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“Absolutely not,” I said, swerving the car from right to left. We laughed. “That would be the absolute worst thing ever,” I said, adamant. “I don’t even want to know it’s happening.”
“I bet you have a bigger funeral,” said Andre.
“I bet my eulogy is nicer,” I said.
“Doesn’t matter, it’s always a bunch of lies anyways. It always is.”
“He was so sensitive.”
“He had such… a positive outlook.”
“I bet you mine is nicer. What do you want to bet?” I said. “Dinner? Drinks? What do you think it’ll be like in the afterlife?”
“Every minute a happy hour,” Andre said.
“Are you sure,” I said, “that you want to do this?”
At the airport, there are machines where you park. You feed them. Ten minutes is a quarter. It took us a long time. We kept missing the slot and chasing the coins down, scooping them from between the legs of the men in suits. They waited in line behind us, grumbling. They slapped newspapers against their thighs and looked at watches.
The machines were bright yellow, and had no words to explain anything, only pictures. Fingers holding circles up to little slots. Andre shouted out obscene captions to these pictures. The line thickened behind us. Somebody went to call security.
I laughed so hard, my body folded at the waist. I held myself. I begged him to stop. It hurt so much to laugh that way.
All the flights were delayed because of the storm. In the terminal we found a crowded bar with a happy waitress. The storm gave her customers. It made them thirsty. They wanted what the storm had, that kind of power. Everyone had to wait, while she laughed to herself and tucked five-dollar bills into her apron. We did not care. She gave us doubles for the regular price. Andre broke a glass. She did not care.
“I’m sorry,” he told her. “I don’t feel like myself today.”
But this wasn’t true. He couldn’t escape from himself. He was always that way.
“I don’t feel like myself today either,” she said. “I’m usually not very nice. Actually, I’m usually pretty nasty.”
It was so funny, we all laughed together, hard.
Andre wondered if he should tell his mother he’s gay.
“She’ll think I’m a freak,” he said. “She’ll know as soon as she sees me.”
“And what will you say?” I asked. “If she asks. If it upsets her?”
“I can’t be a disappointment to yet another mother,” he said. “Imagine,” he said. “Another.”
“You’ll lie,” I said. We shifted in our seats. The texture of the chairs was unpleasant against our skin.
“Then she’ll never know me,” he said. “She won’t see me for who I really am.”
“Sometimes that’s better,” I said.
He raised his glass. We had another.
“I hate that fucking HIV,” I said.
“That’s good,” he said. “Very helpful.”
“I really hate it,” I said. “You’re not supposed to get sick with it anymore. It’s supposed to be over, something we fucking got over. Then suddenly somebody goes and gets sick with it.” I must have been very drunk. “Fucking bastard,” I said.
“Well, for God’s sake then we’ll certainly not talk about it. I wouldn’t want to upset you or anything,” Andre said.
“He can’t help it, I suppose.”
“I said nothing about him,” said Andre.
“I guess,” I said.
“Don’t you miss him?”
I had always thought we would grow old together, George and I. I shrugged.
“Stop fucking shrugging,” said Andre. “Stop fucking drinking.”
We looked out the window at the same time.
“Won’t you be sorry when he’s dead?” said Andre.
“Sure,” I said. “Who wouldn’t?” I looked outside. The rain had stopped. “Your plane will take off soon,” I said.
He reached across the table and grabbed my arm. He knocked another glass to the floor. Neither of us even looked at it.
“When was your last test?” he said.
I kicked at the glass.
“He misses you,” said Andre. He stuffed the photo of his biological mother into the empty glass. “You miss him.”
“You’re drunk,” I said.
“I’m getting on that plane,” he said.
We laughed. We had another.
Andre got on the plane. He wasn’t nervous anymore. He would drink more on the plane because the air pressure dehydrates you and makes alcohol’s effects stronger. It’s cost effective.
“Not only that,” he said. “It’s like permission. From a higher power.”
“You’re the only one giving permission here,” I said.
“Faith,” he said. He waved and turned to go towards security.
