“Hey, girl! Cookies!” she sings out, depositing the package and gliding onto the gangway, blond hair streaming like a sail. “I brought you coookies!”
Dannye lives in the sky. She lives between Paris and New York, above the clouds over Washington. The sky is an abstract thing for most people; for Dannye, it is as familiar as a spare bedroom. She knows how to hold her American Airlines badge in front of her chin when she passes through security. She knows how to hang her navy blazer on a tray table hook so it won’t wrinkle, and she can, she explains, “rock a three-tiered dessert cart like nobody’s business.” Ten years ago, when the Earth changed, the sky changed, too. Her spare bedroom was hijacked, and Dannye’s small piece of the sky was almost taken away. In a parallel universe, she was on that flight. Almost, but not.
She heaves her carry-on bag into an overhead bin; she knows how to do this in a fluid swoop even though she is 5-foot-3 and whip-thin, with perfect nails and wearing heels. She is relentless forward motion, forward and upward, above it all. Speed and altitude are what she is made of.
The plane takes off. The wheels tuck up. Dannye smooths her hair and silently prays what she has always prayed, on every flight home, for the past 3,605 days.
“Thank you, Lord, for your many blessings. Safe flight to Washington, please.”
• • •
What could have happened:
Ten years ago, Dannye’s sons were 6 and 9 and went to a school in Oakton that hung onto one relic of old farm-community schedule: On Mondays, they got out at noon. Dannye liked working Flight 77, a morning run from Dulles international airport to Los Angeles. To spend more time with Brad and Kevin, she preferred to work it on Tuesdays. For the second week of September 2001, she saw that she had been slotted for Monday instead. She tried to switch. She called Michele Heidenberger, and she called Renee May, colleagues who had been assigned to the flight. She left messages. She thought about calling Kenneth and Jennifer Lewis, the couple who completed the crew, but didn’t. When married couples flew together, they usually requested to for a reason, and Dannye didn’t want to mess up their plans. Renee could have said yes. Michele could have said yes.
What did happen:
Michele didn’t call back. Renee didn’t call back. Dannye found other arrangements for Brad and Kevin after school. She flew to L.A. on Monday, Sept. 10, and on Tuesday, she woke up early and was lying in her hotel room, flipping through a National Enquirer that a passenger had left on the plane, when another flight attendant called from his room and told her to turn on the television.