travel story

Reads: 51  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


a traveler contemplates a major life decision during a flight back home.

Submitted: July 06, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 06, 2018

A A A

A A A


As passengers queued for the 3:45PM flight out of Lambert-St Louis Airport to Huntsville, Alabama they overflowed into the main walkway. Each passerby felt a minimal inconvenience for being pushed into the neighboring gate. Some listless in their shuffle. Others a frantic blur. 
The preflight crescendo of small talk, frustration, and last second phone calls elevated above Charlie's thoughts. Sound swelled in his head as the travelers were crammed into his waiting area. He sat hunched over staring at the dark screen of his phone. He closed his eyes in a futile attempt to gain clarity. A dissonant choir in repeating refrain. 
Several minutes later the loudspeaker crackled. Zone One was boarding. This meant soon the bustle across the walkway would diminish. He watched the Huntsville-bound gang file into the gateway. A nervous calm set in his chest. This left a quietness that should’ve been reassuring.
Silence at the empty gate drew Charlie’s eyes up, away from his phone, as he tried to distract himself. A feeling of empathy filled his lungs when he saw a slow-moving traveler. How was it that they could lack purpose all while having a destination, he wondered. He started to resent them. Those obstacles. Those impedances. A blur streaked into frame then collided with a purpose-lacking statue. In that static moment they looked the same and Charlie decided they both were to blame for their respective parts. The blur too focused on the end of the concourse. The statue too concerned with its own internal struggle. 
He then imagined her gliding through the minefield of passerby that aperatured before him. The way she’d, without change in her stride, transverse the walkway with perfect timing. Never would she collide. Charlie's chest sank as he exhaled. His tired eyes returned to the dark screen of his phone.
The short woman at the counter of Gate C12 announced flight AA2476 to Charlotte would be boarding soon. Charlie’s attention switched to the flight crew entering the gate. After noting they all had the same all black carry-on bags he thought it odd. Industry standard, maybe. They disappeared through the doorway. 
Brightness from the screen of his phone washed out his pale face when he sent another text message, hiding the worry. He stood up, gathered himself, tucked his phone into his back pocket, and mechanically moved the strap of his carry-on bag over head. The leather and canvas weekend bag slung across his body pressed the dress shoes inside against his left kidney. It didn't seem to bother him when he pulled out his boarding passes. Nor when he walked to the line queued at the gate. He carefully tucked the connecting flight's boarding pass back into his right front pocket and studied the other. 
Wheels up to wheels down STL to CLT would only take an hour and fifty minutes in the A320 Airbus that sat across the gate. Seat 34A was a window seat near the back of the plane with a clear view perfect for taking pictures, not that Charlie would. He partially decoded the flight number, translating the letters AA to American Airline. No meaning for the numbers was obvious. After exhausting the information on his boarding pass Charlie relaxed his arm to his side and stared out the window. Clouds closest to the plane matched the speed of the clouds in the distance. A storm front lay ahead.
As he approached the counter he watched the traveler ahead of him check multiple pockets for a boarding pass. The older man, who was clearly traveling for work, eventually removed a glossy piece of origami and handed it to the short woman behind the counter. Charlie wondered if the man had the same approach to his work. The short woman maneuvered the glossy paper into a suitable position to scan the barcode without success. The ink had worn making the barcode unscannable. The woman manually typed in the barely legible numbers below the vertical lines and wished the traveler a safe flight.
Charlie, seeing the inefficiency of the traveler, had already rotated his boarding pass so the woman could scan with ease. She accepted it and returned it just as quickly. Charlie looked at his seating assignment again and tucked the boarding pass into his front left pocket.
As he intermittently stepped through the bridge to the plane he heard the woman at the counter wish the traveler behind him a safe flight as she had done for the old business man. Instantly his neck tightened, careening his head to one side. His hand disruptively entered and exited his left front pocket. Fresh air rushed through the bridge as a baggage attendant helped passengers with their gate checked bags. Charlie wondered where the business traveler went as his eyes met with a set of young blue eyes. The 13-month old had a handful of his father’s shirt as he tried to understand where they were going. The young eyes disappeared behind the father’s shoulder only to reemerge. Each time with a bright smile. Charlie smiled back. The boy laughed with joy. 
The child’s mother looked over at her son and said to her husband, “You got him to laugh?” Her face sunk and her brow scrunched when she identified the source of her son’s joy. Her eyes were different than her son’s, Charlie noted before his eyes averted to the gray carpet. The couple talked in hushed tones for a few seconds before they met the baggage attendant at the end of the bridge who asked, “No stroller to check?” The father replied, “No, we don’t need one. He just hangs on tightly.” The mother’s pursed lips moved the man and his son along, into the entry of the plane.
With his canvas and leather bag wedged between his feet and his arms folded in, Charlie awaited the person that would sit next to him. Clutched in his hand the dark screen occasionally spun between his thumb and middle finger. At the right angle the light that entered through the window would mimic the flash of a notification. This caused Charlie’s eyes to grow only to shrink in disappointment. Eventually, to provide himself respite from the anxiety of waiting, he turned off the phone and gave his attention to the flight attendant as she gestured the obligatory safety instructions. The plane had boarded and the seat next to him was still open. He stretched out into the empty row and as the wheels left the ground the muscles in his neck relaxed, shifting his head toward the window to rest.
Large metallic bracelets looped around the wrist of the flight attendant smashed against each other like a car wreck as she began her pre-descent checks down the aisle. Charlie’s waking eyes searched for the origin of the noise before he slid over to the scene outside the window. Charlotte’s skyline cut into the darkening early night sky. The same view he had when returning to South Carolina from his childhood home of Northern Indiana. He worked the stiffness from his hands, repeatedly extending his fingers and rotating his wrists, as the skyline grew.
Charlie haplessly pulled out the boarding pass in his right pocket to find no seating or gate assignment. Standing in front of a large screen with all departures he found Flight AA5343 to Florence, South Carolina was boarding in 23 minutes at Gate E46B clear across the airport. As he transversed the concourse he wondered how he looked to travelers in the waiting areas he passed. Was he a blur? A statue? Or something entirely different? 
Each step worked stiffness from his legs that stretched a little further. He counted Starbucks, five in total, along his path before arriving at his gate where he handed his blank seating assignment to the woman behind the counter. She said nothing and simply handed him a fresh boarding pass with priority seating making his tightened face give way to gravity.
