“In The Waiting Lounge”
Suddenly the air, smelling like a mixture of still-sanguine hopes, instant gratification, and the exorbitant price paid therefor, was stirred by a vague feeling that brought me back to the present. For the last thirty minutes, I had been submerged in my laptop, typing this novel. In the waiting lounge, I sat right by the window, far from the madding crowd milling around the duty-free shops, so I needed a moment to return to ordinary reality. I hope you aren’t too upset by me skipping over how I got here? I sure could tell you that the customs officer was a cyclops or a three-headed monster who had singled me out from all the other passengers for a special inspection, revealing to the appalled public (long since accustomed to monsters and cyclopes) my best collection of fishnets, but why hurry? We’ll get to the contents of my valise soon enough; for now, suffice to say that it contained my laptop: a long-obsolete model of a long-obsolete brand which wouldn’t fetch more than two hundred bucks if sold online. Yet the machine possessed three key advantages. First, its keyboard was backlit; second, its battery lasted forever, and third, despite its wide screen, it was as light as the Sunday awakening of a teetotaler. Thus, we never parted: I took the laptop everywhere in case I felt creative; and today, once my gate had been located, I switched my focus to my staunch friend. Yet one paradox of writing was that it sharpened my sixth sense, so when I had the notion that something was up, I didn’t doubt that was so.
Pretending to rest my eyes, I cautiously scanned the crowd. It suited the flight and sounded slightly more English than American, owing perhaps to the Britishness of the vessel. Here were uncouth students used to flying over the ocean since early childhood, dignified married couples creased with cared wrinkles and harboring thoughts of retirement, young specialists of all possible professions who thought their best was still ahead. Perhaps Nabokov would have drawn a million unexpected parallels from these folks, noting peculiarities that would make you roll on the floor with laughter, but my mind hadn’t yet recovered from the decade-deep dive into memory, so no worthy associations came to it. Besides, I have little interest in appearance: so little, in fact, that even describing Martina is a challenge. I really don’t care what kind of opalescent gleam illuminates her wrist when it is lit by the beams of the sun setting into the ocean: I only care about how it makes me feel. Consider this: there must be a type of person, man or woman, whom you find maddeningly attractive; yet every once in a while you meet someone who has nothing to do with that type but still fills your abdomen with a swam of variegated butterflies. So, let’s not be distracted by insignificant details like the purple alligator on the brown leather bag of that hopeless vixen of no more than thirty years whose lips practically vanished from her face when our eyes met, and focus on the crux because we have a lot more …
And then it happened: when I forgot why I had turned away from the laptop and was staring at the next exit’s electronic display, which was sheepishly admitting a ten-minute delay in the flight to L.A. On the left-hand side, where floated a whole milky nebula of passengers, my peripheral vision caught a gesture so different from the rest that it took an enormous effort of will not to twitch like an epileptic but rather turn slowly and by only the smallest degree necessary to get a better view without giving myself away.
There are people in this world who are naturally gracious, and they often go through their entire lives without having a clue. Take this lady of about twenty-seven who was responsible for the hand wave that had fortuitously caught my eye. If someone had asked her right now what she was doing, she’d have been puzzled and responded that she was taking a sip of water (her throat supposedly having been dried by the tempting air of the duty-free shops). It would have never occurred to her that that act, full of mundane necessity, carried more charm than the rest of the airport combined.
The irony of life is remarkable: we spend our whole lives with ourselves, and yet we have no idea what we really are. A constant object of male attention (although the male part here is represented by good boys who don’t know how to approach a girl but do it anyway), this lady was used to the idea of being attractive, but without those very boys she’d begin losing confidence rather quickly, inflating her real and imaginary flaws to monstrous proportions … But, to be fair, I couldn’t care less about proportions at the moment. No: I was experiencing what I call grounding the ethereal body on the point of power. In other words, Lady 2-7 (as I decided to call her until she offered an alternative) had shaken the reservoir containing the strongest of my emotions, and in the current context this was nothing short of a sweet curse.