There’s something about airplanes. They change you. Life was meant to happen on the ground, not in the air. If we were supposed to fly, wouldn’t we have wings like birds? Even idling on the tarmac, swallowed up in its belly like a worm, the giant silver bird changes you.
“Have you ever flown before?” the flight attendant’s voice asked kindly.
Annie was staring out the window with her hands and nose pressed against the ice cold glass. Snowflakes danced hither and thither in the winter night. Her eyes darted about with excitement, chasing each flake that came close enough to see. It had never snowed in Great Falls before and this was new. Little ice fairies with magic wands cast their spells on her imagination. Jessi would insist that there was a grand ceremony or something, that they were all Wind Riders preparing the way for the Ice Queen. Soon she would be…
“Flower Anne!” her mother’s voice snapped. “Speak when you’re spoken too.”
Annie turned and sat up with a start, blinking at the bright cabin lights. She looked helplessly at her mother and then at the flight attendant. She hadn’t heard a word of their conversation. The lady’s uniform was pretty, a dark jacket over a white blouse with a scarf and a badge with wings. She must be very important.
The attendant smiled and repeated her question politely. “Have you ever flown on an airplane before?”
Annie nodded nervously.
Her mother’s face drew a stern look of contempt. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I don’t know what’s gotten into her. She’s never been on a plane.”
“No worries,” the attendant replied still to Annie. “You’ll be just fine. I’m Becky, I’ll be your flight attendant. If you need anything, just push that button, okay Flower Anne?”
Annie nodded nervously again, angry that Mama had called her Flower in public. She wasn’t going to be pushing any buttons. Glancing up, she noticed she couldn’t reach it anyway. She waited impatiently, bouncing her feet up and down quietly until Becky left and then turned once more to the window.
The snow was falling harder and harder. Annie wondered if ice fairies were friendly. What would happen when the Ice Queen got there? Jessi would know. Annie wished she could imagine things the way Jessi did. Soon they would be home, but tomorrow was Christmas Day. She would have to wait to see her friend.
The plane taxied. Its turbines rushed. The parade of ice fairies disappeared, the runway lights blinking faster and faster and then suddenly they disappeared out from underneath her. Annie shut her eyes tight. Her stomach fell away, still fastened securely to the ground where it belonged. She wanted to curl up into a ball and cry, but her mother, seated calmly beside her, wouldn’t approve.
Inside she was spinning with dizzying speed. Her body began trembling, her hands were sweating and suddenly there was a great wood and glass door with shiny brass handles. She pushed with both hands and all her six-year-old might, it swung slowly open and she stepped through.
Snow! The whole world was white and grey but for a flashing sign up high across the frozen boulevard. -24 C, it flashed. Down a set of steps she pushed her feet. The white powder squeaked quietly under her footsteps. Her tiny breaths puffed from her lips in translucent white clouds, turning to dust before her eyes and raining to the ground in slow motion.
On the sidewalk, she stopped and kicked at the snow. It floated softly up into the air swirling about like the inside of the snowglobe Nana had given her. She bent down to pick some up. It sifted through her fingers like sand, but she couldn’t feel it. She stared at her hand and touched it to her cheek, feeling neither. And then she saw her.
Radiating in icy raiment, the Ice Queen approached, gliding along the ground on steps so graceful Annie couldn’t tell one from another. A company of ice fairies at her side, wands in hand, formed her regal procession, alternating crimson and indigo illuminated by the flashing sign.
Annie’s lungs were beginning to burn. Her breaths no longer formed the cumulus puffs. The Ice Queen stopped before her. Lashes of frost adorned the most beautiful eyes, and Annie stared up into them hypnotized. She was angry. Her voice poured into the night like a tinkling mountain stream that reminded Annie of the glass wind chime on Nana’s back porch.
“How is it, that you have not made my way, child?”
The ice fairies raised their wands. Annie tried to speak, but her mouth would no longer move. A large hand grabbed the collar of her coat, dragging her, hurrying, back up the steps and through the wooden door. The warmth of the hotel air seared her frozen skin.
She opened her eyes. Becky was standing by their seats again with a silver cart. Annie didn’t know what to do. She nodded her head in nervous silence. Becky smiled. “Juice? Water?” Annie nodded again, and Becky handed her a cup and an apple juice.
“What is the matter with you?” her mother asked.
Annie couldn’t answer. There’s something about airplanes. They change you. Becky moved off with her cart and her mother poured the juice. She sipped at it in silence. The entire flight home she never said a word.
As they walked up the terminal at the airport, Annie stopped to stare in the window of one of the souvenir shops. The glass was covered in frost and decorated with shiny plastic snowflakes. The shop was closed and it was dark inside, but a sign from the behind them flashed red, illuminating the ice fairies.
She turned to look at the sign… fresh… coffee… fresh… coffee…
“Mama, what’s minus two four C mean?” she asked.
Her mother shook her head. “What is the matter with you, Annie?”
© 2011 Anne Schilde