As he walked to an open seat near the waiting area window the woman behind the counter announced that a $300 voucher was available to any passenger willing to give up his or her seat. Charlie slowly lowered himself onto the bench seat as he looked out at the fully lit buildings downtown. When he relaxed back into the seat his phone pressed against him. Immediately, he removed it from his pocket and turned it on. For a moment he monitored the counter with the reflection of his screen to see if anyone was tempted into taking the voucher. With the phone fully started up, he switched attention to the texts he sent earlier. He read them and thought about what he intended to say. He reread them and thought of how they were received. This made his legs move restlessly as he sat staring out into the night. It was nearly 7:30PM so he carefully typed, deleted, and typed until he found a string of words that would make sense of the situation. Nothing could. He checked the weather in Florence, SC so he could know how she felt.
Tarmac as dark as the sky crunched under Charlie's feet as he walked to the small prop plane. Having to duck under the doorway, his face came close to the flight attendant's as he entered. The aisles were narrower than in the A320 Airbus, each row with only two seats per side. Backwards facing seats at the front supplied passengers with ample legroom in their luxurious first class seats. At the very back of the plane Charlie could make uncomfortable eye contact with these passengers as he sat in his aisle seat with reasonable comfort for his legs. He waited for the inevitable window seat owner to arrive.
Catching Charlie nearly relaxed, a turquoise sweater gave a small smile and apologized for the inconvenience. As he awkwardly moved to let her in he tried to assure the turquoise sweater it wasn’t a problem as her long, thin body slid past. This triggered a man three seats up to go into his default diatribe while traveling by air. With large gestures that never seemed to match his words he rhetorically asked his neighbor why all the window seats don’t board first. “It’s common sense,” he exclaimed loudly. Charlie’s mouth opened and his head tilted upward before recoiling to the original positions.
Relative silence took over the plane as boarding had finished despite five seats being empty. The lone flight attendant walked toward the door counting the seats. Her left index finger was rolled under her thumb leaving a count of three for the left side. To count the right side her right index finder was extended and parallel with its neighbor for a total of two. She then disappeared out the cabin door. A clicking sound under the right wing persisted for a few moments and just when the travelers got used to the sound, it subsided.
Minutes passed before a nebbish 58-year old man entered with his overstuffed red canvas carry-on. To avoid incident he labored to keep the bag away from fellow passengers as he worked through the aisle. He struggled to deposit the overstuffed bag into the overhead bin and became creative in his maneuvers. Charlie quipped, “They should give his bag a seat.” This drew moderate laughter and sparked a series of tension-diffusing remarks throughout the plane as the cabin temperature increased. Eventually the bag was secured with the help of a fellow passenger. Just after, the cabin door clanked shut and locked.
White lint collected on the matted black hair directly in front of Charlie. A woman in her late 40s twisted around to look past Charlie and ask a man if he wanted a book. The man in his early 50s held up his crossword to convey his contentedness. After returning the book to her bag the woman turned again so she could see the man. “Is that…” she started, then thrust herself higher into the air. “Honey, is that seat open?” The husband took himself out of the crossword to discover the vacancy beside him. The wife excused herself from the window seat. As she shuffled out of the row she informed the standing man that his hair was full of lint from his neck pillow. When he sat down he furiously swatted at his hair. Charlie was amused at the snow globe in front of him before it settled on the headrest and shoulders of the man.
The husband had welcomed his wife into the row giving her the window seat she preferred. Her fingers filled the spaces between his as they laid on the armrest. Together they found the solution to forty-eight across. To pencil in the answer his hand moved away from hers to hold the paper as he wrote. Calmly, she placed her warm hand on his forearm before resting her head against his shoulder. Once he was finished writing they began work on seven down.
In his periphery Charlie could feel the continuous display of affection across the aisle. Closing his eyes made his imagination run rampant with possible scenarios. The flight attendant reminded passengers to switch cell phones to airplane mode. Charlie's body entered the shared space over the armrest when he retrieved his phone. Lavender filled his nose as he returned to his designated space. In an attempt to be inconspicuous, he placed his phone partway into the seat back pocket to see the reflection of turquoise sweater. Disappointed at the lack of detail, he began looking out the window at the tarmac. Each time she turned away from the window he turned away from her. With flushed cheeks Charlie kept his eyes down at a short strip of skin stretching from the bed of his thumbnail. He tried to liberate it and noticed her hands made similar movements.
Lime green nail polish made Charlie think she wasn’t aware of the cold snap hitting tonight or possibly that she was colorblind. With the tarmac at a blur, he looked out the window to see her face. Her jaw tightened and lips pursed when he kept his head turned for too long. Blood was pulled away from his red face, making it pale and sickly. In time with the rotation of the propellers his thumb clicked against his middle finger, pulling at the strip of dangling skin. The burning frequency of each pass pulsed up his arm. Long after the skin had been pulled away from its root the clicking continued, though muffled by the noise of the engines making most everyone else unaware.
The married couple relaxed into each other moments after the plane leveled. A video from their vacation played on the iPad they both held. Charlie’s face relaxed as he waited for the turquoise sweater to lay her head on his shoulder. On the armrest he placed his hand with fingers spaced to welcome hers. Hope faded quickly and he slid his hand into his lap before closing his eyes. The couple shared laughs and talked about their next vacation. Intermittently a soft popping sound began toward the right wing. 
When the popping sound became so familiar to the passengers that they no longer heard it, one last pop overwhelmed their ears. The plane was thrown into what felt like lateral movement as it fell from the sky. Lights flashed, advised to fasten seat belts. A pocket of air pushed them up only to abruptly drop. This cracked open an overhead bin sending a red streak straight at the head of old businessman. The nebbish man was mortified his bag had struck somebody and seemed to forget the plane was dropping from the sky. Under the sound of his apologies a frail elderly woman sang the rosary. Wife and husband clung to each other. The 13-month old child released his grip on his father’s shirt while the father held him safe. A cool breeze rushed through the cabin for a moment. There was calm in Charlie’s eyes.
It took the pilot 1,500 feet to regain control of the small prop plane. As they climbed back to altitude he explained the dangers of an updraft, especially for light aircrafts. Everyone talked about how it was the worst turbulence they’d ever experienced and how lucky they felt. The couple joked that they were ready for another vacation, but that they’d drive this time. Charlie pulled his phone out of the bottom of the seat back pocket and turned on cellular service. Still nothing. As he tucked the phone away in his back pocket he nearly bumped heads with the turquoise sweater.
 
