My body is a holy place. “Destination” by LINDA H. HEURING Short Story #03

                                                          My body is a holy place. “Destination” 

My body is a holy place. “Destination” by LINDA H. HEURING

It was her silent affirmations that kept her from going completely insane. Ersella sat in window seat 5A, even though logic would dictate “A” is for “aisle,” and made her teeth vibrate. Not all of them, just the molars. Side-to-side. In front, where her familial overbite allowed her bottom teeth to cower behind her top ones, there was no movement to speak of, even though the molars were moving so fast that if they were made of wood instead of covered with porcelain crowns, she could start a fire. That wouldn’t be good. Everyone knows there is no smoking on a plane. All the while, in a part of her brain that had been officially mapped in colors bright as an approaching hurricane on the Weather Channel, she formed words. Not out loud, for God’s sake. People would wonder where her shopping cart was. She was already weighed down by a tote bag so heavy the rope handles had cut red slash marks on her palms.
“Self-talk” was what her psychologist called these little chants. Or was it her psychiatrist? It was in fourth grade, of that she was certain. That was the year Miss Piggy in her polka dots walked in on Ersella in the school bathroom stall. The year she graduated from biting her fingernails to dragging small pieces of glass across her skin.
Flying is safer than driving, Ersella said to herself. The self-talk was second nature now.
I will arrive safely at my destination. Her destination, which she knew as well as anybody, was home. Her parents’ house. “My destination” was part of the exercise, part of the internal talking points Dr. Manning had prescribed. It had to do with Ersella’s insistence on specifics.
“I will arrive safely home,” Doctor Manning told her to say.
“But what if I’m not going home?” Ersella said.
“Make a blank and fill in the place where it is you are going,” Dr. Manning had said. Ersella listened for impatience in his voice.
“So say I am going home. How do I distinguish between home and home home? You know, my parents’ house versus my apartment.” Ersella twisted a tissue into a string so tight there was a layer of paper powder on her fingers.
Dr. Manning held out his hand. Ersella dropped the tissue snake into his palm. He tossed it into the trash can beside his desk like an Olympian would throw a javelin. Dr. Manning didn’t look like an athlete. He looked like a doctor with a mustache and a side part.
“Ersella.” When he said her name it sounded romantic instead of the twangy drawn-out version she’d heard all her life. She was getting used to his way of speaking, his missing “the” sounds, and his “b” for “v” substitutions. She translated them automatically now. What color would that light up in her brain?
“Ersella,” he repeated. “Let us try another path. Destination. I will arrive safely at my destination.”
Destination. She let the word rest on the back of her tongue. The four syllables fit nicely, leaving little room for anything else. That was the point of self-talk, she had determined when she was nine. Keep your mind occupied. Like the sign over the airplane toilet. Ocupado.
I will stay in my seat, she said to herself, even as she watched the woman in blue shorts and white tube socks take the red-orange strap off the propeller on Ersella’s side of the plane. The tip of the blade was painted yellow, and as the propellers started to turn, Ersella saw a yellow ring like a life preserver form in the plane of rotation. A piece of lemon candy with a hole. She felt the urge tugging at her elbow and creeping up her neck. What if she stuck her hand out and stretched, just a finger, into the whirling blades? Like a stick on bicycle spokes. A yardstick in a fan.
There’s a little bit of destruction in all of us, she thought. Even her brothers, supposedly normal, would stick paper into her grandmother’s oscillating fan in its black metal cage, pressing closer and closer as the paper strips turned into confetti, yanking their fingers back just in time, over and over. For Ersella the lines were not so clear between destruction and self-destruction. Yanking back the fingers was denying yourself the whole of the experience, wasn’t it?
I will enjoy listening to music, she sang inside. She stuffed her earbuds into her ears, although it took her three tries to get the right one to stay in. If anyone had been sitting next to her it would have popped them in the head. Or the chest. Depending on how tall they were. She ran her thumb on her iPod dial. Enya was soothing.
I will enjoy listening to music, she repeated. The man in the seat across the aisle gave her a sideways glance. His shirtsleeves had a crease sharp as a boning knife. She closed her eyes.
If she did stick her hand in the blades, assuming she could get the window open and wasn’t sucked out like a chocolate chip through a Dairy Queen straw into whatever little air there was at 10,000 feet, would the blades grab her arm and spin her around like on a cartoon, or would she just lose her pointing finger, chop chop? She saw herself posting an online journal entry, typing with seven fingers and two thumbs, her stub pointed at the ceiling. She turned up the volume on Enya. The hum of the propeller vibrated through, setting off her molars again. The right earbud fell onto her lap. She yanked the left one out and stuffed the player in her bag underneath the seat in front of her.
Where was the beverage cart? Her tonsils were sticking together, and her stomach gasses were moving up her esophagus. She didn’t like traveling without her bottle of water. You couldn’t make your own liquids on the plane anymore. Pretty soon you’d have to climb aboard naked. That wasn’t her original thought. Someone sent her an e-mail like that. There was a photo of an unattractive nudie walking through the arches of the metal detector. Ersella had kept the photo on her screen and examined the boarding body for scars. She didn’t look at her own body anymore. She just felt her way around the keloids with her fingertips, scars that didn’t know when to quit healing that formed raised lines like red earthworms glued to her stomach, her thighs.
The flight attendant walked the aisle with a brown basket of snacks. No beverage cart. The flight was too short? The plane too small? Ersella chose peanut butter crackers. She’d really need water now.
“Looks like someone’s been shopping?” the flight attendant said when she brought Ersella two 8-ounce bottles of water. Ersella opened one and chugged it. The woman moved on.