I waited at the windows for the plane to pull away from the gate. I watched the men on the airfield in orange jumpsuits who waited for the clouds to dissipate, men who walked about the plague of buildings, like little hospital aides, ministering to all that metal.
I walked around the empty chairs. The walls in the airport were metal, a dull metal. Its surfaces cast imperfect reflections, the edges of all images were indistinct, as though they had emerged only after great effort, as though all figures had lost the will required to be separate from that which reflected them, and were only too relieved to be sucked back in. As though this in fact, was just about to happen. I could feel the pull of it.
The plane took off, with a noise like it was breaking the sky. Andre does not believe in it, but the men in orange suits looked after it as though it were a god.
I waved goodbye, but he could not see me.
I wanted another drink, but happy hour was over. I began to walk through the terminal, back to the car. The terminal was full of people who were waiting to fly, who could not stop believing in flight. I could have told them to think about it, about how impossible it was to fly, about how they could turn around and go home. They too could be safe. They coughed; they shook their ankles against their chairs, impatient to begin.
Then I heard a noise, like an animal was trapped there, amongst all the metal.
A man was walking away from two young girls, a few feet, backing up, a fist pressed into his lips. It was private, the noise the girls were making, but they were in the middle of everything, everyone. There was no escape. He was their father, maybe. He was old enough. They were sisters, long blonde hair splayed everywhere. Somebody else was not there, was dead probably. Maybe their mother. Someone supposed to be there. He had just told them something, just one minute ago. Something terrible.
One was a few years older, but they looked alike. Duffel bags next to them, blocking the aisles, like somebody rude would, but everybody went far to avoid them, careful, polite, pretending not to see.
The girls were wailing and shaking, their ribs barely contained the sounds. One of the girls was sitting on a suitcase, the other was on her knees and she huddled into the sister’s lap as though she had found it empty and needed to fill it. Their hair was trembling blonde like fields in winter, just before a snow. When they raised their faces, it was a glorious, terrible sight. They were completely broken. They howled. The people waiting looked away.
They sat in the brightest part of the terminal, and everyone around them was rigid, exhausted from the effort of not seeing them. The people sat and clenched the corners of their mouths and were silent.
They looked up sometimes and looked outside, as though what was in them would stop if they could see the sky, the sky that was opening up there, the clouds that moved out of their way. Then they remembered what the man had told them. Their faces collapsed. The air rushed into them and came out again in a high wailing arc. They became blind again. Their bodies shook, they had forgotten each small part, they had forgotten the edges of themselves. They were spilling into everything, they felt so much. They didn’t care that anyone watched, that anyone saw them weeping.
I watched them for a long time, and they never saw me. I could have stood in front of them, I could have fallen over them, I could have lain prostrate before them, they would not have known. I was filled with envy.
Eventually, one girl stood up. She held her sister’s face in her hands. They looked at each other and gave one another a little smile. The father returned. They stood, holding each other, for a long time, and then he picked up their bags, carried them for the girls. They followed, holding hands. I watched as the family, broken, moved off together.
Outside the sun was settling into a great dark silt of clouds. I stood in the parking lot and watched it go until I shook from the cold. It was unpleasant. I felt fingers of cold reaching for me, like the earth was growing soft and porous, like I would sink into it. My head was pounding from sobering up.
I could go in and get another drink, but the girls might be there, weeping as though for the light on the earth itself, and its sad going.
I called up George, to tell him not to call me again, to tell him I was going to have my number changed, that I’d get a restraining order filed. Enough was enough. But George just laughed.
“God, you’re impossible,” he said.
“I’m not,” I said. “That’s what I’m telling you.”
“But you are,” he said. “That’s why I love you.”
There was a long moment of quiet between us. I could have hung up; I could have just gone home.
“Are you hungry?” He wanted to know.
I said I was.
“For what it’s worth,” he said. “I’ve cooked. It’s almost ready.”
I thought of Andre, miles above the earth, flying to see a mother he’d never met before, tons of metal and warm bodies flying through the night, defying all logic; that it was happening even if he didn’t want to believe in it. I was hungry.
“I’ll be right there,” I said.