Collaboration with Anthea Holland
This is the last call for flight number …
Marcia tuned out the metallic voice. It wouldn't be her flight - she was going nowhere.
So what was she doing here at this metropolitan airport if she had nowhere to go?
It had seemed like a good idea when she had got up that morning - a trip to the airport where she could get caught up in the excitement of holiday-makers jetting off for places in the sun; could look on as friends and relatives greeted one another with hugs and smiles and tears; could have lunch in the restaurant where she could lap up the ambience - maybe some of the joy that those around her were feeling would rub off on her.
Instead, she had arrived bright and early to find people in evening dress milling round the bar. It was obviously the left-overs from a party the previous night and as she studied the dress-suited men and the women in peacock colours, she thought how seedy it all was. Hair-styles were awry; bow-ties lurched drunkenly; silks and satins were stained with food and red wine; and some of the stains down the men's trousers didn't bear thinking about.
In the corner one lone individual had given in to sleep, his head on his arms which were, in turn, on the beer-drenched table.
It must have been a good night, Marcia thought, if they wanted to carry it on into this morning. Haven't they got any homes to go to?
Then she wondered how long the bar had been closed. Facilities hereabouts were notoriously unpredictable: and--given the nature of time zones that often seemed to overlap at international Way Stations such as airports--one could sometimes catch a cocktail when most others were crunching through the fried bread of an early all-day breakfast.
Marcia knew, though, that these folk were several seasons past the binge. There was even mould growing on the dregs they hadn’t quite drained.
She heard the roar of the latest take-off as its undercarriage brushed the rooftop. More skyquake than thunderstorm. She cringed. After all, she had a phobia about flying (no wings, you see) and an almost equal phobia about the danger of those who did manage to fly crashing down upon her miraculously pinpointed position below. Why she came to airports then was a mystery. Someone once said, perhaps, that fears needed to be faced. And if not faced, scrambled.
Her brainstorming was interrupted by recognising one of the new-born down-and-outs in the bar as her ex the one before last.
He looked as though he had taken root in this God-forsaken place, had actually headed here straight after reaching "ex" status. Seeing him meant she could kill two birds with one stone - facing her fear of flying and of seeing Jake again.
She watched as his unfocussed eyes travelled around the waiting area. Saw how they passed over her then swivelled back as if not quite believing what he had seen. Probably, if some flicker of a brain-cell remained in his skull it was making some weird connection between her presence in the airport and the fact that her refusal to accompany him to far-off climes was the cause of their split.
He shook his head, befuddled, then, the remaining cell obviously deciding the connection was too wacky to consider further his gaze passed on, until his eyeballs rolled in his head and he passed out.
Well, she thought, she hadn't lost much there!
The man in the corner who had been sleeping off the drink suddenly woke up with a shout. None of the other left-overs took any notice of him, indeed, such was the roaring from the winged creatures overhead that it was only the fact that Marcia's attention was focussed on him that she realised he was shouting at all.
Suddenly one of the swollen birds flapped its wings and swooped down. A feeling inside the head rather than a tangible vision of reality. She watched one of the airport officials approaching her, clasping a narrow green envelope; seemingly so intent, he must be delivering (she believed) a summons or an injunction or notification of the lottery jackpot she’d always imagined she was in the process of winning. But how did whoever had instigated the delivery known she was to put in a random appearance at the airport? It wasn’t as if she had booked a ticket. She had told no one. She hadn’t herself decided to abide by the morning’s plans till the last minute’s alighting from the underground train.
The disarranged man in the corner was no longer in the corner. Still shouting, he intercepted the deliveryman, snatched the green envelope as if it were a baton in a relay race and skipped the rest of the way towards Marcia wielding it like a cross between a deadly disease and a religious icon. She then realised that he was yet another ex. One from trillions of years ago; almost her first date; now grown as old as the hills in her blouse.
“Derek, what you doing here?” she asked. It seemed the obvious line to play. Fitted the context. Sheer terror at being faced with all her exes at once, in a hung-over state, would have been the more obvious natural reaction. But she decided to stand and face whatever was panning out. Implausible and far-fetched as the long-haul repercussions were bound to become, she wanted to stone-wall till the bitter end.
“Marcia, may I say how beautiful you’ve remained,” said the uncornered man
Derek had been a bad start, at the best of times. Now she was convinced he had been a loser even before there had been nothing to win. Full of smarmy shit? Well, each corner of his eyeballs almost oozed earwigs of it.