Ersella ran her finger around the mouth of the plastic bottle. There it was. A shard, a plastic shard she could work up with her fingernail if she tried. She stroked the bottle lip with her finger like a mother to a newborn.
My body is a holy place that I respect every day, she said to herself.
It was test of wills, Ersella versus herself. Over the years they all had their theories. Her parents, the doctors, the so-called friends. They pried her open and tried to vacuum out her memories. They probed below the surface, looking for abuse or neglect, dragging her parents through official doorways and holding them for hours on neutral-patterned couches or stiff wooden chairs. What they didn’t believe in was her own curiosity. Curiosity is like what killed the cat. But cat killers, and she had known some in her time — the boy who drowned a litter one by one in a bucket of water just to see if they could swim, the boys who tied their tails together and threw them over a clothesline — these kids all graduated to mainstream lives, unencumbered by the years of therapy and hospital visits that marked Ersella like Cain, her breath a toxic cloud of anti-depressants and supplemental iron. She had the curiosity of an inventor and the pain tolerance of a stuntwoman, a job she’d never pass the psychological test for. Evidently, it was healthier to hurt an innocent animal than hurt yourself.
The plastic sliver on the bottle stood up like a toenail clipping still attached at one end. She hated it when that happened when she was all bent over with one foot on the edge of the trash can, trying to clip her toenails and one edge stayed attached. She had quit getting pedicures after the girl at Tori’s Nails and Tanning Salon plastered her legs with an apricot scrub and massaged it in high enough to catch an old scar with her fingertips. The technician, a teenager with a row of earrings like BBs running up one ear and a butterfly wing tattoo over one breast, left her finger on the scar for a split second and glanced up at Ersella, who was sprawled in the black vinyl massage chair above the pedicure spa. In that second they made the connection, Ersella saw in the girl’s eyes an innocent recognition. The girl touched her own breast, one quick stroke, and Ersella knew that the butterfly rested on a wound as private as the back of a walk-in closet. Ersella played with the lip of the bottle with the pad of her index finger, making little circles: clockwise, counterclockwise.
My skin is an organ of great proportions, Ersella said to herself. I respect its flexibility and beauty at all times.
The person behind her was taking off his shoes. He was scooting around back there and his knee poked into her back. He turned sideways and crammed one foot between the back of her seat and the plastic wall of the plane. It was engineered plastic, but plastic nonetheless. His sock was black or blue. Even with the sun coming in the window directly on his foot, it would take another piece of cloth for comparison for her to know the color for sure. It was dark and stinky. She didn’t need any tools to figure that out. Ersella unbuckled her seat belt and lifted the armrest. She scooted into the aisle seat. Her dress bunched around her when she moved, grabbed by the cushion. She stood up to straighten it. The man next to her gave her that look again.
She spun the top of the second bottle of water and wet her lips. The flight attendant carried a grey plastic bag down the aisle, holding it open like a mute kid trick-or-treating at Halloween.
When Ersella didn’t move, the flight attendant reached over to her to take the empty bottle. Ersella grabbed her wrist.
“No,” Ersella said. “I save them.”
The flight attendant glanced at the man next to Ersella. Ersella released her wrist.
A bell chimed two times. Time to shut off the laptops. They were almost there.
Ersella brought the empty bottle to her lips and grabbed the plastic shard with her teeth. She twisted the bottle until the splinter of plastic came free. She tucked it under her tongue and walked the narrow aisle to the lavatory.
Ersella slid the door lock and looked in the mirror. Her left cheek twitched and pulled her lip up over her front dog tooth, where it stuck briefly, like Elvis. Not the young Elvis with his half-closed eyes, but the old, fat Elvis whose eyes were squeezed between his brows and his cheekbones, who in all sincerity just wanted another jelly doughnut. And Ersella, what did she want? If only it was as simple as a jelly doughnut. She retrieved the plastic with her tongue and wiped it off into her palm. It was duller than she had hoped.
There were three dings of the bell now, and an announcement to return to the seats. Someone knocked at the door. Then someone else, pulling on the doorknob like a foosball stick. The door rattled and shook, like a closet door in an earthquake. The plane was dropping now in increments. The motor of the landing gear vibrated the floor. She could feel the thin skin of her eardrums pulled tight, rubber trampolines, ready to inflate like a party balloon, but for now, blocking out all but the voices in Ersella’s own head.
I will arrive at my destination safely, Ersella said to herself. Wherever that may be.

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Linda H.Heuring is an award-winning writer of character-driven short stories. She has given voice to teenage boys, retired school teachers, widows, New York artists, murderesses, men of size, and other diverse characters, taking the reader into their worlds with sensitivity and humor.
Her work has appeared in the 2012 Fish Anthology (Ireland), Rosebud, Concho River Review, Alabama Literary Review, Kestrel, Southern Women’s Review, Clover, and The Dos Passos Review, among other publications. She was awarded the Fish International Short Story Prize in 2012 (judge David Mitchell), third place in the Elizabeth Simpson Smith Short Story Prize in 2011 (judge Daniel Handler), first place in the Union County Writer’s Club Fiction Competition in 2011 and 2009, and second place in the Writer’s Workshop Fiction Contest in 2010. Her short stories have been nominated for the Best of the Web and the Pushcart Prize. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English composition from DePauw University and has worked as a journalist and newspaper editor and held global positions in corporate communications and marketing. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, David Whatley.
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My body is a holy place. “Destination” Short Story

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