This flash is for the Steve Weddle Memorial Airport Flash Fiction Challenge. Daniel OShea is hosting it. For other stories go here.
by Patricia Abbott
Her daughter had booked a cheap flight landing at City Airport rather than Metro. The only high-tech item inside the ramshackle terminal was a TSA system. There were also three vending machines— one for a defunct newspaper—and a TV monitor from the 1980s. Shannon’s departure from O’Hare had been held up by snow and Pam was entering her third hour of internment, made worse by the fact that no E.T.A had appeared on the monitor for over an hour. Even criminals received a specific sentence.
It was 10 P.M. and the building was nearly vacant. Two rows of empty plastic chairs connected back-to-back. Most people landing at City had a car outside rather than a ride There was no taxi stand, no porters. She could go back home, but it was a forty-minute drive and the snow coming down in Chicago was beginning to fall in Detroit.
She picked up the day-old Free Press she’d managed to scrounge from the trashcan. Kwame Kilpatrick’s face occupied most of the front page. The shows that had been on TV the night before looked promising. No snow in the forecast and the Lions were 2 and 11. An unknown assailant had murdered a woman waiting at a bus stop. There were more pictures on each page than print. Were they moving toward a day when the public would glean information through pictures instead of words?
A plane landed—coming from Philadelphia according to the flashing monitor. Although this was not Shannon's flight, the thought of some new faces was strangely thrilling. As passengers quickly deplaned, she felt the row of chairs lurch. Someone sat down behind her. Pam picked up the scent of Vera Wang perfume. The woman was a few seats to the left, probably waiting for a tardy ride.
“It’s me,” Pam heard the woman say. Was there anything more annoying than listening to someone speaking on a cell phone? The banalities of common conversation were never more evident.
“She’ll be out cold on her Ambien.” Pause. “Just go over and do it. Yes, now.” The woman’s voice grew a bit louder as an announcement about the continuing delay at O’Hare came over the speakers. “Just yank the cord.” She sighed. “Look, we’ve been over this a million times. You don’t have wait on her 24-7.”
Pam felt rather than heard the woman put the phone away.
The ring tone, two minutes later, was a song by Otis Reading. Pam couldn’t place the title. “Yeah,” the woman said. “Oh, for Christ’s sake, we agreed on tonight so I’d….” she looked around and lowered her voice. “So I’d be out of town. I’ll have to start the drive home in a few minutes” Pause. “Two hours.” Pam imagined rather than saw her looking out the window. “If the weather cooperates. Although maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”
Pam stood up and walked a few steps away, pretending to stare out the window herself. She could still hear that voice though.
“She can’t breath without that oxygen, you idiot. A few minutes probably.”
Pam could see her clearly now. Fortyish, a business suit, blonde hair, a bit slack from perspiration. Throwing her phone into her purse, the woman walked to the restroom. People like her didn’t do things like this. Except when they did.
Her hair was scraped back into a pony tail when she returned. Pam tried not to stare at her sweating face, her ravenous mouth as she devoured a bag of Cheetos, a diet Faygo, a package of red licorice, crumpling the bag and tossing it handily into the trashcan ten feet away. This was clearly not her usual cuisine but the machines offered little else.
The woman spoke twice to the bored security guard at the entrance. “Think the snow’ll let up. It’s a long drive home.” Pam couldn’t hear his response. Was she setting up her witness?
“Try a Little Tenderness"--that was it--played again. “She couldn’t be,” the woman hissed. “Did the paramedic tell you that?” Pause. “Then she must’ve done it herself.” …. “Maybe it was an accident.” …“That’s impossible. If she’d been dead yesterday, I would’ve known before I left.” …. “No, no, I didn’t check. Just took off for the airport. Never gets up before nine. Has a fit if I wake her. That’s why….”
The woman was pacing again. Pam only heard the odd word or two when she drew closer in her circuit. “Don’t tell them anything. I’ll handle it when….” She was too far away to make it out.
Pam strained to hear her, inching down the row of plastic seats one by one, turning the corner to get as near to the woman as possible. Stopping abruptly as the woman suddenly turned on her heel and clicked across the floor to retrieve her suitcase.
She looked Pam in the face for the first time—her eyes red, her skin ashen. Then she straightened up a bit, put a hand on her hip and said, “You weren’t trying to pinch my bag, were you?”