Hailey slugged into work every day and had been in many tiny cars. She knew discomfort. She knew knee pain. But nothing was more uncomfortable, and nothing shot pain through her knees quite like a coach class seat on a cross-country flight.
So there sat Hailey, over 30,000 miles in the air, and the fasten seatbelt light had just turned off. She was ready for her second battle of the flight. She had won her first battle when she sat down and pressed her arms firmly against each armrest. This new battle was an entirely different beast. This time she had an opponent. She held her legs as close as she could to the seat in front of her and braced for impact. The young lady who sat in front of Hailey pressed the button to recline her seat, but the seat did not move. Hailey made sure of it. Hailey held her grunt as the young lady slammed her body against the unmoving seat. The young lady shrugged her shoulders. Hailey grinned enthusiastically. The second battle was won, but one more battle had to be fought. Hailey pressed her own button and slowly reclined. Victory.
She watched circles on the earth crawl outside of her window on the path from black and grey BWI to the bright colors of LAX. Her family was anxiously waiting on the other side of the path to overwhelm her with pettiness and bullshit galore. If she was going to relax, she would need to relax now. She scratched her nose.
When she put her arm back down, she was surprised to find that a man's arm had taken her arm's place. Hailey gave the arm a confused look and then glared at her opponent. He was an older man, eyes closed, face shaved, hair mostly dark with hints of white. His light blue polo shirt hid a small gut.
"Excuse me, sir," Hailey said politely.
The man stirred in his seat, but kept his eyes closed.
Hailey poked his shoulder. "Sir."
The man opened his eyes, slowly and uncomfortably, and looked at Hailey.
"I'm sorry to bother you," Hailey said. "My elbow was already on this armrest."
The man looked at the armrest and then at Hailey. "I'm sorry. I don't understand."
"The armrest," Hailey said. "I moved my arm for a second and then your arm just kind of appeared there."
"Oh," The man replied. He moved his arm halfway off of the arm rest and then nodded and smiled at Hailey.
Hailey looked back uncomfortably. "No. You don't understand. I don't want to be rude or anything, but I clearly established position for this armrest."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that I have established from the start of this flight that I get control of the armrest."
The man laughed as if Hailey was kidding. Hailey looked back deadly serious.
"You're joking," the man said.
The man turned serious too. "Well, that's pretty ridiculous. You can put your arm there too. I don't mind."
"Well, I do."
The man moved his arm back across the entire arm rest. "Fine then," he said. He closed his eyes and relaxed his head against his seat.
"Are you serious?"
Hailey looked out the window for a moment and then turned back to the man. "Look, I'm about to see my parents for the holidays and I'm more than a little stressed out about it. Never in my life have I been on a comfortable flight and I just want to feel like I can relax on the plane for the first time."
The man opened his eyes and looked under the seat in front of him. With one hand- the hand opposite of Hailey- he grabbed his bag, opened a zipper, and pulled out some headphones. The arm closest to Hailey did not move as he struggled to get the headphones on.
"It's like that?" Hailey asked.
"Sure is," the man said without looking at her. He closed his eyes again.
"What a jackass," Hailey muttered under her breath. She turned her eyes back out the airplane window, but her attention stayed on the man's unmoving arm.
She felt an overwhelming urge to move her legs, but there was no room. She moved her butt in her seat, but her restlessness didn't cease. She looked at the earth, wide and unending outside of her window. She closed the blind. Once more, she exhaled audibly and waited for the man to react. He didn't move.
The next thing she knew, she was tickling the side of a complete stranger. His eyes shot wide and he jumped in his seat, laughing and screaming at the same time. A few of the other people on the plane looked at the two of them. Others grumbled. As soon as the man's arm left the armrest, Hailey rushed her own arm to its home base.
"What is wrong with you," the man yelled.
Before Hailey could respond, a short flight attendant with dark hair tied in a bun snuck up behind them. "Excuse me. Do we have a problem?" she asked.
"No, there's no problem here," Hailey replied.
"She just tickled me," the man said in disbelief.
"Miss. Did you tickle this man?"
"He stole my armrest," Hailey said.
"He stole your armrest?"
"Yes. I had already established position when he slammed his arm into mine."
"That's a lie," the man said.
The other woman in their row said, "She is lying. I saw the whole thing."
"Oh bullshit," Hailey said. "That's probably his wife."
"Excuse me miss," the flight attendant said. "I need you to lower your voice and watch your language."
"Sorry," Hailey mumbled.
"Now," the flight attendant continued. "Do you think you two could share the arm rest?"
"I'm fine with that," the man said.
"This is not okay," Hailey said. "I already established position."
The flight attendant said, "I don't understand what you mean by 'establishing position.'"
"I had my arm here since the moment I sat down. This guy sat here knowing that my arm was already on this armrest. I had my arm here for at least an hour and the second I scratch my nose, he barrels his arm over the armrest that I was clearly already using."
The man practically jumped out of his seat. "I didn't barrel my arm into anything," he said.
"You're such a liar," Hailey exclaimed.
"Miss," the flight attendant said.
"He's lying!" Hailey repeated.
Hailey went to speak, but stopped.
"Miss. I have been a flight attendant for nearly 20 years. I have never heard of the concept of establishing position." Hailey put her arms in the air in disbelief. The flight attendant continued, "I'm going to need you to share the armrest or let it go. If you can't do that, I can find another seat for you."
"You know what," Hailey said. "Let's go find that other seat because there is no way that I'm sitting next to this guy for the next two hours."
The man went to say something, but rolled his eyes instead. The flight attendant looked around the plane. "Come with me miss," she said, unwilling to hide her annoyance.
The man and the other woman in the row got up quickly with exaggerated motions frustration. As Hailey got up and passed them, she avoided their miffed smirks. She must have been speaking louder than she realized, because half of the people on the plane were looking at her. But Hailey knew she was right, so she walked with her head held high until she was shown an aisle seat by the flight attendant.
"Um," Hailey said. "An aisle seat?"
The flight attendant put her hands on her hips. "Sit," she said.
"Fine," Hailey replied. She took the seat and looked at the person next to her. A skinny young man slouched into his seat with his legs and arms spread as wide as possible. Thick headphones covered his ears. At least he didn't hear all of that nonsense, Hailey thought. The seat in front of her was already reclined. She pressed the button to recline her own seat, but the seat didn't move.
As Hailey shook her head in disgust, the young man who sat next to her scratched his nose with the hand closest to Hailey. Her eyes opened and she rushed her arm to the armrest. Then she smiled and looked straight ahead. She felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to the young man, who had took off his headphones.
He smiled at her politely. "Excuse me. I believe that I already established position for that armrest."
Hailey looked at the young man and smiled back. "I understand. I understand completely," she said. She may not have been comfortable, but at least she could tolerate the rest of the flight.
Greg McCracken lives in Lorton, Virginia and works in Washington, DC. While sorting files, he daydreams about people in interesting situations and writes about them as often as possible. He has recently completed his first collection of short stories.