Read by Sarah Feathers
Our long-haul arrived late and a cluster of us are waiting by the plane for luggage that had been checked at the gate – a pushchair, in my case – and all of us with connections to make can feel the seconds dripping away like hot butter. The baby and I have a flight to catch, a flight home, a flight that we are surely going to miss, and at first I was irritated by you, you showing off your fancy phone with internet, you reading out people’s departure gates while you wait for a suitcase that hadn’t quite fit in the overhead bins.
Your luggage comes, but you linger. You say you aren’t in any hurry. Your wife isn’t going to pick you up for another hour and you know the airport, so you might as well stick around and be helpful.
You’re watching me watch my watch when the pushchair appears, at the very moment my connecting flight is meant to depart. You catch my eye then nod significantly at your phone. “Says your flight’s delayed,” you say, a hint of excitement in your voice. “Hasn’t left yet.”
I position the baby in her pushchair then look up at you, you in your bright orange shirt the colour of pumpkins, your loud purple tie and your expensive black shoes, polished to a sheen. I have absolutely no idea what to make of you. “Come on,” you say. “We can make it.”
Before I’ve finished blinking, before I can think of a response, you’ve grabbed my hand luggage and started running towards the airport. Before I know what I’m doing, I’m following.
You seem to know this place like the back of your hand, and since you’re not pushing a pushchair, you’re running ahead, looking at signs, checking departure boards, shouting out “Comin’ through!” whenever people look like they might block our path. No one questions the authority of your broad shoulders, your commanding voice, that blinding orange shirt.
“No time for the lift!” you say, and grab the front of the pushchair as I brace myself for the escalator. The baby claps as we lift her, pushchair and all, into the air and balance her between us. I feel giddy, reckless, snapped awake.
When we get to the right level in the right terminal, you run alongside me as my energy flags, barking out directions like some sort of personal trainer – “Left!”, “Straight on!”, “Nearly there!”, “Keep going!” Eventually, you grab the handles of the pushchair, taking over so that I can move faster, and then we both concentrate on running.
When we finally make it to the gate, both of us are breathless and the plane is right there in front of us. We can see it through the window. It is big and it is real. Against all odds, against the rules of airports and delays and schedules and traffic, we’ve made it, we’re here, we’ve beaten the game. We can’t believe it, but we can’t doubt our own eyes, and there is a moment when we whoop and swap high-fives, a moment when you gather me into your arms, a moment when we nearly kiss.
I’m not sure which one of us realises first but our smiles freeze at exactly the same moment. The doors of the plane are, in fact, shut. The ground crew is rolling the steps away. The gate agent is walking away from her desk.
You with your unignorable orange shirt leap into action, block her retreat, tell her we’re here. You are polite but assertive, but your loudness makes her jump. You ask her to let me on board, and your question sounds like a command. You argue with her long after I would have given up, but it becomes painfully clear: the doors to that plane will not be opening again until it lands, far, far away from here.
Suddenly, I feel very hot. I can feel sweat beginning to bead on my face. You take off your jacket and your underarms are damp. You look deflated. All of a sudden, you seem ten pounds heavier and I am sure I appear ten years older. All of a sudden, the lighting seems too bright, too harsh. We look at each other; we look sheepish. We look away.
You point me in the direction of the airline’s courtesy desk. They’ll rebook me on the next available flight, you say. Already I am doing mental calculations: how long has the baby been awake, what time is it where we started, what time is it at home, will we have enough milk to make it through, how will I get in touch with my husband to let him know of the delay. You hand me my hand luggage and I take up the handles of the pushchair. The baby is fidgeting so I roll her back and forth. She looks tired.
You shrug, apologise, shrug again. I thank you, catch my breath, continue to thank you. We carry on until we both feel awkward, and then you say you really ought to go pick up the rest of your luggage. We wish each other well, then pause.
There is a moment when we stand completely still. There is a moment when we almost touch. There is a moment when we imagine something we won’t put into words, can’t put into action. But there it is between us, dripping like hot butter.
“So close,” you say, before you turn away. “So close.”
(c) Ingrid Jendrzejewski
Winner of the Bath Flash Fiction Award, Ingrid Jendrzejewski likes cryptic crosswords, the game of Go, and the python programming language. She hails from the US Midwest, but currently spends most of the year in Cambridge. Links to her work can be found at ingridj.com and she occasionally tweets @LunchOnTuesday.
Sarah Feathers trained at East 15. Theatre work includes All You Ever Needed (Hampstead Theatre), A Hard Day’s Month (Rose Theatre, Kingston), 26 (BAC), Moll Flanders (Southwark Playhouse) and The Winter's Tale (Courtyard Theatre). Film includes Coulda Woulda Shoulda, Feeling Lucky and More Than Words. TV: The Real King Herod.