Airports and strange women.
Flight 505 Never Made it to Denver. It Crashed and Burned Up in those Rocky Mountains.
His thumb and forefinger pinched the long edges of the boarding pass together. His eyes floated down the paper canal, through the clusters of numbers and capital letters printed in an angular type, in ink with white streaks from a choppy, hurried printer. E6. 14FEB. 505. 3:50. DL2. ZONE 3. 26C, most likely a seat on the aisle. He was glad for that. The majority of the flight would be spent above the clouds rather than below them, and the aisle proved much more interesting once the plane leveled out above the horizon. His fingers straightened without precedent and the card stock of boarding pass popped as it flattened on instinct. It floated down an invisible little spiral staircase and settled into a wrinkle in his corduroys.
"Attention passengers of Flight 505, nonstop service to Denver:
Due to a sudden need for some minor runway maintenance, the scheduled departure of 3:50 will be delayed about twenty minutes. Once again, Flight 505 has been delayed and will be boarding at approximately 4:10. thank y-" the woman behind the podium drone in a practiced voice, releasing the button to her microphone half of a second too soon as she hurried off to her next task.
Three scattered bodies stood up in a slow, confused stir. Two of them settled back down into their chairs. He didn't see them, though, his eyes were busy with the dense blue and maroon swirl of the carpet peeking at him through the hole in his crossed legs. He watched how the dark prints his damp shoes left on the carpet began to disappear when he heard a sigh and the chair next to him creak under the weight of a body.
He lifted his eyes about an inch, directly ahead of him. The row before him was vacant. And the row behind that one, too. In his peripherals he picked up only a handful of red eyed wayfarers that looked Denver bound. His stare inched back down to his fading footprints. The hint of a candy perfume on the stranger sent his nose searching where his eyes didn't.
She stared at the side of his head and waited for it to turn. It didn't. She smiled.
"What awaits you in Denver?" she asked.
"Another plane," he said, to the carpet.
She continued to stare at the side of his head, where his right ear would be if it wasn't hiding under a tuft of unkempt black hair, matted in the fashion that is all the rage on the late night redeye. She set her elbow onto the silver bar arm rest and her chin slumped onto her limp fist, just a few inches from his own. One side of her slight smile curled a little higher than the other. The tinny voice of the airport intercom sang for Pittsburgh's first class to board. A few faces made hopeful glances at their tickets, but remained seated.
"And where does that go?"
"And then a bus. Well, another bus. The second."
She lifted her chin up from her loosely curled fingers and tilted her head toward him at a curious angle. His eyes were still locked down at 45 degrees, where his feet were tapping out 1/16th notes to the hums and taps of various airport machinery and the loose disconnected words from strangers' chats. It seemed to him that this indistinct beat held the rhythm of all this quiet airport chat and movement tightly in time.
"You travel a lot? I bet you do."
He stopped tapping his foot and pulled his head back. Air poured into his nose and filled his lungs with a slow sigh.
"Listen, I'm not really the flirting-with-strangers-in-an-airport type, so..." he started, but stumbled over the tail end of his sentence when he turned his head to look at her. It was that blue handkerchief she had tied tight around her neck, he thought, that wrapped around his tongue and held it down. It was a perfect primary blue, untouched by any other color or tint. It was lit in such a pure shade he felt his pupils were dilating. Her pale, ethereal complexion evoked something similar. The delicate features of her face were arranged in a careful and neat manner, so that she might pass for one of those Japanese porcelain dolls if her straight brown hair was stretched out and tied up in an ornate bun, maybe skewered with chopsticks. The worst part, he thought, was those eyes. Those big, white saucers of milk with dark chocolate centers, so dark they looked empty in the middle. She barely seemed to blink. "So let's just leave it at that, all right?" he finished and looked toward a corner of the building.
"The touchy ones are always running," she said. His head slumped forward and he rubbed his temples with his middle and pointer fingers. "That's it!" she exclaimed, "And I'm going to guess from a girl?"
"That's enough," he cut in abruptly. "I'm going to read this book now, and you can contemplate the advice your parents never gave you about strangers."
"You don't have a book."
"I mean I'll read... this ticket... a few times."
She nodded her head emphatically. "Oh, yes, definitely." she said.
