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Andrew Dinsmoor is an American exchange student, studying in the English and Psychology departments during his time at the University of Chester.

Mountains are gray sponge paintings on Earth thirty thousand feet below.  Clouds are gaseous handshakes ten thousand below, and I think about our sun forming five billion years ago and wonder how distinct we are, really, from space.

          Turbulence sends the plane skidding like thin rock on water, and I feel like a toilet is flushed in my esophagus, and I use the gastric juices to swallow the apple cinnamon muffin I had for breakfast, and there’s the unrelenting flight attendant: square white teeth lit like a twenty-four-hour sign on the Vegas strip, two breasts on their tip toes under that pin-striped shirt like a couple of circus clowns tense behind a curtain, and posture like she has to get this performance just right.

          ‘Here you are, sir,’ she says, handing out Southwest pretzels and peanuts to the man one row ahead.  When I’m up, I order Sprite and Minute Maid Cranberry Juice.

          ‘A beautiful day to fly,’ the captain cuts in over intercom.  ‘A comfortable sixty-five in Vegas for ya’ today, and looks like we’re on schedule to get in fifteen past four this afternoon.’  He cuts out.

          Eventually the ground below turns from greed to red, and Mom asks, ‘How much farther?’

          ‘What’s it matter.’

          ‘Merrick, I’m spinning!  How much longer?’

          ‘Yep,’ I say, and I chew over memories from the past five days.  The distractions: our Double Tree hotel on Broad Sreet, Bellini’s, William Penn atop City Hall, Chinatown off tenth and Cherry Street, Liberty Bell, Indepence Hall, UPenn campus, Benjamin Franklin’s grave.

          ‘You didn’t answer me, Merrick!’ she says, clutching the complimentary barf bag.

          ‘Mom, I don’t freaking know - ’ I try to whisper so the blind lady next to Mom can’t hear.  The lady’s hearing has got to be acute, and she has enough to deal with.

          ‘Merrick, oh, God, I’m spinning.’  She snaps her head forward like an eighteen-year-old boy saluting his sergeant for the first time.

          ‘Yep,’ I say and look out the window.

          Earth is the flat face of a burn victim, and lonely houses are brown and black moles.  I wonder if Mars has any real estate available.  Tides rip in my stomach, and I follow orders with Mom: attention forward.

          ‘Oh, God, Merrick, I think we need to ask the pilot if everything’s okay,’ Mom says.  She unlatches the dining stand from the back of the chair in front of her and grips its corners.

          ‘Jesus, Mom, settle down.’

          The blind lady adjusts herself towards the aisle.

          ‘No, something isn’t right.’  She throws her elbows down to the dining stand and brings the white bag to her open mouth; lips furl, nostrils tense, veins ripple up her neck.  But nothing comes.

          At least the pilot was right.  Nothing but clean blue skies out here.  Then I think about talking to Jeff over Skype for the first time.

          ‘You know, a three bedroom apartment is pretty empty with only two people living in it,’ I’ll say.

          He’ll laugh.

          ‘You better be coming back between semesters, at least for Christmas,’ I’ll say.

          ‘I’ll try, but only if financial aid allows it.’

          ‘Dude, Mom and I can’t set that damn four-foot tree up alone.  You’re the one who always connects the plastic joint things.’

          ‘I know,’ he’ll say, and he’ll laugh.  ‘Hey, I gotta’ get to class, though.  Skype next week?’

          ‘Yeah - talk to you soon.  Miss ya’.’

          ‘I know, but I gotta’ get goin’.  Bye, Merrick.’


          The plane sinks a couple hundred feet, and it feels like bowling balls switch places in my stomach.  Mom is still trying to prove something by filling that bag, so I rip the thing from her old hands and puke into it three times over.