The man at the airport bar, sipping brandy, is a man like any other. Older than he wants to be, and younger than he feels. His destinations are no more special than places he’s leaving, departing them only less detrimental than arriving. Clothes don’t help him to blend in any more than they serve to distinguish him, bifocals with owl rims, corduroy jacket with patchwork limbs. The alcohol calms him and makes his head swim. And since airports are approximately the worse place to be in love, he remembers a once he wanted a wife or someone lesser to bid him farewell in commuter hell corridors.
But that was before; before the his and the hers and the forever excavated in a loss for words, and he’s not the least bit sorry for the burn on his tongue.
Youngster in a pressed three-piece asks barkeep for a drink. Stink lines of youth- an arrogant truth in itself- drip from his temple, like he ran here out of fear a better life was waiting. Either that, or this town’s just another worth escaping. His smile’s still affectionate, a thespian perfectionist in seeking opportunity.
“Nervous today,” he admits aloud.
“Of flying? Hmph. You should take the train.”
“Naw,” he says, “Proud to say I’m a frequent flier.”
“That’s not much to be proud of, son. Why nervous, then?”
Barkeep brings the kid his beverage.
“I’m going to ask my love to marry me, but I have little in the way of leverage. I was laid off a month ago, and the taxmen robbed my severance. Got myself a dog with a lazy eye and poor temperament so I named the canine Karma. My mother’s senile, been watching too much news this last little while; bought herself a shotgun because she forgets how to change the channel.”
“And here you are, in an airport bar, dressed like the world’s at your feet.”
“Dress for the life you want, not the life you got.”
“If unemployment is that costly, dare I ask what you spent on the rock?”
“More than on this drink, sir,” the hopeful boy scoffs. “What about you? Ever been so lost?”
“Far as I’m concerned, from this very spot, I’m on the right side of every love story. Twenty years ago today , I sat in this bar. Course, it looked much different then, and my palate wasn’t dressed for the occasion. My drink of choice was tasteless, my tolerance for it less battle-scarred. I was playing for the losing side, balancing dimes on table tops, getting one in twenty to almost stay standing, eyes fixated on the customs line.”
“Did she show?”
“Near three hours late, but more on time than she could ever be.”
“Did you ever propose?”
The old man sighs. There would be tears in those silver eyes, but they’re decades gone. “God knows I wanted to, but you know how it goes. You think about it afterward; try to capture how you would have said it and whether she’d have said yes to it, because of course she would have lit up like a thousand Julys and you would have died a couple times in the longest pause of your life because she is the siren faraway at night you just hope is always headed in your direction.”
“And what would you say, were she present? If she strolled right in this terminal, a few years worse for the wear?”
“If she even cared to hear what I had to say, kid, that would be a miracle in itself.”
“Yes, but what you say? Assuming your most basic functions didn’t betray you and trumpet your ability to speak, what would you ask of her? Would you blow past her grievances or address the fact every other climax between you occurs in airports? Could you form something less worse than the last words you shared?”
“I think I’d tell her it took a lot of bad decisions to get here, and if we had a future at all, I’d devote my whole life to create something less awful. But alas, it’s a moot point. She’s married with children now, and I’m another boy that learned to grow a proper beard in her absence.”
“Cheers to that, then,” he says, “May she always stay the fondest of memories.”
The kid has to run, back to his life across an ocean, back to love, and it may not be telepathy but the older gentleman knows the young woman will agree to the ring her groom-to-be could not afford. And he will drift between time zones, prone to watching security gates and the scores of reunions, hoping down the line,
there might be
store for him.