By JOE SWEENEY
I wasn’t thirsty anymore, so when I heard him calling from over the belts it was ok. Part of it, too, was his voice, which sounded like it had finally decided being exhausted wasn’t worthwhile. TSA workers (agents?) don’t seem to have time for anything. But really that’s only true about the ones behind the belts–at the gates they’re always waving me through. Go on ahead. For some people it’s easier to imagine behind their mask than it is to see, their smile.
As I came closer my bottle began to rotate gently in his hand (“See the fluid?” Yes, yes I do).
“Where can I dump it out?”
Points, “There’s a trash can.”
Rarely am I able to find things, especially if they’re in front of me, to the right or left of me, or behind me. Before I had even turned to look I saw myself coming back, eyes wider: Where? And he keeps telling me, and still nothing has happened.
But I turned and there it was. The liquid ran down the draping plastic folds. Or I’m pretty sure it did; I had turned away. Everything about it felt wrong. The bag was a bright green. It used the dull can rim for its shade.
I wasn’t that tired. I’d slept on the bus ride over, and it was very relaxing actually. The seats were inclined so you could lay your head back without craning, and I fell asleep while the world was very gray beside me. And that’s not the impression I get when I’m just walking–the world beside me. The best I can come up with then is a turgid evergreen or a wind-shaken bough. And the gray too, pressed jolting against the window. I wasn’t that tired.
“You see the strings hanging from your pants?”
My hands were to my head, my feet filled the yellow footprints. Notwithstanding their color those footprints were very fashionable, at least it seemed to me. They had a tight curvature and detached heels–very businesslike. I could see myself going anywhere in shoes like those. Maybe that was the point.
“Put them in the sides of your pants before we run the scanner.”
I couldn’t get them in, they kept falling out. I almost asked if they would just give me a break. I figured it out, though.
The detectors don’t really whir, but they do move, and quickly. From one side to another. The one in front of me always seems to go left-right. I don’t know if they can scan both ways, or if they have to return to their original position. In any case, they don’t have to wait long to find out.
Now I’m just waiting on the belts. But it’s not their fault. The belts falter only because the beams are not enough; they can’t pick apart the insides alone. Helping them along is yet another man behind. Nothing has ever been there–how does he know what to look for?
Maybe it’s no one’s fault.
And all the while my bag hangs heavy on the belts; in its gray dull bin.
There’s an image that comes back to me. Two brothers grow up under a roof cold as the light of stars–it’s not anyone’s fault. There is something inside dad and mom that love is too lonely to name. Under the same silence many things come to pass, one too-many too many. Against this brothers come to know the name of the other.
But I do not know them.
When the growing’s all done one brother becomes sick. The other flies in from where he’s been, three thousand miles away. He comes to his bedside. He knows it is a miracle he is anywhere at all. He hates himself for ever being pained by a solitary voice. He looks into his eyes. He looks away when understanding comes to kill everything. He looks down at his hands. I loved you before I even ever knew what love was like. He holds them.
Flying, it is no longer right to feel anything. But after it racked his body for so many hours (His teeth had shivered!) it lives inside him after all. He sees the faces of his cold lights through the voice on the phone–his parents, who did not come for his brother. They are not faces that will ever be made right.
What he can he lets drip from fingers, from legs chests and eyes–but because the world has no place for it he must decide which part he will hold beneath his heart. This image and my eyes upon it.
Their eyes upon me–but barreling through transparent air I am too quick for them yet. Still, there cannot be much time before I return.
Which part? Which part?
Only now that I am made to pick them all up does it seem absurd how many things I have. My phone, my wallet, my keys–where does it end? And it ends right there, except for the crumpled receipt I got from the convenience store. I almost just leave it for the bin. Almost. In the end I can’t.
My bag rolls along the linoleum, faster than the belts could take it. Already the gate is there. I have plenty of time. I bought some peanut M&Ms at the Hudson newsstand and already, they are nearly done for. I think about going back for more. I think about walking up, pocketing the limp yellow bag, walking down and away. I think about the type of person who could care about a thing like that. The person I see is not any person I have ever known. I do not go back; their image unnerves me.
And yet still there is something wrong. Twenty-five minutes to departure and the voice fails to come over the speakers. I eye the boarding screen, which says “To Cleveland”, to me alone. This is not where I’m going.
I run, with my shoulders tense and my knees bending and my heart beating quick as the wheels are turning. I pass everything by. The terminal sprawls beneath my feet, and I am not amazed by how quickly I forget such cramped endless gray space.
And when I arrive at my right place they haven’t even boarded the first group. I could return to my original position and no one–no one–would suspect a thing.
I take a seat, far from anyone else. The windows are wider than anything, floor to ceiling amid their steel lattices. I don’t look out, though. That’s for later.
I am more tired than I supposed I was.
The bag is no longer heavy on the belts. But it is heavy still.
It’s moments like these I feel I don’t particularly care for anyone.
How, then, does it happen? The bag falls over–behind it there is a little girl. I snatch the handle. I do. She is untouched.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
And I keep looking at her.
She walks away. All this time hand in hand with her mom. The beams that shock through the wide windows are the shadows of the sun.
I sit there for a while, but not much longer because my flight is very soon. Before takeoff I hear this guy a couple aisles down going on and on about how God made him attend his exorbitantly priced christian university. I don’t know why this speech has begun. The girl he addresses meets these revelations with kind affirmations, too kind really. It is incredible how kind people are.
I don’t know how this will end for me.
Does he ever wonder why God chose him, and not someone else? I don’t think so. I doubt he knows anybody so well to wonder. And yet if I were in his position, knowing I should–would I myself wonder? Again, I don’t think so. I guess that’s why God made me live my life, and made this guy live his. Then again, maybe things would’ve turned out better if it were the other way around.
When we roll off the runway I look out my window, but not for long. There isn’t much to see after all.
Joe Sweeney ’25 is a staff writer
Isaac Silva ’23 is a staff artist