E2. To the Airport

Jay sat at the dinner table of his parents’ Los Angeles home. His mother Camilla stirred two mugs of tea. “How is Faith feeling nowadays?”

“Last time I saw her, she was more despondent than when our cat Django died,” said Jay. “I don’t think she leaves the house anymore.”

“Oh, poor thing.” Camilla pat Jay’s hand. “Is someone looking after her?”

“Dan brings her groceries. I’m glad they’re sticking together; Beatrice’s death hit them both pretty hard.” Jay had been affected too, of course, but his mother looked sad enough already. Jay sipped his tea. “Have I told you I want to go to Sheridan?”

“Sheridan? The bug islands?”

“Yep, the bug islands. I want to take photos of monks,” said Jay. “Has Dad ever been to Sheridan?”

“Not if he could help it,” said Camilla. “Ethen had a bad experience with centipede when he was about your age.”

“Really?” Jay pulled a notepad and pen from his pocket and flipped to the first fresh page. “Do you know what happened, exactly?”

“No, but maybe he’ll tell you when he calls tonight.”

The phone rang. Jay laughed. “That sounds like him.”

“Gosh, he’s calling early.” Camilla took the phone from the hook. “Ethen, Dear, how’s New Delhi?” Jay heard his father’s boisterous voice. Camilla smiled and coiled the landline around her fingers. “Your son is home, would you like to speak to him?” She passed the phone to Jay.

“Dad! Mom says you’re calling early. Did you forget India has half-hour time zones?”

Ethen chuckled. “I guess I did. Jay, how are you?”

“Lately I’ve been considering a trip to the Islands of Sheridan. Have you ever been?”

The phone was silent for a moment. “I have, once. It was a refueling stop on a discount flight from Chile to New Zealand. I didn’t get off the plane.”

“Could you help me find that flight? I want to photo-catalog Sheridanian religious practices.”

“Oh.” Ethen licked his teeth. “You know, those are the islands where crickets and centipedes come from.”

“I know, Dad.”

“You smoke crickets, and that’s alright. I smoked crickets at your age. But don’t mess with centipedes, okay?”

Jay prepared his pen. “Mom said you’d had a bad experience with centipede. Could you talk about it?”

“Gosh.” Ethan moved the phone to his other ear. “Well, in my late twenties I attended a conference in Thailand. Some colleagues bought centipede powder, which was even rarer then than it is now. I’d never heard of the stuff, but my colleagues said it was like cricket, so I tried it. It felt like… Well… It felt like searing knives slicing every inch of my skin.”

“Wow.”

“I felt entombed, and I had to dig deeper so the knives would stop hurting me,” he said. “The deeper I dug, the less I remembered myself. Just before I slipped away I woke up alone in a Bangkok alleyway with no wallet, watch, or passport.”

Jay penned the quote as quickly as his father spoke. “Gotcha. I’ll stick to crickets.”


Reviewing his plane tickets, Jay knew he’d be sitting for the next two days. He’d fly from LA to a layover in Chile, then disembark a plane bound for New Zealand as it refueled in Sheridan. He’d take a bird-watching tour of the islands, then catch a plane refueling in Sheridan for its return to Chile. After another layover he’d fly back to LA.

The morning was so cold he blew fog to warm his hands. He’d woken at 4 AM to wait outside his apartment for Dan. Dan’s sleep schedule had inverted since Beatrice’s death, and he seemed eager for excuses to leave his apartment, so Jay’d decided asking for a 4:30 ride to the airport was a kindness. 

Jay mentally reviewed the contents of his backpack. Clothes, traveling toiletries, and medications. His passport and books for the plane. Camera, notepad, and pens. Portable chargers with full batteries. A healthy dose of American currency. He nodded and sighed fog.

His phone vibrated. A text from Dan: “I’m not coming. Faith should be there soon.”

Jay typed with his thumb. “Is everything alright?”

“Faith wanted to say goodbye before you left,” texted Dan. “I sent her in my car.”

Sure enough, an orange VW bug rolled around the corner. Faith parked next to Jay and gave a tired smile under dark eyes. Jay texted Dan as he sat shotgun: “Thank you.”

“JayJay! How have you been?”

“It’s good to see you, Faith.” He buckled up and she pulled away from the curb.

“Are you excited for Sheridan?”

“Absolutely,” said Jay. “I’ll show you my photos. It’s supposed to be beautiful.”

“Don’t have too much fun without me.” Faith ramped onto the highway. Come rush-hour traffic would weave into a thick jam, but now the streets were empty. “How long is the trip?”

“Fifty hours, both ways. A direct flight would barely be twelve.”

“Bummer.”

Jay opened his backpack to check if anything had escaped. “So… how’s Dan holding up, do you think?”

“He’s… Well, he’s inconsolable, but so was I, for a while.” Faith rubbed her eyes. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“We’re making great time,” said Jay. “Thanks for the ride.”

“No problem, JayJay.” Faith gently curved her car along the highway. “Hey, do you need… um… hygiene products? I’ve got extras in my purse.”

“Ha.” Jay smiled. “Don’t worry, Faith. Haven’t needed them since I started testosterone.”

“Oh, okay.” She smiled with him. “Just trying to help.”

Sunbeams shined through an airport parking structure. Faith took the next exit. “You know, stuck inside all day, I’ve had a lot of practice painting.”

“Yeah?”

“A company wants to print holiday cards with my foxes on them.”

“Faith! That’s great!” As she parked, Jay zipped up his backpack and unbuckled his seat-belt. “I’d better get one for Christmas.”

“Why wait?” Faith popped the glove-box to fish for a white envelope. She handed it to Jay. “I sketched on the inside. Now you’ve got a Featherway original!”

“Thank you, Faith. This means a lot to me. I’ll open it on the plane, okay?”

Faith bit her lip. “Maybe wait until after customs.”

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