Chris turned to the only thing that would make him forget his wife. It didn't work.
Memories of Stephanie
Chris entered the airplane's open door and turned left while the rest of the human cattle that boarded turned right. He puffed his chest, knowing his first-class seat awaited his arrival, but he knew the three drinks he'd gulped down at one of the airport's bars were behind his boldness. He had to control himself, and at this moment, he thought he was doing a good job. Standing next to his aisle seat, he smiled at the woman, possibly thirty-something, who occupied the window seat next to him. Chris plopped down harder than he wanted, turned to the woman, and said hello, but the message from her eyes was clear; don't give her a hard time. She returned the greeting, but the unobstructed view of the tarmac through her raised window shade gave him pause, so he pinned his head against the seat's headrest and sighed. All of his boldness drained away upon realizing this would be the last trip he'd take with his wife.
The alcohol he'd consumed in the airport helped to maintain his composure, but he could do with a bit more right now. As he hoped, the flight attendant headed his way, taking drink orders from other passengers. She was only three rows away, but he felt she was deliberately trying to avoid him. There were those thoughts again. He had to maintain control. He rubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth and found it bone dry, and 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."
He hoped shortly meant very shortly. There was only one row behind him in first class, so he clutched the armrests in order to retain control. Having any hint of sobriety on this trip needed to be avoided. Sobriety meant he'd have to face his nightmare.
The flight attendant began handing out drinks, and Chris smiled and nodded once he received his, still wishing those miniature bottles were a full fifth. He'd need more alcohol than that. His eyes followed the little red straw as it spun around after he stirred 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 glanced to his right, past the woman sitting next to him, and peered out the window. His eyes bugged, and he held his breath. It was impossible, but there it was. The ground crew was loading his wife's coffin into the cargo hold. The urge to scream pummeled him, but he had to maintain control. This was not the time or place to freak out. For the second time today, his wife had haunted him. While sitting in the airport lounge with his drink, he swore he spotted his wife perched at the gate area with her legs crossed.
He turned away from the window, rested his head back against the seat, took another sip, and then closed his eyes. Behind his eyelids, that painful memory from a couple of weeks ago streamed in full color.
They'd had a violent argument, and he watched his wife storm out the door and hop into her car. Good riddance. He knew she'd be back, eventually. In the meantime, he mixed himself a drink and sipped his anger away. He'd nearly finished his drink when his phone rang. The number was unfamiliar, but he answered anyway.
"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?"
"Your wife has been in an accident, and her injuries are 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, and a tightness gripped his throat after his mental movie ceased. The corners of his eyes started to ache, but he couldn't shed any tears, not right now. He breathed 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 preferable to her brother. Her crazy brother may try to strangle him right there in the terminal. And he was positive Stephanie's sister wouldn't even show up. She'd 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, but 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, but while he rubbed them together, he stared into the mirror. He didn't look smashed, which was good, and he grinned. 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. His own reflection stared back.
What the hell was in that drink? He tried to calm himself before returning to his seat.
After he sat down, he thought his imagination had gotten the best of him. He needed another drink, so he paged the flight attendant and ordered another one, which would definitely calm him down. The woman to his right stared at him, so he raised his eyebrows, and she turned away.
Now with his fresh drink, he decided to pass the time by watching a movie. He poked the screen on the back of the seat 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 drink, nearly spilling it, and 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 drink 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, and started mumbling her name,
"Stephanie... Stephanie... Stephanie... STEPHANIE!"
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, and 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 waiting for his flight. He'd lost control and began an affair with the woman, but it became too difficult to 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, and 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 insane outburst, he stopped squirming while everyone continued restraining him. As his mind slipped back toward reality, he gazed into the face of a passenger restraining him. It was Stephanie...