on and off the airplane

He’s bald and old, but lively, and his shirt is sort of Whitman-like, collarless and open at the neck. He sat behind me on the long delayed flight home, and we exchanged a few words through the crack between the seats. Then, when we all stand up and cram into the aisle, eager for exit, he says, “Are you in school? I saw you have a lot of electronics.”

“No, that’s all for work.”

“What sort of work do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Go on,” he prods me, as if to say, that’s never the end of the story, I’m too old to let that one lie.

I point to my bag, to the electronics. “Work is advertising. But I write fiction too.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere. Me, I write with a quill,” he announces.

“You’re a writer too?”

“No, I’m a retired dentist.”

“Oh,” I say. It’s late, and I can’t find a following question.

He shakes his head. “Not really. Don’t believe a word I say.” We walk down the steps of the plane onto the tarmac and head for the waiting bus. Suddenly his old age shows, he’s nervous, the world has become too big, baffling. “Where are they taking us?”

“Back to Lexington,” I tell him, and instantly regret it. “No, not really. To the terminal.”

“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?”

“Not about that,” I promise him, and we get on board.

Something rings.. “Is that me?” He starts patting down his pockets and pulls out a phone. He looks at it until the ringing stops. He shakes it at me. “This?” he says. “This is like something you would have.”


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