Where is he?
He’ll be here.
I haven’t seen him yet. Have you?
I don’t know what he looks like, Scott. I haven’t met him yet.
You see the others coming out, don’t you?
It’s not important, she says.
That he’s not here? That’s not important?
Maybe somebody else fetches his patients for him.
That’s not the way they do it here.
She does not reply. He falls silent. Twitches in his seat, some part of his body tapping or vibrating.
This was a mistake.
Not, it wasn’t. It isn’t. Try to relax. We’ve only been here five minutes.
Are you sure? It feels longer than that.
He stares at the clock over the reception desk. The line moves. An older man approaches the desk accompanied by a young woman with thick dark hair, who proves to be his translator.
It’s more like ten minutes now.
You wanted this, Scott. You wanted me to push you to do this.
I know you believe that. Facing straight ahead, not looking at her.
I believe it because it’s true.
How are you feeling? Is it happening?
Don’t ask. He shakes his head.
She whispers. I know you’re suffering.
You don’t. Straightening. You didn’t know anything about it. I had to tell you.
No, you didn’t, Scott. You didn’t. It was obvious that something was going on.
I’m tired already.
That’s all right. We’ll be off in a few minutes. You can tip your seat back and shut your eyes. There’s nothing more to do. We’ve done it. The hard part is over.
I wanted everything to be good this time.
It is, honey. It is good.
I wanted it to be perfect.
She reached over the armrest, though it was physically difficult to do, and grabbed his hand.
It will be.
The captain made his greeting speech. He sounded as if English was his first language, but not their kind of English. Then the flight attendant’s ritual, instructions in the unlikely event of disaster. He thought, What if the disaster has already happened?
You know why, he said.
Why? She shook her head slightly. Why what?
Why it has to be perfect.
I wish you wouldn’t say that.
What do you want me to say?
I’m not asking you to say anything. I think you should rest now.
The plane began to taxi.
Because it’s the last one.
That’s not what I want to hear.
We have to face facts.
I want this to be a good time, Scott. I don’t want us to be trying to predict the future.
A silence. Longer this time.
I always wanted to go there.
Well, now we are.
The plane lifts from the runway. The earth recedes.
Yes, he said. The perfect place.
Though of course, the perfect place would be no ‘place’ at all. It would be a state, a physical state, but not a geographical place. It would be a cure. The pains have stopped. And the pressure has been relieved by the surgery, they told him. He was good, for now. They did all they could, the doctors said, with a tricky little procedure, one that could not be repeated. But they haven’t said what they would do if the pains come back. He knows they will. Rena was not in the room when he’d asked the surgeon, point blank, will the pain come back? The man looked unhappy and nodded. ‘We expect so.’ Scott expected so as well.
He ‘was expecting,’ Scott thought. Funny; ha ha.
The defect was in his heart, an organ he could not do without. They were a little bit impressed, he could tell, to find the defect in that particular place in the walls between atria and ventricles. They hadn’t seen a flaw, no doubt congenital, though quiescent for so long (his whole life up to now), get precisely into that spot — that secret center of things. They did not know how to peel the rest of the organ away and then put it back together again after they removed a defect from that spot. They did not believe it would go back together, not successfully.
Which part of his heart was it, he asked himself, as the plane climbed, turning the earth to little ruled segments of green or gray. The part where he still loved — well, insert a name. There were candidates. Even Rena could suggest a few names. He had long been intrigued by the song with the line “But I’m always true to you, darling, in my fashion/ I’m true to you, darling, in my way.”
In Scott’s case, his fashion was very decent. And yet, there were secret spots; if you looked at it closely enough his heart was spotted. But didn’t everybody have such spots?
‘I am indifferent honest,’ he thought. Then, remembering some of the rest of it, ‘But I could accuse myself of such crimes…’ He had spoken that thought aloud once. Someone asked him to explain. Crimes?
So, lots to think about, Scott thought. But how long to think about it?
Beside him Rena had closed her eyes. He hoped she would be able to sleep. It was unlikely that he would, because even in the best of times, the vigorous years, as he thought of them now, he had never slept in airplanes.
I have a pill, Scott. She said this earlier, reminding him.
