Friday, January 30, 2015

A short story: An Opportunity Not to Be Missed (Fiction Friday)

“Don't forget the bow. We have the recital next week.” she shouts, her voice burrowing deep in his brain where it will spend the next few minutes bouncing around until it sinks into the hidden recesses to fester there with all of her other commands. 

Without responding, he gets in the car and closes the door. He watches her on the porch, her hands on her hips, her hair, make-up and clothes all perfectly in place, her mouth solidly in the position of disapproval that she wears when he's around. His son, Edgar, stands next to her. Small for his age, carrying his violin case, wearing a too-large suit even on this hot September morning. They are his family. Words written on official papers that had never found a place in his heart. The feeling was mutual, he thought, he was not part of their tight little circle of two either. He drives off, relieved to be leaving them.

The early morning Boston traffic is heavy and he panics realising that he might be late for his flight. He knows how important the meeting in Los Angeles is for the company.  “Mess this up Eddie, and you’re out!” Mr. Cleaver had screamed in his face the day before.   

Company finances meant that he had to make this early morning flight, land in L.A. at 11:00 and be ready for the 1:00 pm meeting. After the meeting, he’d get straight back on the evening flight to Boston, expected back in the office tomorrow morning.

 “God I hate this job,” Eddie says to no one.

“Hey, drive your car, stupid!” he shouts at the grey sedan in front of him. He glances at his watch. Twenty minutes to get to the airport. He’ll never make it. Swerving into the fast lane, he ignores the honks of the discontented behind him. He has to make this meeting. It was a huge deal with a new California hotel chain - all the fittings for all the hotels. It would save the company and, hopefully, his job too. Mr. Cleaver had reminded him it was “an opportunity that they just couldn’t miss.”

He pulls into the parking lot at 7:45, he has fifteen minutes to get through the gate. Grabbing his briefcase from the back seat of the car, he runs for the door of the airport. Inside he quickly scans the information boards and finds his flight, United Airlines Flight 175. He dashes left to the terminal.

Five minutes, the big, plain-faced clock on the wall says.  He throws his briefcase on the counter and steps into the metal detector. It beeps. 

"Damn. Please, it’s just my watch. I’ll miss my flight,” he begs the officials. Just then the loud speaker announces the last call for Flight 175. Eddie turns to the officials in desperation.

A fat man who appears to be the boss smiles and says, “Okay, go through.”

He reaches the gate, his breathing heavy from the unaccustomed run. “Please, that’s my flight,” he shouts at the prim young man who has already closed the door and is packing up his papers to move to the next terminal.

Pointing out the big window, the man says, “They’re leaving. Just on time 7:59. I’m sorry but you’ve missed it. You can take the flight at noon.” He smiles at Eddie and turns and walks away.

Eddie walks to the window, pressing his face against the thick glass. He wonders if he  somehow managed to get out to the runway, would they open the doors for him? If they did, it was so high up, how would he get on? He decides he's thinking crazy. There's nothing he can do. He has missed the plane. He will not make the meeting. He will likely lose his job. He will not buy the violin bow for his son’s recital next week. His wife will be furious and his son, as usual, will be disappointed in him.

He knows full well that the responsible thing to do is to call Mr. Cleaver. Let  him know that he has missed his plane. Maybe the meeting could be postponed, maybe he could take the next flight, maybe he would still be able to buy a bow. But, instead, he heads for the airport bar.

Three people sit at the bar despite it being only a few minutes past eight in the morning.  Eddie sits down next to a man about his age and nods a hello. “Give me a scotch, a double, on ice,” he tells the bartender. “Waiting for a flight?” he asks the man next to him.

“Yeah, I’m leaving for Thailand. I got a job there taking tourists out on boats.” He smiles at Eddie.

“That sounds great. How long you staying ?”

“I don’t know. As long as I want. I don’t like keeping schedules. Just take life as it comes mostly,” he answers.

