En Aeropuertos by Pat Foran

1. Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México

I’m in a line, a line of lines, waiting to check in for my flight to Monterrey.

The line isn’t moving.

I’m watching a man maneuver a floor machine in and around the line, around all the lines. He’s waxing things. The floors, the federales, the kiosks, the cat carriers, the jetways, all the ways. He’s waxing everything in the airport.

It’s freakin’ gleaming in here, says the man in line in front of me, panning for gold with his phone. I’m putting this on Facebook Live.

Travelers teeter as the line appears to move, but doesn’t. The line is wending its way like a waterfall that rises and falls, and falls and rises, before reaching the beginning of the next end.

The woman in line next to me balances a postcard on her left arm and announces what she’s about to write: “Dear Fred … Wish you were here to see this. Then maybe you’d believe it. Maybe you’d believe me.”

The line isn’t moving. Like time isn’t. Like we aren’t.

I think about you and I think about me and I think about us.

We’re in a five-panel cartoon. Panel 1: A woman says to a man, I’m leaving you, do you hear? Leaving. Panels 2 and 3: The man is there, alone. Panel 4: The man is shown, leaving. Panel 5: The man is gone and the woman is there. How could you leave me? she says.

While I think about the woman’s cartoonish question — the word How hovering above this long, long line in a show of metaphysical force — the sun peeks through the paneled glass and shines on the waxing man in motion, leaving a shadow of fool’s gold in the late-afternoon light.

2. Aeropuerto Internacional de Monterrey

I’m at the bar in Wings Aeropuerto Monterrey Terminal A.

What can I do you for? the bartender says.

Tecate Light? I say.

The ear-budded woman seated next to me is talking, maybe to me.

“I am listening to the Voice of America, and I am hearing that tears are like gold,” she says, uncertainly. “It’s coming out of this small speaker, the Voice is, and it’s precious as punch — like a punch-drunk nobleman from a black-and-white world.”

The bartender looks at the woman and says, maybe to her, but I think to me: That Voice of America is thrown. They’re throwing it, you know. I don’t hear a voice, not in this shuddering distance, but I do hear the treasures of the Sierra Madre, a jingle-jangle in the gilded hurt of all the hearts.

The air in this city is thin, so thin. Thin and distant and thrown. Tears evaporate so quickly here. I wonder: Is my nose bleeding?

I also wonder: What is a kiss? Am I alone? Will anyone ever find me?

Buy me a drink? Voice of America Woman asks.

The bartender, whose lips aren’t moving, doesn’t wait for me to answer.

3. Aeropuerto Internacional de Mérida

I’m on the jetway.

A smiling boy wearing a Poco Loco t-shirt asks me if I am a spy.

No, I am not a spy, I say. Maybe it’s the suit and tie?

No, the boy says. It’s the way the light in here makes you a shadow and not a man, a shadow and not anything. Except a spy.

I look at the boy, who continues to smile, and I think about my son, who did not smile often, but when he did, it was gold.

I think about my son and I think about gold and I think about shadows and I think about the sound that is nothing.

I hear it sometimes, this nothing. It echoes in the foothill shrines to Madre María. It rings in the weather-beaten prayers for the pristine. It shoots the curl in the clandestine song of the certain. The song of the sure.

The smiling boy laughs and begins to sing. It’s an impossible song, imperceptible in the jangle of the jetway.

How come you don’t know this one? he asks.

The NFFR and Pat Foran Interview

It’s obviously been an insanely rough year. What’s been your favorite artistic escape either book, music, or tv?

Music. Making playlists for a new friend.

Also: Hearing the writers in my writing group read their work aloud during our (mostly) weekly hanging-out times. The music in that.

We’ve been thinking about the elusive definition of Flash Fiction. What’s your working definition of it?

I don’t know if I have one, but my favorite flash pieces are like songs. They concisely give me a glimpse into a world, and sometimes, they give me a whole world. They let (and sometimes require) me to hear and feel the space between the tones, and to fill them in as I hear them, as I feel them. My favorite flashes have a voice, one I can hear and hear and hear. My favorite flashes move/have movement. They move me. And they surprise me.

What was the inspiration for this story?

Years ago, I went to Mexico a lot for work. I spent a lot of time in airports. Some were crowded, others were anything but. All this coming and going and connecting (and not connecting). All these airports bringing people together and also putting distance between them. What that can do to people. One thing it can do is make them eager to talk while they’re waiting. People tell you (me) things in airports. Things about connecting, and not. About who they are and who they used to be because of said connecting (and not).

The last time I was in an airport was March 7 — La Guardia in New York City. Just as COVID was kicking in. I saw and heard and felt all the above, but in an electric way. It felt like the last time I’d be in an airport for a long time. For a few reasons, distancing — all the different ways we drift apart or actively slip (and sometimes slither) away from each other — has been top of mind since. Along the way, I thought about my time in the airports in Mexico. All that connecting. And not.

Pat Foran spent a fair amount of time in Mexico airports in the late 1990s/early 2000s. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, Bad Pony, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere. Find him at http://neutralspaces.co/your_patforan/ and on Twitter at @pdforan.

a suitcase in the middle of a country road

Photograph by Audra Kerr Brown

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