob’s “Where are you going?” clashed in the air above the boy’s head as he ran to the tourist party at the beach. Bianca stopped at the top of the airstair.
“Hey!” Gary shouted at the tourists. “Hey! Can you see me? You can’t! Hey! I’m talking to you! You! The fat one! You’re a pig! And you’re ugly! You’re all ugly and disgusting!”
The boy rushed at the back of one of the men who had settled himself on the blanket and fell through him to the ground, on the food, which was as insubstantial to his body as the man. Bianca started down the stairs but Michael was faster and reached Gary first, with Gabrielle and Rob on his heels. Gary lay on the ground surrounded by the people who couldn’t see him and the food none of them could eat. He had folded into a fetal position and his eyes were squeezed shut.
“Gary,” Michael said as he stepped between two of the picnickers. Gabrielle and Rob stopped a step behind him. She shuddered.
“They really can’t see us,” she whispered. Rob looked away.
“Gary, come on,” Michael said stepping forwards carefully to avoid stepping into a plate that held a triangular sandwich with what looked like cheese and mayonnaise. He found a place to step and lifted his leg for the next step. The boy hadn’t moved. “Gary?”
Someone put a little bowl full of olives right where Michael was planning to step.
“Well, fuck you, too,” he murmured and stepped on the bowl. It was like stepping on an image projected onto the ground. “Disgusting,” he said and squatted next to Gary.
For a couple of minutes nobody spoke, except the tourists who never stopped chattering. Then Gary opened his eyes and turned his head slowly to look at Michael.
“You okay?” Michael asked. One of the tourists, a girl, reached into Gary’s chest and retrieved a plastic box that contained roast chicken drumsticks. Michael winced.
“No,” said Gary, his gaze fixed on the chicken. “We’ll never get to eat drumsticks again. Or olives. Or anything other than sandwiches, lasagna and that stupid pasta.”
Michael waited. Bianca watched from further back. It had happened earlier than she’d expected, the first breakdown. She refocused her attention from Gary to the couple closer to her. Rob and Gabrielle were older and they had so far acted surprisingly reasonably but sometimes breakdowns came out of nowhere, especially if you didn’t know the person breaking down. They would have to watch them, too, she and Michael. And Sam, too. She was a professional but her job description didn’t include dying and staying on as a ghost to harvest the souls of crash victims. Charles was the least likely to have a meltdown but it was never out of the question.
Bianca ran her hand over her hair as she did when she was upset. The smooth plane of it calmed her down. She would have to watch everyone and she had no idea how she would do that. Unless there was something else she could do. As she crossed her arms a change in the texture of the air told her she was not alone. Charles had stepped out quietly to watch the scene on the shore. He didn’t say a word.
“We’ll never get to leave this stupid ugly beach,” Gary continued, his breath hitching. “Why can’t we just go like those people from the other plane?” His voice broke.
“I don’t know,” Michael said.
“Because we have a job to do,” Bianca said from behind him. She had stepped around to stop behind the man Gary had fallen through. Now she made a step forward into the man. He chatted with his friends, bent forwards to take another sandwich and sideways to make a confidential remark into his picnic neighbour’s ear, blissfully unaware of the woman standing inside him. His body was like solid fog around her legs, a moving, chewing, chatting fog Bianca ignored as she looked at Gary.
“We are here to help people. We didn’t choose it. I understand why you’re angry. But since we can’t do anything about it we better make the most of the situation, right?” She flashed Michael a sideways glance and he tried to smile despite the surreal picture of the man who now reached out through Bianca’s left calf to take a drumstick.
“I don’t want to help people,” Gary murmured.
“Okay. You don’t have to.”
“So, what, I just sit on the plane and die of boredom?” the boy said and he unfolded and sat up, hugging his legs. “You call this making the most of the situation?”
“No,” Bianca said. “I call doing what we’re supposed to do making the most of the situation. Maybe this is not permanent. Maybe after a while we get to enter the tunnel. We don’t know. For now, we can’t, so we help those who can.”
“It’s not fair,” Gary said and blushed.
Michael tapped him on the shoulder.
“Life’s often like that.”
“It’s happening again,” Gabrielle said from behind her back. “The itching.”
“Are you coming or are you staying?” Bianca asked Gary. “We have to go.”
Gary glanced around at the tourists and got up.
“I hate French,” he said. “My mum made me take lessons and I hated them.”
Michael laughed. Gabrielle and Rob joined in. Bianca smiled and put an arm around Gary’s shoulders as they started back to the plane.