“Sorry."
 
“You’re fine."
 
“So are you. What?” - Charlie paused, then tried to recover. - "No, I didn’t say that…"
 
They just looked at each other for a moment. Relief adorned her face when she thought of what to say.
 
“You know, you should probably make sure your phone is turned off. If you leave it on we may just fall out of the sky.”
 
Charlie laughed before introducing himself. Laughing continued as Charlie and Monica talked. Mutual admiration for a song led them to alternate lines of the lyrics through the entirety of the song. In ten short minutes later the wife and husband grew sick of how ‘lovey-dovey’ Charlie and Monica were. The pair gave the impression to anyone paying attention that they were no different than the couple that sat across the aisle from them. Charlie noticed how Monica’s hands seemed to flow through the air as she talked. The corners of his mouth curled up as his eyes moved back hers.
Rumbling began as the plane hit turbulence. A sudden jolt caught Monica by surprise. Her hand reached out for Charlie’s. Another loud pop made her grip tighten. Outside the window they could see the wing bending unnaturally. The plane seemed to drag to the right in its descent. Their softened eyes met with acknowledgement. Monica closed the window shutter then her eyes as she rested her head on Charlie’s shoulder. 
At Florence Regional Airport a gentle breeze flowed through the night air. It felt warmer than the reported temperature. At the exit gate the lone TSA agent stood checking her watch impatiently. Moisture clung to the skin of the parking attendant in his box. From the parking lot, still dotted with cars, thick black smoke from fourteen miles away couldn't be seen against the scattered night sky. 
 
 


© Copyright 2018 Michael Patterson. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Literary Fiction Short Stories