Short Story

The Blog

On my way back from the bathroom I am forced to wait behind a shoji screen because a waitress delivering wooden platters of unagi is blocking my path. From the other side of the screen I hear, “He totally boned me on the racquetball court today.” Unfortunately this is coming from my table. Worse, from my date, a personal trainer from my gym. He is now, minus me, flirting with his best friend’s girlfriend. “I think he’s doping. Seriously.” They all laugh.

On her flight to Seattle, Meredith read and re-read this paragraph, feeling compassless and dissatisfied. She hasn’t posted to her/Jennifer’s blog in thirteen days, the longest dry spell since she started it after getting downsized from the Philadelphia Inquirer five years ago. Her old editor asked her, in her new capacity as a freelancer, to do a story on local blogs. Meredith was surprised to learn that some of them were pulling in not insignificant amounts of ad revenue. Since being laid off, money was tight, so Meredith found herself wondering if she could supplement her freelance income with a blog. If the writing skills of the people she interviewed were any indication, it shouldn’t be that hard. Though she suspected the audience for a 48-year-old unemployed journalist living in a small apartment with her cat was probably marginal.

So she created a woman named Jennifer, a 29-year-old graphic artist living in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Jennifer, unlike Meredith, dated regularly, dressed fashionably, cooked, went to a gym, enjoyed improving the décor of her small, but charming, apartment. Her lifestyle was suspiciously, if one were cynically minded, tailored to attracting a variety of advertisers—websites selling Le Creuset enameled cookware, organic herbs and spices, modern housewares, shoes, clothes.

Meredith, in contrast, lived with the dark, outdated furniture she inherited from her mother, ate the same sandwich everyday for lunch (turkey and Swiss cheese on rye), and felt sufficiently exercised if she ventured out to pick up her take-out dinner instead of having it delivered. She dressed almost exclusively from the Land’s End catalog, usually the women’s slim ankle chino with a blue or white 3/4 sleeve solid supimo no iron shirt. She hadn’t been on a date in eight years.

Nonetheless, Meredith initially found she had an easy facility with The Jennifer Voice, as she called it. “Is anyone still wearing the thong?” began one of her more popular posts, entitled “Perma-Murphy.” This post concluded with an ode to the boy short which landed Meredith a long running ad for a lingerie website. Another post, called “Tramp Stamp” detailed the removal of a Celtic tattoo from Jennifer’s lower back. This post generated a vigorous debate in the comments section on whether or not girls/women who have these tattoos were more promiscuous than non-tattooed women. Meredith didn’t realize, until this post, that she had so many male readers. She also noted that when Jennifer’s posts veered into sexual territory, her website traffic spiked.

Thus Meredith began to phase out recipes—“Pan Seared Scallops, So Easy to Make at Home!”—and introduced more intimate revelations. A two month lesbian relationship beginning with “Girl on Girl” and ending with “A Leopard Can’t Change Her Spots” boosted her stats enormously and won Meredith/Jennifer a best blog award from an organization she had never heard of.

But five years into this enterprise, Meredith was finding it increasingly difficult to come up with new material. She closed her laptop and put it back in its travel bag, cramming it under the seat in front of her. She considered going over the itinerary for the conference she was covering in Seattle for a neuroscience journal, when the plane suddenly nose-dived. Gasps and a few screams erupted throughout the cabin, but then the plane stabilized and a few people cheered. Meredith could see the cheers were premature however, since a faint trail of wispy gray smoke was coming from under the right wing. Next the plane began vibrating and the fasten seat belt signs binged on. For four or five minutes, the passengers waited nervously for an announcement, whispering anxiously and futilely pressing their flight attendant buttons.

“Folks,” the pilot began in an avuncular tone, “we’re experiencing a little engine issue and, ahh, we’ll be making an emergency landing in Chicago. We expect to be there in…”

The announcement abruptly cut out followed by more gasps from the passengers and what sounded to Meredith like the early stages of a panic attack somewhere a few rows behind her. Meanwhile, the plane was vibrating more intensely.

“We should be landing in 25 minutes, folks,” the pilot finished.

From her window seat, Meredith could see the smoke coming from the wing was now no longer wispy and a much darker shade of grey. For a few minutes, Meredith contemplated a crash landing she wouldn’t survive. Should she write something? A good-bye, some apologies, meaningful last words? What would be the point, especially considering her laptop would likely be a melted, fumy blob after the crash. Meredith’s heart was pounding so hard she thought she might have a heart attack or stroke out before she had a chance to die the horrible plane crash death that she was visualizing. She looked at her watch and realized she still had 20 minutes until the crash landing. What are you supposed to do with your last 20 minutes? Should she close her eyes, pull down the window shade? Or should she watch the whole terrifying conclusion from her little window? They were supposed to fold over onto their knees, though Meredith has never been clear on the life saving benefit of this.

Soon they were low enough that Meredith could see the runway. Ambulances were already in place, foam coated their landing strip, and a number of fire trucks were waiting nearby. As they got closer, Meredith clutched her armrests and prepared for impact. At the last moment, she decided to crouch over and close her eyes, unable to watch.

The plane landed hard, bounced, then made contact with the ground again, fishtailing. The nauseating feeling of the plane’s weight skidding sideways filled Meredith’s body, but then the plane aligned itself and continued its forward momentum. Acrid smoke wafted into the plane cabin, a combination of jet fuel and burning plastic. The plane eventually slowed, then stopped, and workers rushed the plane with hoses and flame retardants. Nobody cheered this time. Instead, the passengers watched and waited, some approached the flight attendants to find out how and when they would be allowed to get off the plane.

“Folks,” the pilot finally announced, “we’re waiting for a vehicle to come and tow us to our gate. If everyone could just be patient, it’ll just be a few more minutes.”

Twenty minutes later, the passengers were still waiting in their seats, headachy from the smoke. Meredith watched the airport workers milling around on the tarmac. They looked bored. “How long’s this shit going to take,” she imagined them thinking. “It’s fucking freezing out here.”

Finally, Meredith felt the plane lurch forward. Five more minutes and she is dragging her carry-on bag off the plane and into the overheated airport. They are instructed to wait at the gate for another plane to arrive and take them to Seattle. Meredith parked her carry-on bag and sat down, a little shaky but more stable than she would have expected. She was feeling a little low blood sugary so she opened her bag to locate the peanut M&M’s she bought earlier in the Philadelphia airport. Some vestige of her younger journalist self surfaced and began imagining the reporting she could do on this event. If she were still employed at the Philadelphia Inquirer, she would have called her editor and pitched a story, probably something involving reduced standards in airplane maintenance. Hadn’t she recently heard a podcast on airline’s cost-cutting measures, including contracting out airplane repairs to companies whose workers were in fact auto mechanics? Maybe she just flew in a plane whose engine was repaired by a guy who normally repairs Volvos.

But Meredith, even if she had someone to call, is not really interested in writing this story because what just happened to her is blog gold. Meredith crumpled up her M&M’s bag, lobbed it into a nearby garbage can, then opened her laptop. She logged into Jennifer’s blog, clicked on “new post,” and typed “I Just Almost Died” in the title box.