Grounded – Lisa Kenway

How will I find Nance in this vast space? If only I could remember where we arranged to meet. The sterile airport terminal, white and cavernous, could be the halfway house between heaven and earth, or earth and hell, or earth and wherever you go after you croak. If you go anywhere. Lost souls mill about, waiting for a ticket to eternity.

A flight crew waddle past in single file, a brood of ducklings in high heels. I scan the hostesses for a platinum-blonde chignon, for pantyhose with a red spot on the calf from a last-minute nail polish repair. But these women are all brunettes with frozen expressions and bare legs. And they’re gone in a moment. Everyone’s in such a hurry these days. Blank faces tug on suitcases and small children, avoiding eye contact at all cost. If you stand still too long, they’ll mow you down.

At airport security, I study the pictures of forbidden items: cartoon matches and aerosols, sticks of dynamite, bottles marked with skull and crossbones. A garbled announcement echoes over the PA and a swarm of bees fills my chest. Did they call my name? Was it about my suitcase? Nance always does the packing. What would she have included? Underwear, folded handkerchiefs and my grey rain jacket. A toothbrush and a plastic bag full of pills. So many pills, but certainly no matches. Or dynamite. Would she?

‘Can I help you, Sir?’ A young man gestures at my carry-on. Does he think I can’t lift it? I make a show of flinging the bag onto the conveyer belt. He shrugs and empties keys and coins into a square tray.

The security guard on the other side of the body scanner gestures to me. I walk through the narrow archway to an electronic chorus. He slides a wand up and down my body, identifying the offending hip.

‘Bionic man, I am.’ I wink. Charm the authorities, Nance always says. Confuse them with congeniality.

‘Thank you, Sir. Is this your bag?’ He points at my suitcase on a small metal table.

I nod.

‘Please open it.’

I fumble with the zip and swing it open. The suitcase is empty.

‘Travelling light?’

I lean over to peer inside the bag and trace Nance’s spidery writing on the address label. It’s my bag all right, but where are the neatly folded shirts and slacks, the bundled-up socks and underwear? And the pills? Where’s the packet of Monte Carlo biscuits Nance always sneaks between the business shirts in case there’s no decent food on the plane? I pat the base, searching for a hidden compartment.

The man holds out his hand and shouts, ‘Do. You. Have. A. Boarding. Pass?’

I rummage around in my pocket.

The guard closes my suitcase and escorts me through the beeping archway with one hand on my elbow. Back to the line of passengers.

He sighs. ‘Where do you live? Can I call someone to collect you?’

The queue stretches out before me. A young blonde woman barges to the front of the line. Her hair is cropped, like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, sunglasses pushed to the top of her head and a phone pressed to her ear. She slides the phone into her handbag and opens her arms to embrace me. ‘When I heard you’d gone missing, I took a chance. I thought I might find you here again.’

Who is this stranger who thinks she knows me? She smiles a sad smile and a dimple appears on her cheek. Instantly, I can see her twisting apart the two halves of a Monte Carlo to lick out the twist of raspberry cream. Or sinking into a bubble bath with Frank Sinatra blasting from the stereo.

‘Nance?’

I remember the day we met like it was yesterday. My first plane flight: Sydney to Hong Kong. Nance leaned over to fasten my seatbelt and her hair tickled my cheek. A waft of Chanel No. 5., and a dimple when she smiled.

‘Where’ve you been, Nance?’

She kisses my cheek. ‘It’s Kathy, Grandad.’

The mob presses forward, a sea of bodies, shimmering movement. I can’t hold focus, can’t pick out a single detail. The bees that were in my chest now buzz in my ears, crowd my brain.

The young woman takes my bag from the security guard and pulls out the handle. ‘The planes are grounded today.’

LISA KENWAY is an Australian writer and doctor. Her short fiction has appeared in Meniscus Literary Journal, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Ellipsis Zine and is forthcoming in The Sunlight Press. Find her at http://www.lisakenway.com or on Twitter @LisaKenway.

Image via Pixabay

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