UES65

FICTION

RAISED IN CAPTIVITY BY CHUCK KLOS TERMAN

I t was better than anticipated, at least for the only way he traveled anywhere. The experience would never seem unremarkable. It would always feel gratuitous in the best possible way. Would he read a novel or watch a movie? Maybe neither. The chair was so supple, perhaps he’d just sit there and stare robotically ahead, fixated on the degree to which he wasn’t uncomfortable. There was Wi-Fi in the cabin. Maybe he’d send a group email to all his old high school chums, playfully bragging about the altitude from which the message had been sent. His friends didn’t understand his job, but they would understand that. He couldn’t tell them what his salary was, but he could show them how his company treated its employees. That might scan as pompous, of course. It might make him seem like a bit of a douche, and he didn’t aspire to become the kind of person he’d always been conditioned to hate. But he was proud of himself, maybe for the first time. His life had changed, and this was proof. He asked the attendant about the flight’s duration. She estimated just over three hours. He got up to use the lavatory, delighted by the absence of a line. He wondered if it would be different from the restrooms in coach—larger, perhaps, or cleaner. And it was. It was slightly larger and slightly cleaner. But he barely noticed those details, because it also included a puma. He immediately closed the door and returned to his seat. For a solid seventy seconds, he considered doing nothing at all. “Don’t panic. Don’t choke. There’s no way what you think you saw could possibly be the thing that it is.” He reached down into his leather satchel and felt around for his book. His father had once told him that the key to life was an ability to ignore other people’s first twenty minutes. Not $1,200 better, because that’s impossible. But still: Hot towels for the jowls. Enough territory to extend your entire left leg into the aisle without fear of sanction or reprisal. A glass of orange juice while still at the gate, served in a glass made of glass. He thought to himself, “I could get used to this.” But that thought was a lie. He would never get used to this, even if it became the

imaginary problems. But he wasn’t sure to whom this particular problem belonged, or if it was real or imaginary, or if his father had ever considered what that advice actually implied. He again got up from his seat and walked to the lavatory. He cracked the door two inches ajar, enough for the automatic light to illuminate. He peered into the tiny room. There it was, sitting on the lid of the toilet, looking back with an empty intensity that matched his own.

He closed the door and returned to his seat. Seeing the puma a second time did not prompt the internal reaction he’d anticipated. He was, for whatever reason, a bit ambivalent. On the one hand, he was trapped in a contained space with a two-hundred-pound cat. On the other hand, at least the puma was truly there. If the lavatory had been empty, it would have meant he was hallucinating. Better to be a noncrazy person in peril than a crazy person who was safe. He turned to the passenger sitting to his immediate right, an older man in a pin-striped suit who was drinking his second martini. “Excuse me,” he said to the gentleman in 2D. “This is going to sound bizarre, but . . . have you used the restroom on this flight?” “No,” said the man. “Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know how to explain this,” he began, almost murmuring. “I don’t even know how this happened, or what this means, or what you’re supposed to do with the information I’m about to give you. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t even tell you this, although I don’t know why I would think that, since I’m sure this is something you’ll want to know. None of this makes sense. None of it. But I just got up and went to the lavatory, twice. And both times, when I opened the door, there was a puma in the bathroom.” “A puma?” “Yes. I realize how insane that must sound. I’m sorry.” “Yes.” “A cougar.” “Yes.” “A mountain lion.” “Yes. Sure. A mountain lion.”

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