There was a jilt.
Jan instinctively grabbed his drink but let the peanuts fall. There was nothing to see outside but a flashing red light on the end of the wing — and the occasional burst of lightening. Strange seeing lightening burst in the clouds below.
He crossed his feet, rested his head; closed his eyes. Tight.
A toddler was crying in the back of the plane. A man across the aisle complained. That bothered Jan. Doesn’t that guy remember being a kid? The thought angered him, but his stoic expression revealed nothing.
This time his drink dumped on his lap. A tiny napkin dabbed his trousers. It wasn’t that much; no big deal, he thought.
The plane careened downward; the lights blinked off, then on. A murmur rumbled through the cabin. Jan cast a glance at the poker-faced stewardess buckled in the front seat. There was no sign of concern. She was trained well, he thought. He laid his head back again. The plain corrected itself.
“You know, they really need to fix these pot holes.” Jan opened his eyes to see a fifty-something year old passenger smiling in the seat to his right.
“Yes they do,” he returned her smile.
The guy across the aisle — an extraordinarily large man in an oversized blue shirt — offered his opinion. Jan pitied the passenger to the man’s left.
The airliner lifted again; dropped. It shuddered relentlessly through the night sky. At least three other little ones added their voices to a chorus of whining and crying. Jan cast another glimpse at the wing, wondering what held it aloft at 33,000 feet. 60 degrees below zero up here, he thought. He couldn’t help but consider the worst. What would it be like …
“I’m heading home to see my grandchildren,” she smiled again, undaunted by the raging weather front. “You have any children?”
“Three.” He nodded. Their faces emerged in his mind. Angela, Katie and the Bear.
“I bet they’re cute.” She was still smiling.
“Yeah,” he turned his head to show her his compassionate grin. “They look like their mom.”
Lydia was thirty-three now. They had been married thirteen years. Hard to believe.
The plane dove. Straight down, it seemed. Jan’s body was forced hard against his seat. The fuselage tumbled helplessly; caught in the merciless grip of nature’s wrath. He tightly grasped the armrests, clinching the hand of the woman to his right. One last glimpse of the stewardess; her head bowed, eyes closed; her face tense with fear. The lights went out. The blackness was permeated with the haunting sound of two hundred human voices crying out from the pain of terror. It was deafening.
His breath left him; torn from his being by the sheer thrust of the downward spiral; by fear itself. Memories escaped their hiding places deep in the recesses of his mind. The images raced before him; his childhood, the wedding, his first car, Angela’s first steps, Katie’s violin, the Bear dressed for football, Lydia on the porch swing. Her face. Her smile. He began to cry.
Two minutes to eternity.
The big man in the blue shirt had bullied his way to the luggage rack. Most were quietly talking to loved ones. Some were crying; others simply hugging. Jan politely pushed through the crowd, dodging a uniformed man toting a cart laden with suitcases. Paramedics were counseling an elderly woman in a wheel chair. The routine chaos of the terminal was muffled by the sound of the intercom announcing a flight delay. Jan pressed toward the exit where glass doors surrendered as he approached.
He took a deep breath impervious to drizzle-soaked taxis jockeying for position. Shuttles and limos darted around pedestrians and a cop kept vigil as passengers hurried along under the canopy.
He flipped his cell phone and punched the speed dial with his thumb.
Three rings seemed like an eternity.
“Hey.” He fought back a tear with the blink of his eyes, relishing the sound of Lydia’s voice.
“Hey,” he finally answered. “Just wanted you to know I made it.”
The silence on the phone said, “So what?” In ten years of business travel, Jan had never called upon arrival.
“Ok.” Lydia’s voice betrayed a tone of worrisome inquiry.
“So how are the kids?” he asked.
Another moment of silence.
“Let me talk to them,” he hugged the phone close.
“Which one?” she asked.
“All of ‘em.”