A Short Story – Feb. 8, 2010 – “The Flight”
A short story
by Chris Hibbard
“I’ll see you when I get back,” she said, before letting go of his outstretched hand and retreating towards the departure gate.
“When you get back…” he muttered quietly, watching her until she reached the customs line and disappeared behind the protective screen. Shaking his head sadly, he turned and saw a near-empty airport, all but deserted at this ungodly hour. ‘When she got back’ suddenly felt like a lifetime, far longer than the mere eight days that she would actually be away.
Making his way to the airport to parkade doors, he was filled with strange emotions, emotions that were foreign to him now, having not felt anything remotely similar in many years. He wondered as he made his way to the car if she would be okay, flying alone, having no one to hold her hand during takeoff and landing, no one to reassure her quietly that everything would be just fine. She had told him that flying made her uneasy, sick to her stomach almost, and he felt disappointed that he couldn’t be the knight in shining armour, protecting her from fear, airsickness, and with a twinge of paranoid jealousy, other dashing air passengers, many of whom would likely be thrilled to hold those long fingers, if only for a moment.
She was heading home to see family and friends; for the first time unaccompanied by her children since she had packed them in a van and moved two provinces away.
He knew she was excited to rekindle those old relationships, having nights out on the town, gorging herself on Chinese food and imported liquor. He was excited for her, to a certain extent, but with a mildly sickening sense of guilt, he couldn’t help but wonder, “now what the hell am I going to do?”
He knew he had to work while she was gone. Work meant 40 hours. He knew he had commitments to his volunteer affiliations and his hobbies, all equalling about 10 hours in total. He knew that his other freelance writing assignments would take up another ten hours on top of that. Not to mention sleep – at eight hours a night for eight days, there went another 64 hours. Still, doing some mental calculations, he came to the sad realization that he was going to be alone, unencumbered and a true bachelor again, for the remaining time which she would be gone – 68 waking hours or so, all to himself.
Maybe this would be the perfect time to get together with the old gang, he thought, inserting his key into the driver’s side door of an aging sedan. It had been a long time since he had gone out on the town, rambling without a care from pub to pub, bar to bar. I could be a carousing man on the town, he thought, just like old times. But for some reason, that idea made him feel sad. Why is that, he wondered, as he adjusted the car radio to a local campus and community station, pulled the seat belt strap over his shoulders and backed out of the stall. Have I changed that much? he wondered. Have I become dependent on this beautiful woman for a great deal of my happiness? That thought led to many others, and by the time he had turned onto the freeway his thoughts were a tangled blur of memories, recent activities intertwined with flashes of days gone by, some good and some not so much.
Glancing at the dashboard clock, he realized that her plane had already lifted off, heading west towards the Pacific – home of her family, her old boyfriends, and of course, beautiful weather and scenery, none of which he would get to witness. “For god’s sake man, it’s just a week. And hell, you’ve only known the girl for less than a month. Get a grip.” Cranking up the radio, he shoulder checked, changed lanes, and kept on cruising, a little more than two hours left before he got home – home to an empty house, a quiet life, and a refrigerator stuffed with leftovers that would only persist in reminding him of her.
Stopping at the next small town gas station, he picked up a cup of stale black coffee that he attempted to disguise by diluting it with ample cream and three packs of sugar. Standing in line to pay, his attention was diverted by a magazine. Its cover depicted a happy couple, walking hand in hand on a beach, their eyes shining in a pale beam of moonlight. “Love in the Tropics” the cover headline shouted from the stands. Strangely tempted to buy the magazine, he restrained himself only by questioning his own masculinity. “You don’t need that you idiot. You won’t read it, she won’t read it, that’s just a stupid idea.”
Accepting his coffee change from the attendant, he left the station and returned to his car. Stopping to wash the windows and clean off the headlights, his attention was diverted by the small flashing light projecting from his cell phone, casually tossed on the passenger seat. “A message”, he thought, glancing at the late hour on his wristwatch. “That’s weird. No one calls me after ten anymore.”
Resettling behind the wheel and turning down the radio to better hear the tinny cell phone speaker, he was surprised to see a text message. Pushing the ‘read’ button on the small phone keypad, he saw a message staring back at him. It read: “Relax weirdo. It’s only 65 more hours. I wish you were here right now holding my hand.” The message ended with a happy face, a tongue protruding from its cartoon mouth.
Shifting the sedan into drive, he rolled back onto the highway, a silly little grin cemented on his face.