The Telegram (St. John's)
Cuffer prize entries
By Bridget Canning Honourable mention for the Cuffer Prize 2015
You are at the airport too early. You know this, but at home you couldn’t stop clock-watching and checking your passport in your carry-on. Might as well get here and stop thinking about getting here. — From “Hands in Pocket,” By Bridget Canning Honourable mention for the Cuffer Prize 2015
You are at the airport too early. You know this, but at home you couldn’t stop clock-watching and checking your passport in your carry-on. Might as well get here and stop thinking about getting here.
In the check-in lineup, you ensure there are no coins in your pockets or obvious metal distractions. You are ready.
You get your boarding pass and check your suitcase and there is over 90 minutes until boarding. This will be your day: travel limbo and overpriced airport food, $4 bottles of water.
You tuck your boarding pass into your passport and reach into your carry-on to check it once on the way to the bathroom and once again when you take a seat in the lounge area; your fingertips recognize the slim vinyl cover, the strip of cardboard, there it is, still there. Sean would call you antsy — he did call you antsy, the time on the ferry to St-Pierre and you kept sliding your hand into your purse. He said, what do you think they’re going to do if your passport is gone? Curse you out in French and make you swim back to Fortune? And then he was the one who let his passport expire.
There are two men sitting across from you. One is a cop and the other wears pale blue pants with a matching shirt. They are handcuffed together. You notice other passengers noticing them, eyeing the handcuffed connection between the two men and the chain linking the prisoner’s feet. A guy with dark-framed glasses and a beard and an iPhone stares hard at them and texts. Maybe he’s tweeting about them. Maybe a complaint about tax dollars spent paying for prisoner travel. Maybe a joke about carry-on luggage.
You take out your own phone. There is a text from Sean: Have a good flight xo. When you left, he was still in bed and he sat up to kiss you goodbye. His hair was stuck up on the pillow side of his head and he still smelled a little rummy. He didn’t notice that you were leaving early, but you had the sense that he was waiting for you to leave. Last night, the both of you went for drinks with Todd and Annie and when Todd said, too bad you’re not going too, buddy, Sean gave this resigned sigh and you wanted to flip over the table. At home afterwards, you said to him, so now you’re going to act like you want to come and he said, why are you keeping score of my reactions?
The prisoner is falling asleep. His mouth hangs crumpled and open, like a cardboard box that’s been stepped on. You can’t tell if his eyelids are completely closed and suddenly you are overly present; there are no other people around you, if his eyes open, you will be where he will look. You hold your phone like you’re going to call someone and move to the hallway. There is a bench close to the gates and you sit down, holding your phone like you’re speaking into it. No one is watching you. Put your phone away. You are ridiculous.
A line of people wait to go into security. You watch a man and woman hug and kiss goodbye. She touches his face; he has just the right amount of handsome scruff and her hair is tousled in a way that looks like she just crawled off him. The man goes inside and then waves and mouths things at the woman from the other side of the glass. She gestures and mouths things back. You watch them and it reminds you of a story you heard about a couple, both deaf/mute, but they had a hearing/speaking daughter. When she was a toddler, she threw silent temper tantrums, fake wailing in grocery stores, her hovering parents trying to calm her, index fingers shhh-signalling on their lips.
It was Sean who told you that story; the deaf couple was related to his college roommate. Both of them deaf since birth, but only the woman knew proper sign language; the man used his own system of gestures and pantomimes. Sean said they would come in to take his roommate out for lunch and invite him along. He said when they disagreed, they would reach out and clasp each others’ hands to stop their words, physically interrupting each other. The last time Sean told that story, he said, those people could really communicate, and you thought there was a pointed tone in his voice, a bit of stank on those people.
You watch a slender blond woman join the security queue. She wears a white fleece jacket, expensive-looking yoga pants and flip-flops. You should have done that, dressed in things that are soft, but look clean and crisp. At least you could have worn shoes that don’t lace up. And you could have brought a hat, something to hide the travel-frazzled hair that manifests from recycled air and removable headrests. These things and something to remove the layer of anxiety and public germs. A couple of moist towelettes in your bag wouldn’t have been so hard.
Or you could decide not to care. You could get drunk on the plane. Or start drinking now, go into the airport restaurant, shoot shit with the bartender. You could pretend to be an American tourist on your way home. You could order something you never normally drink: a Harvey Wallbanger, a Vodka Gimlet. But would it relax you or lead you to do something stupid: forget your phone on the bar, walk away without your Visa card.
You reach in your carry-on to touch your passport and your fingers swim through the empty expanse of your bag and your heart jumps to its feet but there it is, your passport just shifted deeper in the pocket when you sat down; relax, you foolish thing.
You check the time. In 10 minutes, you’ll go through security. You’ll let yourself sink into a seat by the gate and put in your earbuds. Then it’s just waiting to be told what to do.
When the plane lands and you reclaim your luggage, you will change up some cash and put a small amount in your fake wallet, in case you get mugged. You will put a larger amount in your travel belt and later you will hide some in the secret pocket in the lining of your suitcase. You will go out for supper.
You will avoid the questions that floated into orbit when Sean said he has too much work and getting his passport renewed is too much frigging around. But what will you do? What will you do if you meet someone? Someone who might pay compliments, which Sean says is a shallow practice. Someone who doesn’t wait for you to initiate.
Someone who might make you feel fresh and novel for a little while. Your passport and boarding pass sit in the carry-on, waiting to be touched.
Bridget Canning lives in St. John’s where she teaches and writes. Her writing has been published in Galleon Magazine, Landwash, and Paragon Journal. Last year, she won an Arts and Letters Award for Short Fiction as well as third prize in Quarter Castle Publishing’s Short Story Contest.
You take out your own phone. There is a text from Sean: Have a good flight xo. When you left, he was still in bed and he sat up to kiss you goodbye. His hair was stuck up on the pillow side of his head and he still smelled a little rummy. He didn’t notice that you were leaving early, but you had the sense that he was waiting for you to leave.