Winter arrival, 1:20am, PIA

Airport landing at night. dreamstime.com

On the nighttime runway, the blue lights are home. I zip up my coat, stepping down the stairs into the fluorescent lighted terminal, spookily welcoming us like a futuristic spaceport or a 1950’s black and white film.  There is a clock on the wall, borrowed from my grade school classroom, telling me a time that can’t be real.  I rub my eyes and look again.  It is real.

We plod past the bored TSA agent waiting to pull down the gate and go home.  His shift ended hours ago, but tonight his shift was simply to wait.  A crumpled copy of People must have kept him occupied for a full twenty minutes.  Now it sits in the rolling desk chair beside him.  His relief is not visible, but he must be as happy as we are that the plane is in, the propellers dormant, the wheels blocked.  Scattered family members rise to their feet, shuffling like cockroaches in the sudden kitchen light toward the security checkpoint, where hugs and kisses are exchanged, without the enthusiasm they had intended for this moment.

The baggage conveyor’s buzz seems extra loud in the early morning silence as the metal belt is awakened and begins clamoring forward, bringing back our shirts and pants and toiletries from the mysterious land behind the rubber flaps.  Back there, the agent takes off his gloves, as excited as me that another night at the airport is ending.

My rental car counter is closed, but one person remains at a competitor.  She hands me my key, the last key of the night, the key that kept her from going out with her friends to a club that is now closed.  The party has moved on to Steak n’ Shake or Perkins.  She may make it in time for a milk shake if she doesn’t stop at home to change out of her collared logo shirt.  She hopes to be fun, but they will be drunk, and she will be boring, the vacant hours having suctioned her personality.

Outside the automatic door, I pull my bag down the salted ramp, my breath creating clouds, my feet crunching the ice and snow, echoing, echoing.

In the dark lot, I push the keychain button until the lights flash.  I don’t inspect the car, not in the meager glow of the two lonely lights in the sub-freezing lot.  I don’t open the trunk, throwing the suitcase in the backseat.  I back out.  Dark lot, plowed snow, black ice. Gloved hands on the steering wheel guide me home.

by Matthew Stone

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