Every airplane in the airport lands late because of
weather but not his, the plane he's changing to, the one he's running to
catch so many gates from the one he left. Loping along the moving
sidewalk, he moves more than 3-D, he goes time-warped, he'll catch that
plane, it's Einstein's train, time demented, and no tube goes detumescent
at its gate, not his, no, it's still airlocked and open--but not this
Time. Time out. You're out. He sits, he stands, he gets
back in line. The game is this: only the agent knows the rules, only the
agent slips through that gate. Mere passengers are defeated by fate, their
feet, and weather.
The snow falls free. One man tears up his ticket and
tosses it up into the air, his own blizzard. I'm just a number, shouts the
If they named the planes, the way they do ships, says
the man as he sits down next to him, it would make it more personal.
Lucinda will be here in an hour, he says, it would be like the plane's
perm wasn't taking.
His brother doesn't know where he is. Hospitalized--the
most passive verb you can use--he's blue and pneumonic. Someone has just
noticed the second, the blood workup returned and glanced through right
after lunch and a quick smoke and stop at the john and a chat about the
ballgame. No one hurries about the workup, he has given them such a hard
time, pinching at people the way he does, especially the nurse and the two
men it takes to hold him down. He himself is not such a big man but the
pain makes him big, pain nobody's figured out yet, though why nobody
notices. No stools over and over on his chart is a wonder. Or is it really
written so often, is it skipped because the nurses can't keep track, don't
want to keep track, because he pinches, his blue lobster fingers pinch
because he can't talk.
He never could talk. There, and there, and there, in his
brain, he can't do a lot of things.
His doctor arrives after the bloodwork's exclaimed over,
rung for in response or rung because the nurses want any excuse to
complain about the pinching fingers to someone who could inject a drug or
order restraints. The doctor's own plane is late, later in the day, a
vacation charter full of other doctors as single as himself, looking to
get laid outside the bed-ridden corridors of work, that is, it's a plane
headed for a beach, not beached, the way the brother's is.
The doctor watches him breathe as if he were a fish
thrown up on a beach but does not stand too close, for he sees those hands
clench. Bedside for him is arm’s length. The doctor considers probing his
ears and imagines their insides whorled in emptiness, with nothing where
words are made, or thought.
His brother taught him to walk, moving his arms and legs
two hours a day the way he should for himself, to get him to make some
link in this moving, trained him to move with his mother mornings before
walking to school, and then again on return. He didn't want to walk.
He doesn't want to learn that one more thing, death,
either. Not he should learn, really, and not that the hospital will teach
him anything but pain, and no one learns from his pinching except to stay
His brother's not thinking about him, he rarely does
since he left behind the long chore of moving those arms and legs. He
stands at the window of the airport facility--it's not even a
building--and none of the planes coming and going so slowly through the
slant driving snow promise to take him any closer or even farther from
where he needs to go. Everyone says this is no one's fault other than the
over-personified weather's, that mythic swirl that shifts the system no
one's held accountable for.
He wonders at the gray blank wall of weather on the
other side of the glass and the color of his brother's brain--why not his
own?--registers, it is that blank. His brother's in an institution
somewhere, that much he knows, the one he was designed for, exercised for.
He moves toward the counter, he leaves that view of gray.
We'll be happy to book you on the next flight, says
someone behind the counter that the facility has in plethora but seldom
staffs or staffs lightly, her one-staff happiness supposed to suffuse the
entire lounge so full of unloungeable people. But there are no more
planes, he reminds her. Please use the phone, patronize the hotel that
perhaps the facility owns, she says. But he does not lift the phone that
dials itself the way it could, all by itself.
He thinks a plane will fly.
His brother raves. He can't talk and in pain this
not-talking sounds almost like the sounds another person would make in
pain. He pinches instead. The nurses standby, stand off. No one wants to
do anything but have someone sign the forms. Who will sign for him if? is
what they've been discussing all day, trying to contact someone. He's
already blue, says one nurse, he's probably even more a vegetable than
There's always degrees, says the head nurse.
Tomatoes or turnips? says another.
It's a job, resuscitating. The IVs go in, the chest gets
beaten, the cables connected. Someone will have to pay for it, the state
or whoever isn't here to sign for him. They'd rather not do it anyway,
they'd rather go off and have a smoke.
It won't matter about the brain if he lives, the doctor
decides. He orders rest instead of the procedure and does not press his
belly the way he should because the man pinches, and his own plane
He's only human. How much less is only? is what the
nurse wonders after she leaves, her car keys mislaid for a minute.
The chaplain can't know what prayers the man prefers. He
says them all and then gets social with the nurses: that's what he does
best to protect patients. He knows the man's home is cutting, it's looking
for any excuse to rid itself of those like him. He tries the brother
listed but there's no answer. It's luxury to have someone to sign, who
belongs enough to you.
Every worm in his system is plugged now, and turning to
poison. He can't sit up, he can't. With animals, they're put on a shunt or
get stabbed at some spot and the buildup releases quick. By law, he is not
an animal. The nurses say a man who pinches, might bite. He fights when
they strap on restraints.
His brother sits, stopped at the gate. Not even a
toothbrush is what he's realizing. And no one to call, if he could, not
even on the self-calling phones—those lines are down too. The big gray
storm still builds, the vast storm wall tightens around the facility, all
the gray goes black but is it night? It could be smoke, a thick cloud
released from one of those rooms for people who can't quit. It could be
all the exhaust of a century of plane-flying collected on one runway. Or
fallout. He moves to sit in front of the TV bank that doesn't say, it's
elsewhere with its news and its reports on sports. He just sits there,
stopped, until the attendant comes by with her cute ass and says are you
still here? That plane left an hour ago.
Terese Svoboda's seven books include Trailer Girl
and Other Stories and A Drink Called Paradise (prose, both
from Counterpoint Press), Cannibal (Bobst Prize, NYU Press),
MereMortals (poetry, U. of Georgia), Laughing Africa (Iowa
Prize in Poetry, U. of Iowa), All Aberration (poetry, U. of
Georgia) and Cleaned the Crocodile's Teeth (translations,
Greenfield Review Press). Her work has been selected for the Writer's
Choice column in the NY Times Book Review, Great Lakes New Writers
Award, an NEH grant in translation, VLS Best Summer Books, one of
SPIN's books of the year. She has taught at William and Mary,
Williams College, San Francisco State, Sarah Lawrence, and University of