Fiction: Exit Row Savior

By Anthony Neil Smith

Yes, always. I always choose the exit row.
The company I work for needs me all over the country all the time, but they won’t kick me up to business class. I’m the specialist, the translator, turning high-tech mumbo-jumbo into man-on-the-street common fucking sense. That’s me. It’s what I do. I set up voting machines they bought from my employers, then show the volunteers how to work the damn things, step-by-step, without having to rely on the overly-complex, lawyer-tested, schematic heavy instructions – the “destructions,” as my mom likes to say.
And if the machines break, I go tell the people who fix them how to fix them.
Sort of.
The point is, if I can’t go full business class, then I want the exit row. I need the legroom. I’m six-foot-five. I’ll take what I can get.
They pay attention to you when you’re an exit row passenger, the flight attendants. Their lives are in our hands, too, so they don’t want a weakling or whale blocking their path to freedom and safety. They want someone they can trust. Someone who will grab that door and fuck it up. Throw it off the wing like it’s made of tin foil, and lead the grateful passengers to a new lease on life.
So when they ask “Are you willing and able to –”
I say, confidently, “You can count on me.”
And I can tell they fucking believe it.
But that’s not all.
I choose the exit row window seat.
The action seat.
The decider.
It’s me choosing when it’s time to get the hell out of whatever inferno the incompetent pilot dove us into. It’s me making sure we’ve got our ducks in a row in case the idiot operating the other exit door fails in our time of need.
You motherfucker! What made you think you were up to the challenge? The responsibility? The privilege?
I scoured Craigslist until I found an old exit door that had been sitting in someone’s grandpa’s garage for twenty years, only discovered when the old man passed. I took that baby home for cheap, set it up on a simple frame in the basement beside my Whirlpool washer and dryer, and I practice, baby, I practice.
Pull down, lift out, throw away.
Pull down, lift out, throw away.
Pull down, lift out, throw away.
Better than pumping iron.
Better than sex.
Pull down, lift out, throw away.
“Don’t worry! I’ve got this!”
Pull down, lift out, throw away.
“Don’t panic! No one’s dying on my watch!”
Another thing, since I’m the exit row savior, is there’s no point cramming myself into that thin metal tube breathing contaminated, store-bought air, watching a sad line of humanity with tickets in steerage – “cattle class,” or “economy minus,”- each giving us a look like “I could do that job. Just not worth another forty bucks.”
Well, fuck you sideways, Mister Gets Turned Back from Trying to Use the Business Class Toilet.
I don’t need the stress.
So I don’t board when they call my group.
See me, at the bar on the far end of the terminal, having a good old time with fifteen dollar Bud Lights and seventeen dollar wet-ass nachos – still saving the company money over drinks and meals onboard – waiting for those three glorious words: Final Boarding Call.
Which is never the final boarding call. There’s a final boarding call, then maybe you didn’t hear us the first time but it’s the final boarding call, then the “final” final boarding call, which is when I show up. Smiling, no line on the jet-bridge, no one still trying to shove their obviously non-fittable bags into the overhead when they should have been checked, and I head to my row, finding two other singles sitting there most of the time. They look up at me, like, You’ve got to be joking.
“Yes, that’s me. I’m the window. I’m the guy you want on that door.”
They don’t know it yet, but they do.
They want me there.
I’m the right man for the job.
And, by God, one day it’s going to happen.
Pull down, lift out, throw away.
Follow me, folks, one at a time.

Anthony Neil Smith is a novelist (Slow Bear, The Drummer, Yellow Medicine, many more), short story writer (HAD, Barcelona Review, Cowboy Jamboree, Maudlin House, Bellevue Literary Review, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, many more), professor (Southwest Minnesota State University), Mexican food enthusiast, cheap wine lover, and admirer of Italian exploitation films. His nonfiction has appeared in Concho River Review, Flyway, Flyover Country, and JAKE. One of his pieces was chosen for Best American Mystery and Suspense 2023. He was previously an associate editor with Mississippi Review Web, and is now editor of Revolution John