Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Sleeping with Strangers

It’s 6.10am. My leg is touching his. I look at his thigh as it presses against mine. Who would have thought our relationship was going to get this physical this soon? Our shoulders brush. I can feel his warmth when our flesh mingles. And it mingles a lot. I hadn’t planned this. Neither of us had. It was as much of a surprise for me as it was for him.

But here we are snuggled up side by side in our cabin. The atmosphere is heavy. He’s sound asleep and I can’t help sneaking a look at him. He’s quite beautiful. I don’t even know his name. I know it’s wrong. I’m married. I’m twice his age. But here we are, sleeping together.

He’s not the first stranger I’ve slept with. There have been many. There’s no guilt. My husband and I sleep with strangers all the time. We don’t get jealous. We don’t ask questions. We just accept that with the kind of lives that we live it’s going to happen more often than not.

I have another look at my stranger. He’s really very lovely. Often they’re not. We often sleep with fat people. Old people. Stinky people. But this morning his face is soft and dreamy. I think about licking him. Then I don’t. I drift off for a moment and when I wake feel his arm against my breast.

In the ideal world I wouldn’t be sleeping with him. I didn’t mean this to happen. But it’s not my fault. I couldn’t stop it. We were thrown into this together. By Jetstar. I’m 22b and he’s 22c. I’m smashed in beside some handsome young bloke and we can’t stop touching each other. Not on purpose. It’s the ridiculous contortion and subsequent flesh pressing required to fit anyone who isn’t five foot two into a seat these days.

I am certain that in those changeover tidy-ups between every flight the good people at Jetstar move the seats closer by one millimetre. I used to fit. I remember there being at least an inch between myself and the seat in front. I remember being able to actually use the arm rest. Even put my arm on it. These days a 6-foot-tall woman does not fit in that seat without a decent man spread. And by man spread I don’t mean some sort of sandwich filling made with processed man meat; I am referring to the body position where one must sit with one’s legs open rather than closed.

Terribly unladylike, but I can’t keep my legs together on a flight any more. If I do, my knees push into the person in front. I’m particularly long from hip bone to knee.

I remember in my youth, when I was being measured by my modelling agency, their remarking that I seemed to be normal sized everywhere except there. I have freaky femurs. So to sit with any degree of dignity I have to open my pelvis and press my knee against the person beside me. When travelling with family this is just annoying. But man spreading with strangers can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and erotic all at the same time. Especially when I’ve forgotten to wear pants. You can’t man spread in a frock. Well, you can, but you might be thrown off the flight.

It’s a strange sensation being forced to touch someone you’ve never met. It’s even more bizarre when you have to utter the seven words every man wants to hear from a woman: ‘I have to go to the toilet’. There are two choices. Get up and let me out or experience an impromptu mid air and wildly clumsy lap dance as I try to squeeze over the top. If we hit turbulence your face is going to get wedged between my air bags. And please, fellow travellers, just because you can put your seat back doesn’t mean you should.

It’s a bondage situation. If I’ve got my tray out, that two degrees of comfort you are now enjoying in the possible arc of 360 sentences me to the stocks. I ain’t going nowhere. If I have to go to the toilet it’s going to happen right there in the seat.

The thing about the Jetstar ‘getting to know you program’ is that you don’t always get seated next to someone you actually want to know. Let alone touch. It’s usually gross. So if they’re vaguely pleasant it’s mildly tolerable. I can handle it when I’m awake as I maintain a kind of ninja body awareness but it’s when I am sleeping that I come undone. It’s too close. It confuses me.

I’m a very sensual, tactile person. I like to touch. If you sleep with me I will molest you. Just ask my friend Julie. She’s still recovering from my bed-sharing with me a few months back. In future if we share a bed I’ve asked her to use a ‘safe’ word.

So this morning on my flight from Melbourne I fall asleep pressed thigh to thigh against my handsome young stranger. I’m dreaming. It’s a very very nice dream. I feel the warmth of his body beside me. I roll over, reach out and when I wake up I’m licking the side of his face. How was I to know he was the pilot? It’s amazing how much room I got after that.

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