One of the disappointing consequences of great accomplishments, B— sometimes thought, was that they didn’t seem great after a while. A shockingly little while, it turned out. When he reflected over his career, B— could see a clear pattern repeat itself: the flicker of ambition as he eyed uncharted territory, the thrill of pursuit, the early failures which only inspired him to more intense and obsessive efforts, and then, in the midst of some battle, the sudden inspiring discovery (a new approach, a brokered deal, a relenting enemy--like some enormous gear once rusted shut slowly breaking free and turning into place) and then the rush toward inevitable success, about which he remembered a lot less. It was like that with every domain he had pursued: real estate, technology, talent. Each new world—however strange and alien--followed the same laws; they had all knelt before the forces he'd brought to bear.
These fits of self-consciousness always bothered him. Most of the time, he was too busy to think about anything but his next step. But on his jet, sipping a gin gimlet, watching the American landscape flow predictably by like a favorite tv show he’d watched as child, he’d fall into these sick reveries. At first he thought it was just the lack of distractions. It was the only time in his life he was truly trapped. He had to just sit there. He tried books, movies, games, drugs, sex. None of it really helped. As soon as the plane passed over the clouds, and he caught sight of the curve of the earth, he started to feel maudlin, reflective, pointlessly philosophical.
He had complained about it once to Hannah, and she'd remarked that this was a common problem. “Had he heard the expression, train of thought?” she asked. “Was I claiming originality?” B— shot back, his feelings suddenly hurt. Hannah patted his head, explaining that it was only the curse of the prospect. “It was the fault of the landscape Don’t blame yourself,” she said. "A hundred years ago, all they had were mountains."
He’d looked out the window again at the mountains, followed by small middle American cities huddled against nameless rivers, then the endless farms, then more mountains, desert, all rushing by. How did everything get so small? Maybe he should stay on the ground. He never flet this way when he was walking around. Or driving. Hannah just sat back in her seat and laughed.
He couldn’t take her for more than day when they were together, but now he missed her. He remembered how she’d sit on the edge of his desk in her rich girl lesbian avenger boots making fun of him. Whenever he went on too long, expounding on some success, she’d start in with a little one-word song: redundant, redundant, redundant, redundant… She didn’t give a shit. That, at least, was refreshing.
He tried to focus on something more concrete—the meeting in Denver then the call to New York—but suddenly the plane bucked like a pick-up riding over a pothole. He instinctively grabbed hold of the armrests and looked out the window.
He expected a storm cloud but instead he saw bright sky, the sun shining off the wings, sharp and clear. Then his eye was drawn to the space around the plane. Something filled the sky with a kind of texture. It seemed to almost take shape and then dissipate again, like static on a pre-digital television or a flock of starlings banking sharply. Could it be birds? No, it was too small. Maybe bugs. But then, as he stared, the thousand little dots definitely took shape, a curve or blade or giant black wing curving alongside the jet. He hunched up in his seat to get a better view, and to his shock, he saw that this thing seemed to be casting a shadow on the ground two miles down, a vast shadow spreading across acres of farmland. He slid the shade down and yelled to CJ, who was up flirting with the pilots. “What the fuck?” He shouted.
Instantly, he saw her pretty smiling face lean into the aisle. She’d been on his plane for 14 months now and knew him pretty well. In an instant, she could tell he was upset. She pursed her lips in a sympathetic way that gave her otherwise very un-maternal face a maternal quality that B—liked in spite of himself. “What’s wrong?” She asked again. B—was about to try and explain what he’d seen out the window but instantly realized nothing good could come of it. What was the point? He was either fleeing from something or he wasn’t? What he needed was something to chase.
He asked for another drink.