The first time he saw her was in an airport. A Petri dish of festering emotion and sickening crowds. He’d caught a wisp of her trailing at the corner of his vision, it was only a glimpse, but as he straightened himself back to forward, he knew she wasn’t just a figment of his travel addled mind. As he took a breath and grabbed his bag, a woman in a tight pencil skirt and a ponytail that seemed to pull at even her toes, came and rammed into him, sending him rocking back onto his heels, his brain rattling around like a drunk entering a dark apartment.
He continued toward his connection flight. Through the stifling heat and the crying couples, the chauffeurs with the fancy polysyllabic names spewed across expensive card stock, the pilots walking around with more purpose in their gaze than the entirety of the travelers bulging around them. The click of heels, the swish of slippers and everything fuzzy. He hated flying. He hated the people rushing around like plague bacteria happy to infect the next and the next. He wished he had a storm of anesthetic to clear away the sappy couples, the reuniting, the departing, the people too important to even breathe.
The people with screaming kids were especially bad this time. He flew all the time. He flew in winter. He flew in summer. He flew in spring and sometimes he even flew in autumn. He found his terminal, it was crowded, with lines already formed and spilling out into the walkways. Making irritable people even more irate.
“No Todd I told you it was 6:30. How long has my mom been stuck in JFK?” A pause. “No Todd it’s not okay, it’s not okay at all. She’s eighty! And she’s been stuck in JFK for five hours!”
Now there. There is a relationship that is moving fast, slipping down a slippery slope. It’ll be done in three months tops. He put an earbud in and turned his attention to another airport conversation. His own.
“No, mom, it was delayed. I’m still in Dallas.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes I’ll make it back in time.” It was getting dark. His head was rattling with every breath he took. “Thanks, bye mom, I love you.” He was going to hang up before she said anything else. He did.
He could psychoanalyze himself, he was cynical, very much stuck, but he wasn’t going to do that. There was no fun in that.
There was a blip. It seemed as if someone had set the world back a half-minute or badly spliced an old movie together. He blinked. Pursed his lips to one side. That was definitely sleep deprivation and yet, there, there was that baby’s cry again. He inclined his head toward the sound but it was gone, lost in the cacophony of other airport noises. He turned back to forward, only to move six inches forward and hit another abrupt stop. He really hated airports. He ran a hand through his hair making a bad situation worse.
“Oh for God’s sake, how long can this take?” A stranger breathes out. He was a small wiry man with the barrel chest of a Doberman pincer. A contradiction in every sense of the word. The man was innately untrustworthy in his eyes, yet somehow he couldn’t help but agree with the man, a vaguely troubling notion. He shoved the other earbud in, content to cease in his airport judging.
By the time he reached the back of the plane he had exhausted all of his music, which wasn’t saying much. He had very little music, and even less photos. He didn’t have much of anything on his phone, in fact.
He was in the farthest row back, cramped by the window, stuck between life-preserving plastic and the man with the dog’s chest. He could feel it, this flight was going to be obscenely long.