“Eat,” her mother urges, shoving a spatula of home fries at her daughter. The girl recoils. Usually her appetite is as hearty as her younger brother Geoffrey’s but today food sticks like woodchips in her throat.
If she blurts the news out at the supper table, the film will freeze mid–frame: broken faces, arguments, her father’s jaw melting like cheese on a pizza. Better to toss it over her shoulder as she runs across the tarmac—there’ll be less chance for recriminations.
“What’s the problem Jenny? You love the plane ride,” her mother sighs.
“Leave her alone, mother,” insists her heavy-set father collapsed at the end of the table. “I know damn well the problem: going outside—to the city. Even with Aunt Ruth and her school friends, it’s lonely down there.”
Late one night after a few drinks he’d complained to his daughter how home wasn’t home without her. How the house felt hollow, just the sound of the furnace turning on and off. No guitar strumming into the night, no shouting matches between her and her brother, no cackles as she gossiped with friends on the phone, no long walks, and no fishing. “Three isn’t family,” he kept saying.
She knows it’ll be like that tonight. Her father will light the fireplace; her mom, dad and Geoffrey will look at that new sitcom on TV. Then mom will finally start the new 750-piece seashore puzzle she’d bought on sale at the Bay. Geoffrey, confined to the house because the hockey rink is closed over Easter holidays, will pass the time complaining about the TV reception.
“You’ll throw up if you eat all those sausages,” Geoffrey threatens, hoping to jostle his sister out of a link or two.
“I never thrown up,” the girl sneers.
“You did after Trevor’s party.”
“I never thrown up on a plane,” the girl insists, eyes sharp as pins.
Her father leans over, and squeezes her hand with the fingernails polished plastic pink, “Don’t worry sunshine, only a couple of months ’til summer and you’ll be home again. And a grade 12 graduate to boot.”
“We’re putting Geoffrey down the basement,” mother announces from her outpost by the kitchen door.
The boy protests, “Not putting me. I offered. And I get a new bike.”
“I’ve talked to Mr. Robins,” father nods. “It looks good.”
“Maybe she doesn’t want to work at the bank. She could work at the Bay again,” mother suggests.
“No. She’d have to work Saturdays. We couldn’t go fishing.”
“The bank’s nicer. Cleaner work.”
“Well, I like the Bay,” mother insists.
“It’s Jenny working there not you,” he growls.
She’ll tell them now; why argue about where she’ll work? She hates the bank. It doesn’t deserve the title ‘bank’. It’s a trailer not much bigger than her bedroom. Like a jail cell with only two full–time workers and a part–time clerk in the afternoon. Every day she’d just be sitting there handing out dollars and small talk. At least at the Bay there were young people.
“Is that the door?” the girl asks, jumping up. Through the window she sees Jake, shuffling about on the front porch. Too shy to give a good bang, he hangs about waiting for someone to notice him. Jenny glances at her watch. For once Jake isn’t half an hour early.
“Hi,” she mumbles, leading him towards the kitchen.
Jake pulls off his toque, shakes the snow from his coat, and brushes off his pants. “Hi, all,” he smiles, stationing himself in the corner.
“Sit, sit,” mother insists. “Want some coffee?”
“We don’t have time,” father says, pushing his plate away. “Got your stuff ready, Jenny?”
Her ‘stuff’ has been ready for two days; the hours counted off like penance. Walking back from the store the day before, she had recorded every house. Standing by the river, the ice cracking, a nasty wind abusing the branches, she had placed every image in a box, for later. To be enjoyed quietly, sitting in her own small room, the bed folded for night, a cup of herbal tea warming her hand, her mind savoring the next day in the city.
“Yeah, I’ll get them,” she nods but Jake is struggling to get upstairs first. “Let me carry them down.”
Tumbling awkwardly down the stairs: two suitcases, a plastic bag, the quilt for Aunt Ruth, and the cookies that are better than store-bought, the gangly young man jokes, “There’s enough gear to live in town forever.”
The girl feels powerful in her city clothes—the same long hooded coat she wore the day she arrived. Left in her closet all visit, except for the party. Jenny’s mind hums with how she looks, what she’ll be doing soon.
She’s almost makes it to the car when her father corners her, “I ordered some great new fishing rods for us.”
Now is the moment. She’ll hit him quickly, step around his face, and they’ll all pile in the car. Her father grabs her arm, pulling her to him, as if she were drowning. Laughing gruffly, he walks her along, squeezing her against him, his red plaid jacket rough and worn. “Won’t be long, you’ll be back.” She aches to give him a bear hug, but she keeps moving.
“Laddie wants to come,” Geoffrey shouts wrestling with the mangy collie.
“All the kids will be back,” her mother sings. “The town will liven up. You can have wiener roasts on the beach.”
Wiener roasts? The girl hardens. She’s not a kid.
“Hazel and Barbara are staying in the city this summer,” the girl spurts, hoping to blurt out her news before she can retreat.
“Why’re they doing that?”
“They’ll make more money.”
“They haven’t told their mom. She’d be alone; Jim’ll be in the bush all summer.”
“Anything more for the trunk?” Jake calls, proudly indicating the extra space.
“Sure this car will make it?” Geoffrey asks, kicking the front fender where the salt has eaten through.
“It’s just the body that’s gone,” father offers cheerfully. “It’s a good car.”
“By summer I’ll have a new one,” Jake says. “Not new but without holes. We’ll pick up Jenny in style.”
Passengers and suitcases settle awkwardly into the car: Jenny wedged in the front between her father and Jake, Geoffrey in the back with the dog.
