Chris made a promise, but will Stephanie let him keep it?
Memories of Stephanie
By Pernell Rogers
Chris walked through the aircraft’s hatch and turned left while the rest of the human cattle turned right. His seat was in first-class and his puffed chest showed it. The three drinks at the airport bar were behind his boldness. He had to control himself, and at this moment, he was doing a good job. He found his aisle seat. A woman, possibly thirty-something, occupied the window seat next to him. The shade over the window was raised allowing a clear view of the tarmac. Chris sat down harder than he wanted, turned to the woman, and said hello. The message from her eyes was clear; don't give her a hard time, however, she returned the greeting. He pinned his head onto the seat's headrest and sighed. All his boldness drained away once he realized this was going to be the last trip he would take with his wife.
He was proud he still maintained himself. The alcohol was working, but he felt he could handle a bit more. The flight attendant headed his way, taking drink orders. She was only three rows away, but he felt she was purposely trying to avoid him. There were those thoughts again. He had to maintain control. He rubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth. It was bone dry. He needed something to drink before he choked. Finally, the flight attendant turned in his direction. She was a lovely lady with a long brunette ponytail draped over one shoulder, and a set of pearly white teeth that reminded him of his wife’s. With her smoldering eyes and the politeness of an angel, she asked,
“Hello, sir. Can I get you anything?”
“Scotch and water, please.”
“Alright, sir. I’ll be back shortly.”
“Thank you, miss.”
He hoped shortly meant very shortly. There was only one row behind him in first class, so he clutched the armrests in order to maintain control. Having any hint of sobriety on this trip was to be avoided. Sobriety would make him face his nightmare.
The flight attendant began handing out drinks, and Chris smiled once he received his. He wished those miniature bottles were a full fifth. He was going to need more alcohol than that. He watched the little red straw spin around his glass after mixing his scotch and water. He plucked it out and took a sip. The sting as it slid over his tongue and down his throat made him sigh. That was better. He looked to his right, past the woman sitting next to him and stared out the window. His eyes bugged and he held his breath. He couldn’t believe it. There it was. He saw the ground crew loading his wife’s coffin into the cargo hold. He had to maintain control. This was not the time or place to freak out. It nearly happened a while ago while he sat in an airport lounge with a drink and he swore he saw his wife sitting with her legs crossed in the gate area. He turned away and took another sip. He rested his head back and closed his eyes. Behind his eyelids, that painful memory from a couple of weeks ago streamed in full color.
It was a violent argument. He watched his wife storm out the door and hop into her car. Good riddance. He knew she’d be back sooner or later. In the meantime, he mixed himself a drink and began to drown his anger away. He'd just about finished it when his phone rang. The number was unfamiliar. He answered.
“Hello. I’m officer Kirkland of the Sacramento Police Department. Who am I speaking to?”
“This…this is Chris Travers. What’s this all about?”
“Mr. Travers, do you know someone named Stephanie?”
“Yes, that’s my wife. Is she okay?”
“You’re wife has been in an accident. She was hurt pretty bad. You might want to get to Sacramento General as soon as you can. I’m sorry.”
“Yeah…yes…yes. I’ll get to the hospital. Thank you.”
His eyes flashed open. They were taxiing. There was tightness in his throat and the corner of his eyes started to ache. He couldn’t shed any tears, not right now. He took deep breaths through his mouth to help hold back the tears, then took another sip. Nothing about this flight would be easy.
As the plane rose to cruising altitude, his mind wandered to his destination. Her family requested her body be flown back to Twin Falls, Idaho to be buried and he agreed to accompany her. Who was going to meet him at the airport? Her parents? That would be better than her brother. Her crazy brother may try to strangle him right there in the terminal. And he was sure Stephanie’s sister wouldn’t even show up. She's always hated his guts and constantly chastised Stephanie about her obsession with a man twenty years her senior.
He finished his drink and tried to clear his mind. It didn’t take long before Mother Nature called. He unbuckled his seatbelt, and with the help of the other passenger’s seats, made his way to the bathroom. He must maintain control.
The weak stream of water from the bathroom faucet barely washed the soap from his hands. While he rubbed them together, he stared in the mirror. He didn’t look smashed which was good. He smiled. As he dried his hands, he turned to look into the mirror again. His wife stared back at him.
It can’t be Stephanie.
He rubbed his eyes and stared again. She was gone.
What was in that drink? He needed to calm himself.
He returned to his seat. That couldn't have been her reflection in the mirror. His imagination got the best of him. He paged the flight attendant and ordered another cocktail. This one would definitely calm him down. He caught the woman to his right staring at him. He raised his eyebrows, and she turned away.
Now with his new cocktail, he decided to pass the time by watching a movie. He poked the screen in front of him to find something interesting. The latest Star Wars movie was available and he chose it. The screen turned black before the movie started, and to his horror, he saw his wife’s reflection. He juggled his glass, nearly spilling the contents. His breathing came in pants. He was losing control.
The flight attendant turned and approached him.
“Are you okay sir?”
“Yes. Yes. I was just startled, that’s all. Could you please take this glass away?”
He pressed himself against the seat. What’s happening to me?
Seconds later, the answer popped into his head. It was guilt. Guilt because he shouldn’t have started the argument. Guilt because he should have stopped her. Guilt because he arrived at the hospital too late to see her alive one last time. He felt himself slipping away, losing control.
He began mumbling her name,
The lady sitting next to him pressed the button for the flight attendant as other passengers turned and gawked. He began shifting back and forth in his seat, fumbling with his seatbelt, his mind afire with guilt, tears streaming down his face. Stephanie was haunting him and he knew why. He loved Stephanie deeply but he never planned on meeting that mature woman a couple of months ago while sitting in another airport bar while awaiting his flight. He’d lost control and began an affair with her, but it became too difficult of conceal. Because he loved Stephanie so much, he confessed his infidelity to her and watched his beautiful young wife transform into an evil, vindictive shrew who cursed him when she stormed out.
He wanted to get off the plane and hide, to escape the memories, to rid himself of Stephanie once and for all. His yelling filled the first class cabin. Flight attendants fought to restrain his arms and legs as other passengers assisted. Through his outburst, he could feel the plane dipping to the left. If there was a God in Heaven, he hoped they were returning to the airport. Exhausted from his insanity, he stopped squirming while everyone kept him restrained. As his mind slipped back toward reality, he turned to one of the passengers helping to restrain him. It was Stephanie...