Gail yanked at the strap of her luggage and cursed into the biting wind. The strap had marked her hand with raised, burning welts and she felt the brass buckle begin to gnaw itself into the soft skin between her finger and thumb.
Jesus! Come on, just come on already!
Chicago was frigid, as usual, and the wind tunneled through the airports drop off lane like something originating out of a Goodbye-Kansas-Here-I-Come-Oz sequel. A lank of red hair slapped across her face, and she gave one more terrific pull on the strap, the bags in her opposite hand thudding against her leg with her effort. The suitcase, over-packed, fat and wedged tightly between a spare tire and the top of the trunk itself remained snug. Gail pulled her red and aching hand from the leather strap, and scanned for help. Aunt Jane still sat in the driver’s seat of the Buick, her hands cemented at the Ten and Two position, a look of pained nervousness etched into her aging face. Gail caught her eye in the side mirror, smiled tightly and held up her sore hand to Aunt Jane in the ‘hang on one sec’ gesture. Poor Aunt Jane couldn’t get her shoes on her feet by herself, much less help Gail fight the ever-losing battle of getting her massive suitcase to let go of the musty recess of Aunt Jane’s ancient Buick. Maybe it was a sign. Probably, it was. A big, white, shiny billboard of a sign; ‘Don’t go Gail! Don’t you dare get on that plane!’ Gail had ignored all the other signs, and so she turned an internal, blind eye to this one as well.
The attendants were all bustling luggage from cabs lined at the curb, the rest probably hiding from the wind and the cold. The travelers who bolted from their cabs, and town cars, and the occasional mini-van full of sad faced children, and wives dropping off their suited husbands seemed focused on the doors and their own luggage struggles. The husbands tossed quick kisses to their wives and children, and the men and women left the warm back seats of the cabs and town cars with Olympic speed. Gail glanced at Aunt Jane’s profile in the side mirror, dropped the two, rounded and equally heavy duffle bags from her left hand onto the pavement and marched in the direction of an older man dragging a single, rolling suitcase toward the glass entrance of O’Hare.
“Excuse me, Sir?” Gail’s voice was lost in the whip of wind. The stranger moved with steady rhythm toward the front. Gail began to jog towards him.
The man turned an passive face towards her, and Gail tried to pull her lips into a frozen smile.
“I need help! My suitcase is stuck!” Gail pointed at the Buick at the curb, and raised her voice over the howling wind, “CAN YOU HELP ME?”
Gail looked expectantly into the stranger’s face. His eyes were large, so rounded that they had little crease, or edge to them, and milky dark. His skin was smooth, tanned, and young, a contrast to his pepper gray hair. The man didn’t speak, but he nodded and followed Gail to the Buick. Gail turned around to the stranger, a smile of thanks playing on her lips. In the wind, the man’s face rippled, his lips pulling back in the slap of wind to reveal small, white teeth. Gail felt her shoulders stiffen with something like revulsion.
At the trunk, Gail shouted over the wind, “IT’S STUCK ON THE TIRE I THINK!” Gail raised her hand to display the marks of her struggle with the suitcase. The man’s milky eyes, so dark,
Dark, black, ink. Like black ink pouring out of his eyes.
remained fixed on her own, ignoring her upraised, injured hand, and his lips parted just enough for Gail to see the glisten of his white, round teeth. His face slackened and tightened with the force of the wind. Gail nodded down into the depths of the trunk, and cocked an eyebrow. Something was wrong, but Gail couldn’t be certain if it was the stranger helping her or her own imagination. After all, the entire week leading up to this trip had been strange. She couldn’t trust herself to question anything more. One more set-back, one more inexplicable detour, or ironic turn of luck and the plane would leave, she wouldn’t reach Dallas in time, and this, this opportunity would vanish. What else could stand in her way; a creepy old man, with too much plastic surgery, eyes ten shades to dark to be real, and teeth too tiny to belong to an adult? Just another wrench in the cog. And she wouldn’t let it stop her.
With his free hand, he reached into the trunk, slipped his hand into the strap and yanked the suitcase free. The tire beneath it squeaked its protest but the swollen luggage shot out and one dulled, brassy wheel from its bottom shot off and skated across the icy ground. Gail watched the wheel without surprise. Of course. Sign number…what? Three hundred and forty-seven? Three wheeled, jam-packed, off-kilter luggage would make getting into the terminal on time quite difficult. Gail scanned for a luggage cart. Not a single cart in sight.
Three hundred and forty eight.
The man hadn’t moved. His own suitcase, its wheels behaving and in tact, remained in his hand.
Gail smiled sheepishly. “I’m…late. For flight. Can you…?” She nodded down at the dilapidated, wobbling suitcase, and shot a look at the entrance doors, her words drowned in the screaming wind. Another blanket of red hair whipped into her face, and she heard the trunk slamming closed. The man picked up her luggage, and started towards the entrance. Gail yanked her two duffle bags from the ground, turned to wave a goodbye to Aunt Jane, but she couldn’t catch her eye. Aunt Jane remained focused on the line of cars four lanes deep, likely trying to figure out how she would maneuver the beast out of the inside lane. Gail glanced back at the man moving quickly toward the warmth of the terminal. She took the few steps to the driver’s window, and using her elbow, rapped on the glass. Aunt Jane looked up at her, and they air-blew a kiss at each other. Gail smiled and nodded toward the terminal, and Aunt Jane pursed her lips, and with a resigned nod, flicked her wrist. Go then. Go, if you must.
With her hair stubbornly in her face, bags banging at her knees, Gail jogged to catch up with the man who had already made it into the warm confines of the airport’s tiled and brightly lit entrance. Gail fixed her eyes on his back and couldn’t see the small, tight smile on his face, or the way his teeth, small and white turned gray and sharp as the glass doors swished closed behind them.