“Thought we were leaving that hound at home,” father grumbles.
“He thinks we’re going to the lake.”
“He don’t think, that’s his problem,” father shrugs, then leans out the windows and shouts, “Mother, hurry up.”
Out she comes, flustered as always, pulling the door behind, dropping the keys in the dried flowerpot near the door.
“God, woman you don’t need to lock her up,” father yells, “We’re only going to the airport.”
The woman waves impatiently, arms clutching her large red purse, a paper bag, and her coat. “Get that dog out of here, Geoff,” she protests, as she squeezes into the back seat.
“He wants to come.”
The woman sighs and stares out the window.
“We’re off,” Jake cries. Checking for traffic along the empty road, he slowly backs out the icy lane into the street. A bony old woman bursts out the door of the bungalow opposite, and hurries towards them, waving her arms.
“Stop, Jake,” mother urges. “Mrs. McIver wants something.”
The old woman hurries to the car and thrusts a package at Jenny. “Something to eat on the plane,” she says, then beams, “Gees, you look good in that coat.”
“Thanks,” Jenny smiles, seeing herself an eagle with hooded eyes.
As they drive off she watches the thin body disappear from view. A strong wind could blow the old woman away, she thinks sadly, suddenly realizing that this could be last time she ever sees the old dear alive.
“Fifteen minutes, folks, and we’ll be there,” Jake announces, proudly checking his digital watch.
The girl studies the dusty dashboard; the broken fuel gauge floats from empty to full with each bump. She sure can’t tell them in the car, trapped there as her father and Jake silently deflate at the news.
Attempting to keep their mind off the inevitable, they gossip on the way to the airport: Will Fred come back from the camp? Who is the new guy at the station? To Jenny, it’s as distant as the newspaper headlines. She has left. Her room, sectioned off from the living room, is now a museum: the half-filled school scribblers, the mementos, the posters of teenage idols, the stuffed animals lined up against the wall. Her thoughts are now on the next bed, tonight.
“We’re here,” Jake announces, proudly wedging the car between dirty piles of snow in the parking lot. Everyone crawls out and stands expectantly as the young man moves purposefully to the trunk. Jenny frowns at the sky: the sun is hidden by heavy clouds; the cover is too low.
Her father shepherds the group into the squat prefab building: the town’s pride, brought in on the barge two years earlier to replace the small wooden shack. There are two washrooms, three vending machines—one for cold drinks, one with bitter coffee, and one with chips and donuts—and a service counter where Tim Preston, when not working at the local store, processes the tickets.
“Back for the last term of school, eh?” Tim says as he carefully reads over Jenny’s ticket. Other passengers move behind her to form a straggling line; one of them is a stranger from outside. Jenny wonders who he was visiting.
The ticket and safety inspection complete, Jenny stands with her parents by the window, peering at the sky. Only ten minutes ’til it’s due and it might come earlier. The girl’s stomach churns fretting how she’ll give her news, and escape.
“The man from the ranger station, ignoring the No Smoking sign, pulls a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and shakes his head, “Real low those clouds, might not make it.”
What an airport, Jenny thinks in disgust. Haven’t they heard of radar? She’ll be glad to get out.
Jenny’s eyes are riveted to the sky. The ticket area soon deserted, the coffee machine brewing its last. Three knee-high kids play tag, pushing against their parents’ legs. “Hey, outside, you kids,” someone shouts.
And then the faint sound, the hum; the crowd sways towards the door, pushing against the glass. The ticket man stands sentinel. Passengers are kept off the tarmac until the plane lands.
The drone swells, like a hungry mosquito, invisible but ready for action. Jenny pulls her suitcase towards her, hugging her carry-on bag to her chest. Now is the moment. Just as it lands, just as they are hurrying out, she’ll call over her shoulder.
“This is it, Jenny,” her father grins at her. “Next time you see this old airport, you’ll be home for good.”
The girl presses to the front of the line. The sound is growing, drowning out the mutters and goodbyes. Those who are leaving mumble final words while their eyes watch anxiously for the plane to break through. Behind the heavy gray clouds the buzz swells.
“I may not be back,” the girl hisses urgently, her arm tugging at her bag, leaning to run.
“What?” her father asks, startled.
Jenny clutches her bag, shoves her suitcase forward, her face rigid. “I’m not coming back,” the girl repeats, throat heavy. “Not to stay.”
Her father’s face collapses.
“It’s not landing,” a woman clutching a baby moans. “We’re socked in.”
Everyone freezes, even the kids hush. The buzz thins, slowly shrivels, and disappears. The crowd leans forward, hoping the plane will turn around and make another attempt. The minutes pass, the sky is silent.
“Sorry folks,” the ticket agent says. “Guess it can’t make it down.”
The crowd breaks into groups, grumbling as they shuffle towards the door. “Where’s grandma’s plane?” a child yells, banging the waiting room window.
“We’ll try again tomorrow,” mother says, pulling her daughter for a hug.
Driving back to town, everyone worries what to say next.
“Can we get a video?” Geoffrey finally offers, “Jenny can choose.”
Jake chuckles, “I said next time I drove Jenny, I’d have a new car. Just shows, eh?”
The girl glances back as the small building disappears behind a snow drift. She senses her father’s bulk pulling away to press against the window. “The forecast this morning promised clear skies,” he mutters. “Now this.”
~ Melodie Corrigall
Originally published at: http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/2010/10-2/corrigall.htm
Photo Credit: DieselDemon