But he was not excited about pills. They gave you too little, took away too much. They took away the bitter-sweet memories of the choices he had made. And the fantasies? Was that fair to say? Did he cherish those too?
The Airplane (ii)
The last trip, he said.
You don’t know that. We don’t know that. Nobody does.
They’re not saying that, you mean.
Who are ‘they’?
They? The doctors, of course.
That’s what I mean. You put too much of it on them.
Whether you get better or not.
I’m not ‘getting better.’
I don’t mean all the way better.
Isn’t that what ‘better’ means?
Nobody lives forever, Scott… But, they live a lot longer than you have. So far, I mean.
Hmm… He said no more.
I’m not letting you leave me here alone, she said.
He shifted back in his seat, slightly – slightly was all the shift he had. So, he thought, she was afraid of letting him go.
‘Wanna’ come with me then?’ he thought. But no, that was bad. He didn’t know if she would ever be ready for that kind of humor from him. It was humor, wasn’t it?
The perfect place. He said the words again in his thoughts.
I have always wanted to go there. I know it’s out of the way.
Not so bad.
I wonder what I could ask for, these days, that you would call bad. Unreasonable, I mean.
I’m looking forward to it. You know that. I know you do.
The island of Napoleon’s final banishment… His prison island. The one he could not escape from. The one where the fallen emperor had to make his final peace, sign his last treaty. Where he had to say, ‘Yes, this show will go on without me.’
That sounds – I have to say it, babe – you make it sound pretty lonely.
Yes. I want lonely. I don’t want to see people.
But not completely lonely. I want you there.
It’s beautiful, she said. And it’s beautiful without many people around.
It’s not easy to find some place to be alone.
By the second day it was clear he had found it. Tourists were few, amenities rare. No sights that had to be explored.
He left their simple, ocean-front cottage after breakfast and walked down the shore to the surf line. He thought he would probably stay there all day.
He stared at the water. She followed, and came up beside him.
What would – if you don’t mind me asking – what would the difference be if you were completely alone? What would you do?
Well. I might walk…
Into the water… Don’t you know this? You must have guessed it?
But you must have.
Please, Scott. Don’t talk this way.
You know I won’t do it. Not when you’re with me.
Then why come here….?
I wanted – to know. What I would do… possibly…
If I weren’t here?
Yes. If you weren’t here.
But you can’t know. I mean because I am here…. But if I wasn’t would you really do it, lover? Would you walk into that water?
You can’t know, Scott. You can’t know what you would do, if I wasn’t here to stop you. You might stop yourself.
Yes, that’s the point. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to find out…. In a way that’s always been the point.
The point? The point of what? Of us? Is that what you’re saying? That is what you’re saying, Scott, isn’t it?
A sigh. The languid splash of a ripple from the surf. Water curling at their feet.
I don’t know.
Yes, you do know. You brought me here, so I could see it for myself. So I could understand the place I have in your life. So you don’t have to face yourself.
I don’t know.
That’s it, isn’t it?
I don’t know. He said it a third time, and she gazed at him.
That’s not good enough… You know what? You know what, Scott? I might as well walk into the water myself.
She takes a step into surf.
Stop. Don’t be silly, Rena.
Silly? Who’s been silly here? I’ve been blind, maybe. But I’m not silly.
That’s far enough, Rena. I will stop you.
You‘ll stop me? Oh, Scott, that’s a good one.
She takes another step. Meets a wave awkwardly. Stumbles. He runs after her. Pulls her up from the eddying swirl of the water back to a standing position.
He forces her back to the shoreline, stumbling a little himself, far beyond the reach of the surf.
They stand, breathing hard, saying nothing.
Good, she says.
Now there are two of us.
Boston area author Robert Knox writes fiction, poetry and journalism. He is the author of “Suosso’s Lane,” a novel based on the notorious Sacco and Vanzetti case, a contributing editor for the poetry journal Verse-Virtual, and a correspondent for the Boston Globe. His stories have been published by Words With Jam, The Tishman Review, Lunch Ticket, Duende, and New Readers Magazine, among other journals, and he has published two poetry chapbooks. His chapbook “Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty” has been nominated for a Massachusetts Book Award. His novel “Karpa Talesman” was recently chosen as the winner of the Hidden River Arts competition for a novel of speculative fiction and will be published by that organization.