The plane was supposed to land in Vancouver. When the cabin door opened, Brian noted with some degree of dismay that the air creeping inside was sticky and moist. He hastily repacked his carry-on and shuffled down the main aisle with the others. Outside, the passengers were quiet and calm, leisurely unscrewing the tops of their soda bottles while they waited for further direction. A circle of high school basketball players didn’t even unplug themselves from their ipods. The crew stood in a line, their faces prettily blank.
“We’re absolutely fine, sir. Safe and sound.” The same flight attendant who had poured him a diet coke over ice only twenty minutes before now mildly suggested that Brian gather his luggage from the cargo storage in the belly of the plane.
“But this isn’t Vancouver,” Brian said.
“That’s right,” the flight attendant said agreeably. He pointed past Brian at the bags being dropped at the feet of waiting passengers. Brian found his suitcase among all the others and wheeled it over to a despondent looking Frances, who was poking at her phone.
“No signal,” she said, as Brian approached. “Where the fuck are we?”
There was no airport in sight; no building, in fact, anywhere. They were surrounded on all sides by watery ferns and soft mossy tree trunks. Brian couldn’t tell how the plane had even landed in such a small area, unless the runway was hidden away somewhere in the greenery. He stood his suitcase upright and turned to ask a passing woman what she knew. The woman smiled vaguely and pulled her messenger bag over her head. She glanced down at her own phone.
“Layover?” She ventured. Brian fished around in his breast pocket for his ticket and boarding pass, and remembered he’d pushed them into the seat pocket in front of him and forgotten about them. A cool wind hit his face; he caught a whiff of rain.
“Layover, where?” He asked the woman. She seemed dazed.
She shrugged and looked around. “Maybe not. Maybe this is Vancouver.”
Frances pulled on Brian’s sleeve. “Look around,” she said. “I told you. No baby.”
Brian surveyed the crowd again. A few cold drops hit his glasses. Beyond the plane, a line of folks were rolling their suitcases toward a corner of the cracked concrete, led by a flight attendant with large shoulders.
“Come on,” he said. Frances heaved her bag onto her shoulder and they left the plane and its stoppered occupants behind. Before they’d reached the edge of the tarmac, the rain was coming hard. Brian took his glasses off. He could just make out a blurry path through the brush where the others had disappeared. Frances found his hand and pulled him into the darkness.
He hadn’t been sure about the trip at first – given his daughter’s unsettled sleeping patterns and his wife’s recent reluctance to speak plainly with him about anything but groceries. Once he got inside the taxi, though, and let his thoughts begin to settle back into their own natural rhythm, he began to look forward to some time alone. Outside his window the autumn afternoon was gray and gold. He decided he loved November. Then, he loved the airport. The books everywhere, the people in too-warm jackets, the sound of waiting planes. He shut off his phone early and decided not to turn it on again until his feet were solid on pavement in Vancouver.
His plane was about half full. Brian tried not to let disappointment register on his face when a young woman paused next to him to examine her ticket. When Brian made a move to get up, she told him not to bother. She crawled over him and settled into the window seat, smashing her bag down in between her feet. She gave him a quick smile, much the way his shier students from the back row acknowledged him when they saw him standing in line at FatBurger like a regular person. Her hair was short. There was a small silver ball surfing the barrel of her bottom lip; a matching chain sitting snug against her neck.
She immediately fished her phone from the pocket of her black hooded sweatshirt and began texting. Brian directed the opened air spigot at the top of his head and opened his book to pretend to read while he watched her thumbs hover over the keypad.
He wasn’t interested in his book. Even though he’d chosen carefully, he wasn’t interested. He closed it and half-listened to the speech about emergency exits. The bored flight attendant showing them how to work the oxygen masks filled out her AirTrack uniform like an elegant linebacker. She pointed at the floor, the ceiling, the exits, her own eyes following her hands. Brian thought about what it would feel like to perform every day to a deaf and blind audience.
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