The Suicide of Claire Bishop

By Carmiel Banasky

Dzanc Books
September 2015


You board the plane, bag slung over your shoulder. In first class they glare at you and gnash their teeth, you can see their breath filling the cabin, turning into microscopic bees, making it hard to breathe. An older woman in a fur shawl, which your mother would spray with fake blood if she were here, takes a good look at you then whispers to the woman next to her: that one's dangerous.

Down the aisle, toward your seat. Someone growls behind you. You aren't prepared for that and stop short and the man runs right into you and yells, Hey! It echoes off the cabin walls and the overhead bins and returns to you as, Go away!

Seat 23C, aisle on the port side. You stow your bag above the noise and you wish you could crawl up there, too. You look up and down the aisle for good measure. In the rear of the plane, a wide-brimmed black hat arcs above a seat, the face obscured. Next to him, a cop's cap. You duck into your seat before they see you. The sun has nearly set.

The little wool flap with the airline logo covers the headrest. Because of the lice and gnats and bees, you try to pull it off, but it won't give. You try to blow away all possible bees. You try to relax. You try to ignore the voice-pollution that fills up the place: You don't belong here, get off the plane, jump out while you still can, off the plane. The row in front of you is an exit row. That's good. You can be one of the first off in case the sides of the plane rip free—you read about that happening somewhere. The people in the row ahead are too short but you can see their fat arms in the cracks between the seats. The two people in your row to your left are fat also but they are already pretending to sleep. To your right, across the aisle, is not a fat person but a young girl maybe fifteen. Alone. Really and fully alone. You look around but can't see anyone who might belong to this girl with sky-blue fingernails. Looking at her makes the rest go still—she is safe and good to you. She wears blue wire-framed glasses and is reading The Great Gatsby. The plane pulls back from the gate and starts to taxi. The paint on the girl's nails is chipped away in mountain shapes from biting, which means that she has eaten that paint, which worries you. You take out your headphones and listen to Charles Mingus in case the voices of the passengers start up again, in case the girl should say you ought to get out of here. You can tell yourself it isn't real, that you are making it up, but it is equally plausible that the 193 people on this plane are right now unbuckling their just-buckled seatbelts in order to grab you and throw you off or kill you with a travel-size toothbrush. But they're only pawns; it isn't their fault they were chosen to off you because of how much you know. Now you've pissed off Charles Mingus, he sounds angry, so you switch to Bach's Goldberg Variations because you feel that is triumphant music and the songs are short like pop songs.

The plane is still taxiing. In front of the girl are two very large Indian women and one skinny man between them. The two women lean over the man and speak so loudly to each other that you can hear a murmur over the music. They gesticulate wildly, their hands flinging the compressed cabin air like water. The woman on the aisle seat keeps turning around as she speaks so her voice rises and falls as she eyeballs the people around her. Her gaze falls on you and you look away. Small TVs descend from the cabin ceiling. A spokeswoman shows you how to breathe. You cannot hear the words but know she is saying, "Have you or any of your belongings been out of your sight? If so, you must report yourself to the proper authorities." Yes, yes, you want to say, you have been out of your own sight. You slept too much, why did you do that? You must have been drugged, a bomb placed under your eyelids. You are at red-level danger.

Out of the corner of your eye you see the girl put down The Great Gatsby and lean forward in her seat, staring at the screen with her head tilted back. You take off your earphones and look at her smooth, flawless girl-cheek. Then, in one motion, she flicks her head to stare at you and raises her hand to push a button with the tip of a blue fingernail. You follow the finger's path—the flight-attendant call-button. Now they are most certainly coming for you. You shouldn't have been staring at her like that. You are helpless, nowhere to go. You are such an idiot. You gulp at the stale air, cotton-mouthed.

"Water," you say out loud.

The stewardess has come into profile. She says, curtly, "Sir, you'll have to wait." She leans down and the girl whispers something but her mouth is pointing more at the stewardess's sloped breasts than at her ear. "You'll have to speak up," the stewardess says.

"I was told," says the girl, loud enough for you to hear, but still quiet, "to report anything suspicious to an airline employee."

The airline employee stands up stick straight. Her voice descends a note. "Yes, go on."

You close your eyes, waiting for your execution.

"They," the girl says, and you open your eyes to see her pointing not at you, but directly in front of her, "have been talking about starting a fire on the plane."

The cabin is an ocean-roar of whispers. You catch the words "slaughter" and "pregnant."

The Indian woman on the aisle has turned around in one of her curious swivels and has been listening in. "What?" comes the deep growl. "Are you talking about us?"

"I overheard you," the girl says. "I'm sorry."

There it is, small and naked, "I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry," you say in the same voice as the girl.

All the players turn to you and stare.

"Did you hear this as well? Sir? Speak up if you did," the stewardess demands.

"I'm sorry," you say again, trying to be quieter, but it comes out amplified. You shake your head and hold your earphones up for her to see.

The other woman-in-question sticks her head above the window seat to say, "This is ridiculous."