"I'd rather you didn't," she said.
"Oh," he hung his head, abashed. Then he brightened. "This is for you." He thrust the green envelope in her hand.
She glanced at the name on the envelope.
"No it isn't. Look, it's completely the wrong name." She held the envelope and Derek peered myopically at it. Any brain cells he had left struggled to make sense of the beautiful copperplate writing.
"O-oh," he said finally. "That's not your name."
Marcia tutted exasperatedly. "Of course it's not, you fool."
"But … but …," he stammered, looking backwards and forwards between her and the delivery man who was still standing with his mouth open.
Marcia helped Derek out, some vestige remaining, perhaps of the affection he had once instilled in her.
"You thought it was for me," she said, because that guy over there seemed to be heading this way with it." She glanced behind her but there was nobody near her, nobody, at any rate, who looked as if they were expecting delivery of an artistically addressed envelope.
"The best thing you can do," Marcia said, pushing the letter back into Derek's limp hands, "Is to take the letter back where it came from."
They looked up together, but the delivery man had gone. Derek somehow knew that postboxes had their mouths open not through surprise or exasperation but a rictus of yearning desire for someone to make a collection down below. All those billets doux from sexy exes crammed to the mail’s rafters – and, on top of which, the Christmas rush had somehow started with every child in the land sending something to Satan and his reindeers via this one postbox.
The blistering sound of a jumped-up jet dispersed Marcia’s machinations of self-doubt--just another whining berserker coming closer and closer with each attempt at fresh disaster.
Jake and Derek were waddling across the concourse, arm in arm, aspiring to a fuller monty than they had managed the previous night, before the drink kicked in. No doubt, they were due to take off for some Spanish resort where they’d prove that the British could sport hairy buttocks, whatever the jungle.
Marcia cringed. Why had all her exes been such uncouth bastards. Many more exes were, by now, emerging from the airport drinks lounge, wide-eyed and legless. Some lacked arms. Discrete elbows like stick-insects. Some bodies were glued to the stools over which they’d found themselves lolling. Plum-voiced lushes lurching between bar and bog. Joe and George. Cecil and Grot. Puke and Podsmith. How many more would she remember? All venturing abroad to seek the sun and sangria she’d once shared with them in headier days. The bane of air stewardess and courier. Blousy and brass-necked. Here was come-uppance, as the tannoy respoke:
This is the last call for flight number 666.
It was like an x-rated movie, Marcia thought, with all these exes coming out of the woodwork. Then she remembered that it couldn't be - she wasn't an actress. Although she had to admit that her current profession did involve some acting but at least she wasn't required to have a lot of talent.
No, this was reality. The best she could hope was that no more of her exes would actually remember her; it could be embarrassing to have every Tom, Dick, Harry, Jake and Derek greeting her as one of their exes! They had recalled her face, certainly, but she had been through several incarnations during the years they had been apart and, strangely enough, at this very time was looking very much like the Marcia that had existed 10 years ago - save for the extra pleats in her skin.
She tried to stay low profile while watching the group of exes gather themselves together for the onslaught to whatever booze-and-bronze destination they had planned.
She peered myopically and searched through her memory banks. Ah, among them, yes, there was Pierre - she remembered him well - how could she forget? Still slim and neatly bummed, after all the intervening years. How could she have forgotten his nut brown eyes and the oak-knotted richness of his voice? He waved at her with a cheery smile, as if to say how could you have possibly relegated the likes of me to the ranks of your exes? He was the last to vanish and she thought she caught a tea-leaf sparkling at his eye, but no last message. She’d been a wilful lady in those far-off days of concertina liaisons. Too picky for her own good, even at half pace.
She watched the plane take-off. Off towards a raucous reunion of souls who’d never realised they’d enough in common ever to be able thus to reunite. A wing clipped an obstacle at the edge of the runway and the resultant ball of fire was too frightful to recall. In all the newspapers with literally countless dead. Many recriminations as to safety concerns. Even the pilot had taken an early binge, they’d say. Yet, Marcia, that fateful day, smiled as she saw a shadow shrug off the conflagration and soar, in the winged shape of death, heavenward: an echo from the past fixing the future good. A ghostly aeroplane that would fly the skies forever.
It was not her flight. She’d be going nowhere. For ever and ever, ah men.