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Terese Svoboda


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. 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 man.

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.

He moves.


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 away.


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 before.

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 circles.

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 Hawaii.


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