The aisle woman says, "She has no clue what she's talking about. She's just a little girl. We were talking about how this exit row is actually not ideal if there is a fire in the cabin because only the front exit can be used. We were arguing whether or not we were in the safest part of the plane and my sister said not if we have to help everyone else off first, didn't you say that." But the sister only glares.

The stewardess says, "I'm going to have to ask you—"

The man between the sisters takes off his seatbelt and stands calmly in a half-bend under the overhead bins. "You're aware this is racial profiling," he says in a mild accent.

"Sir, you must sit down."

The man straightens his shoulders instead, but his head is tilted to fit. "This girl has been watching Fox news far past her bedtime. That is what I'm saying. She has been brainwashed and we are brown. Do you know we're not even Muslim, little girl? I'm Hindu. And my sister-in-law here is Christian." The man's voice has raised an octave. "Not that it should matter, but I'm a professor at Rutgers University. In New Jersey. Did you know that when you pushed that button?"

The captain or someone in a different outfit appears. The stewardess whispers to him and the captain-or-someone says to the man, "I'm terribly sorry but this is protocol. When something like this occurs, we must follow protocol. You'll have to step off the plane. I'm sure it's just a little miscommunication."

"We'll continue this miscommunication in court," the man says.

They grab their carry-ons and are escorted off. After the three leave, the stewardess helps the girl with the blue nails to get her things. "Is this yours?" she asks, reaching above for a bag with Girl Scout badges.

She looks around tearfully and her eyes finally land on you, sitting with your mouth open, staring. "I'm sorry," she says to you, and walks down the aisle after the woman. Don't go, you want to say. You would go in her place if it would stop her tears.

Over the intercom comes an announcement. "We're sorry for the delay folks, just a routine safety check and we'll be on our way. Nothing at all to worry about." Over the speakers, another announcement, "The man in seat 23C is highly dangerous. We will perform a routine safety check on him, too. Do not attempt to probe him. We must get him off the plane. Off—" You open your mouth very wide.


The engines whir and the whispering bares its teeth. You can hear them all, every word. You can hear the Indian family and the white girl arguing in an office inside the airport; they stop and stare together out the window when they see the plane leaving them behind. You can hear your mother crying in the car, and your sister crying over the baby in her belly, your father berating himself as he divides daylilies, showering soil around his feet. Some of it catches inside the cuff of his sock. You can hear strangers screech their tires and roll their eyes and yell at their children. Thousands of voices, a tower of them stacked and teetering, calling for help and blaming. It is too much to take in all at once, all those demands like prayers and none directed to a god. It's surprising so many people get up in the morning.

You are not God. But you lift off the ground. Clear twilight sky for miles, but fat clouds are approaching like bums. The engines and the wind throb in your ears. The air pushing past you is so loud your head is underwater, the drum and rush and echo of being submerged. Your forehead feels clammy, you touch it. You could push your forehead in, clay. You could push in and the skin would give and break and you could push past all the mush and touch your brain, if you want. You leave your fingers on your skull. The buzzing keeps on. No one seems to notice that the wind is rotting away the plane's steel exterior, and now the sides are gone, stripped off, and you are left sitting in the open night air with your seatbelt still fastened and digging into your stomach, flying over the Rockies.

Alone in the open, the multitude of voices die off until there is only one: an old woman. Her words are nebulous but they are undeniably words. Spider-thread voice. She says: it's time.

But up ahead is a storm. There is a seam opening in the universe too big to mend itself. It is open because of your failures. This is where things enter and escape, and when they escape they are gone forever, they never existed.

The plane rematerializes around you, and the old woman's voice is drowned out by the others'. Everyone else is asleep and everyone has the painted, open eyes of chipped mannequins. You do not let them know you can hear their thoughts. You put in your earphones and pretend nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Quietly, so no one notices, you wonder: what would it be like to jump?

The clouds are teeth out there in the dark. The man next to you says in his sleep, Jump off the plane. It would be so easy, door's open. Jump off the plane. You see the man's mouth moving. Jump before they all die. Jump through the open seam of the universe and erase yourself. Maybe then it will mend. The cabin lights dim and the crystal floor lights guide the way to the exit. And there is a new sound, thunderous. The storm worsening. You lift your feet to your seat and hug your legs, bury your head behind your knees, glancing over them at the thunder-lights pulsing down the aisle. Jump off the plane, stupid. Jump off the plane or the blue-polish girl will get hurt. Jump off the plane to reach home. Jump jump jump jump jump off the plane.

And who are you to argue with logic? This is the jump you've been preparing for all your life.

And it isn't thunder at all, you see. It's bees. Out of the crystal aisle lights rise hundreds, thousands of lost bees.

The seconds slow to minutes, to days. There are whole years between moments.

The bees swarm.


Sunrise. The plane hovers over Manhattan. The stewardess hovers over you and says, "Here is your water, sir. Thank you for your patience, you may jump now."

You try to rise but you're buckled in. You throw your hands over your belt, finally get it loose. You stand quickly and your shoulder knocks the cup of water onto her skirt. She screams as you shove your way toward the exit.