He pretended to be engrossed in the ticket he had already memorized while he strained for his call on the P.A. She snuck glances over him when she looked at the muted T.V. tucked in a high corner shelf above him. The ticket flipped over two or three times.
"Look, I'm sorry. It's just I haven't slept and I'm kind of irritable," he said as the ticket fell back onto his lap.
"You learn to expect those kind of things when you approach strangers for conversation at 4:00 in the morning," she answered coolly. He gave a sudden, airy laugh. "But don't think that's going to stop me from asking questions. I don't give up so easy."
"I can tell."
"All right, well," she started, "where are you from?"
"Is that where you're coming from?"
"No. Well. yeah, I mean, when you get down to it, I guess."
"You've lived a lot of places?"
"Compared to most, I suppose."
"I see." she said, drawing out the ee as it faded away.
The intercom in the corner said they could get on for Denver if they were first class, but they weren't. It seemed nobody on a 4:00 a.m. flight was. They sat in silence for a minute or two, waiting for someone to pass by.
"Why did you leave?" she asked.
"Leave where?" he asked. She didn't say anything. She didn't really indicate she was going to, either. She just sat there, refusing to blink. "The opportunity arose and it was the right time to go."
"She was so bad you needed a new time zone?"
"Which one?" he laughed. "Nevermind. They all were."
"So does that make Wyoming the only place left where none of them can find you?"
He laughed again. "No, not really."
As their conversation picked up pace, so did the airport staff. They began boarding the first two zones of coach at once. For the first time since he looked up from under his shaggy hair, a few people started moving. One of them, holding a briefcase, made a slow stagger to start the line. There was a light brown stain on his white oxford shirt. Whiskey and coke, he guessed.
"Where's your seat?" he asked the girl.
"Oh," she said. "I'm not on this flight."
His eyes started to crawl out in surprise, but he reeled them back just as he reached his arms taught above his head, feigning a stretch. 'The girl is a good guesser,' he thought. His foot started its rapid, light tap as the song of the airport's decibels waned. The small line to board was also evaporating.
"I guess," he started up again. He shook his head and rustled some of his hair with his hand, trying to mask the blood stirring in his cheeks. "I guess I've just had a few shitty endings and I'm not too good at dealing with them." The soft pierce of her gaze didn't waver away from him. It streamed the words from the mouth it opened in a trickling confession. "And I do know someone from Laramie...that's where I'm trying to get to... but she wasn't bad. In fact, she's probably the only one that has a right to avoid running into me."
"She's waiting for you there?"
"Not unless she's as good a guesser as you. But I thought if I could get there I could fix it somehow. I could run into her or someone like her and do it the right way this time, and feel satisfied with my I thought I'd try treating someone else like I'd been treated, with her, but it was a mistake." The slight pink in his cheeks began to fade, before they could perpetuate their own embarrassment, when he locked his eyes with hers. The novelty of this unspoken staring contest kept him from feeling stupid when she didn't say anything.
"It's a lot easier to move with the wind at your back," she finally said, like she was holding it back the whole conversation for right now. The muscles in her cheeks tensed like she was trying wrestle a smile down. "When it's beating you head on it’s hard to keep moving, you know?"
His eyebrows bunched together and his words dammed up at the brink of his mouth. They were calling for his section to board, but she got up first. His fingers touched at his top lip as his rise echoed hers.
"So what about you? You running?" he asked
"No," she said, looking through the glass at the anxious plane at the terminal, a bundle of nerves, the all biting their nails and eager to get on with it. "I live here. I'm going to go get in my car, which will take me to my house, where I'm going to cook some eggs. Are you hungry?"
He laughed, then he tilted his head at a prying angle and looked at her from the top right corner of his squinting eyes. 'Is she kidding? No, she's not. Is she?' he mused to himself.
"I'd love to... but I have a plane to catch."
She shrugged. "Worth a shot. Have a nice flight," she smiled as her long legs lanked away without looking back. When she started to walk he felt like running after her, but he didn't and he wasn't sure why. They called for his zone to board and he watched her walk through automatic doors, parting for the touch of her foot. He watched until she was out of sight, then walked slowly to the end of the line to board the plane.