The String Theory

by Avital Gad-Cykman

Last month, our favorite flight company (TRRRR: usually cheap, rarely retires airplanes) started employing rag dolls as air hostesses. My husband and I were reluctant to fly with them, since we dislike alterations and surprises, masqueraded gates to disappointments. But we had to visit his aging parents, and changing companies would have defied steadiness as well. So habit triumphed.

My husband frowned at the grey rag doll tagged Sharon that let us into the airplane. She was standing on a high stool to reach a regular human height. I couldn’t find any apparent division between her body and clothes, but the waist was full enough to convey her femininity, and her lower stomach had the shape of a skirt.

“She’s like a woman. Let’s make the best of this flight,” I whispered to my husband. He tends to be drawn deeper in worry every passing year.

“I guess they’ll do,” he replied in a low voice as he handed his umbrella to a beige rag doll. “All air hostesses are only nice to the passengers of the first class anyway.”

“See?”

“They aren’t even as attractive as they used to be.”

I straightened my new dress and arranged my hair, then sat down near the window and he sat by the aisle.

The rag dolls attended us, cleverly disguising the fact they couldn’t speak. They floated with the help of transparent springs so they could serve drinks and food when someone or something blocked the aisle.

My husband received the extra pillows and blankets he requested, as well as more tea, and he had the rag dolls turn on his light and insert his headphones. It seemed as if a flock of rag dolls were serving him, but perhaps only one poor doll came and left a hundred times. He seemed happy.
A blue rag doll with a name tag saying “Sharon III” floated and threw confetti.

“Like a party,” I said. But looking up, we found she was simply falling apart, shedding crumpled pieces of cloth.

It evoked an image I’d rather have forgotten: our drunken friends at the New Year Eve who, unlike Sharon III, put their rags back on when they climbed out of our swimming pool.

“All the key people should learn how efficient and attentive rag dolls are,” said my husband with bonfires for eyes. “I’ll pull some strings.”

I passed my fingers down his spine, found it and said, “Leave it to me.”

Avital Gad-Cykman’s work has been published in Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s, Prism International, Descant, Other Voices, Michigan Quarterly Review, Stand and other magazines. It is also forthcoming in The Literary Review and featured in anthologies such as Sex for America, Politically Inspired Fiction (Harper/Collins 01/2008) Stumbling and Raging, Politically Inspired Fiction Anthology (McAdam/Cage), You Have Time for This Anthology (Ooligan Press), The Flash (Disease Press), and more. She is a three-time Pushcart prize nominee. Her story collections Light Reflection over Blues and Perfect for This World were finalists for Iowa Fiction award. She was born and raised in Israel and now resides in Brazil.

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