 Eddie looks at the man. He wears jeans and a T-shirt with a leather jacket hanging at the back of the bar stool.  Eddie wonders how a life like that would be, nobody expecting him to do anything. He picks up the glass the bartender sets in front of him and takes a long, burning drink. In moments, he feels better. What did it all matter anyway? So he’d lose his job? He’d find another one. So his wife would be angry? She always was anyway. And he’d long lost hope at being his son’s friend, they were too different to ever find a way to make that connection.

Time passes as Eddies finishes drink after drink idly talking to the man next to him, quietly envying the man's uncomplicated life.

They are interrupted by the television.

 “Breaking news. It appears that an airplane has crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. At this point details are sketchy about what could have caused such an accident.”

Eddie and the others in the bar become quiet listening to the newscaster.  In moments, the images appear on the screen. A tiny toy-like airplane flying directly into the massive building, black smoke billowing behind. 

Eddie’s new friend turns to him. “Jesus, what do you think could have happened?”

Eddie shakes his head. Just as he is trying to say something the newscaster breaks in again.

“Oh my god, I’m getting news.... news from New York that another plane, it appears to be a United Airlines flight, Flight 175 out of Boston, has been hijacked and is heading toward New York. This looks like a planned terrorist attack.”

Eddie suddenly goes blank as his eyes watch the plane he should have been on crash directly into the top floors of the south tower of the World Trade Center. He feels ill. In perplexing slow motion, the building collapses like so many houses of cards. He hears screams coming from inside the terminal. He turns to his friend. 

“That’s me, my plane.... the one I missed.....I’m supposed to be on that plane.”

His new friend pats him on the back. “Oh man, are you okay?” 

Eddie feels numb, he feels cold and hot, and, as the realisation sets in, he is surprised to find himself crying. His new friend pats his back again, repeating words that Eddie can’t quite hear.  Time stops as they watched over and over the image of how his life could have ended.

The rest of the day Eddie and his new friend sit together at the bar watching, wondering what to do. Evening arrives and, now both properly drunk, his new friend turns to him.

 "What you gonna do man? You need to call someone, let them know you’re okay. They’re gonna be thinking you’re dead.”

Eddie nods his head. He’s right. They’d likely be relieved to hear his voice, but still he stays sitting, unable to do anything, mesmerised by the unending news coverage, by his paralysed thoughts.

His friend gets up to leave. “Well Eddie, I gotta go. There are no flights taking off today. Listen, if you find yourself in Thailand look me up.”  He takes a slip of paper out of his pocket and writes his address and phone number on it then hands it to Eddie.

Eddie slips the paper into his pocket. He reaches out to give his new friend a hug. “Thanks for staying.”

Eddie sits alone at the bar watching people coming and going in different levels of shock and sadness. His mind slowly creeps through the events of his life up to this point. His happy childhood full of so many dreams, his typically problematic teenage years, his dismal performance at university that led to a series of dead end jobs he hated, and his marriage.  His wife, always critical; he would never be good enough, not for her. Eddie wondered what went wrong? Where did he stop being that happy, sandy haired boy who would one day grow up to be a cowboy, a police officer, Superman? What if he had died today, what would that boy have thought of the life Eddie had lived for him? Would he have been proud or disappointed? Eddie hardly needed to ask the question.

He sits drinking until the orange light of morning pokes through the big windows behind him. A new day. Eddie thought of going home to his wife and son, to his life, and he realises that he can’t. He’s made some wrong choices in life and fate has offered him a second chance. That thought alone gave him a surge of energy and hopefulness. For the first time in years, he looked forward to this new day and all of the excitement that it would hold for him. He pays off his tab and heads towards the exit.

At the airport door, Eddie spots his car in the parking lot. He takes his heavy key ring out of his pocket. For a moment he looks at the familiar keys: to his house, his office, his life,  then he drops them in the dust bin and heads for the train station.


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