E2. To the Airport

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

“I haven’t seen her in weeks,” said Jay. “I don’t think she leaves the house anymore. The last time we met, she was bawling more than when Django died. I’d never seen her so distraught.”

“Oh, poor thing.” Camilla pat Jay’s hand reassuringly. “Does she have someone to look after her, or is she alone?”

“Dan brings her groceries. It’s good they’re sticking together, Beatrice’s death hit them both pretty hard.” Jay had been affected too, of course, but his mother looked so wracked with pity he decided not to remind her. He sipped his tea. “Have I told you I want to go to Sheridan?”

“Sheridan? The bug islands?”

“Yep, the bug islands. I’m not going for bugs, I want to take photos of monks,” said Jay. “Do you know if Dad’s 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 took a notebook and pen from his pocket. He 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 couldn’t hear words, only his father’s deep, boisterous voice. Camilla smiled and coyly curled the coiled landline around her fingers. “I’m glad to hear it. 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?”

“I’m alright. 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 New Zealand to Chile. I didn’t get off the plane.”

“How did you find that flight? I want to photo-catalog Sheridanian religious practices. If I can’t sell the pictures to a magazine or something, I’ll just put them in my portfolio.”

“Oh. Okay. It was a business trip, I didn’t buy the ticket myself. I’ll see if I saved any receipts.” 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 when I was your age. But don’t fool around with centipedes, okay?”

Jay prepared his pen above his notebook. “Mom mentioned you’d had a bad experience with centipede. Could you tell me about it?”

“Oh, gosh.” Ethan moved the phone to his other ear. “Well, when I was in my late twenties, before I met your mother, I went to a conference in Thailand. Some colleagues scored a pouch of centipede dust, 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 gave in. It felt like… Well… It felt like hot knives, stabbing me all over my body.”

“Wow.”

“I was buried underground, and I had to dig deeper so the knives would stop hurting me,” he said. “I’d forgotten who I was. I was just digging. The deeper I dug, the looser my grip on my identity became. Just before I slipped away entirely, I woke up alone with no wallet, watch, or passport in a Bangkok alleyway.”

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


Reviewing his plane tickets, Jay knew he’d spend two days of the next week sitting and waiting. He would fly from LA to a layover in Chile, then disembark a plane bound for New Zealand during its fuel-stop 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 be flying back to LA.

The air was so cold he blew fog on his hands to warm them. To catch that first flight to Chile he’d woken at 4 AM to wait outside his apartment. Dan would arrive any minute to take him to the airport. Dan’s sleep schedule had been inverted repeatedly since Beatrice’s death, and he seemed eager for any excuse to leave the house, so Jay thought a 4:30 car ride wasn’t too much to ask of him. It was a kindness, if anything. 

Jay mentally reviewed the contents of his backpack. Warm-weather clothes, some traveling toiletries, and his medications. Camera, notebook, and pens. Passport, two books for the plane, and snacks to last hours. Portable batteries and chargers. A few hundred dollars in American currency. He nodded and sighed fog.

He felt his phone vibrate. A text from Dan: “I couldn’t come. Faith should be there soon.”

Jay typed with his left 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 him 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 his seat-belt and she pulled away from the curb.

“Are you excited to see Sheridan?”

“Absolutely,” said Jay. “I’ll take pictures for you. It’s supposed to be beautiful.”

“Don’t have too much fun without me.” Faith ramped onto the highway. Come daylight cars would weave into a thick jam, but so early in the morning the street was wide and flat. Faith drove smooth and free. “How long are you stuck in airports and airplanes?”

“At least fifty hours. If there was a direct flight, it would barely be twenty.”

“Oh, bummer.”

Jay opened his backpack to ensure none of his belongings had escaped. “So… how is Dan holding up, do you think?”

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

“We’re making great time. I’ve never seen the freeway so empty,” said Jay. “Thanks for giving me a ride.”

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

“Ha.” Jay chuckled. “Don’t worry, Faith. I’m way ahead of you.”

“Oh, okay.” She chuckled with him. “I don’t know how periods work for you, anymore. Just trying to help.”

“Thanks.” Jay inspected the plastic baggie of traveling toiletries from his backpack. “It hasn’t been an issue since I started taking testosterone.”

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

“Yeah?”

“I sold a series,” she said. “A printing company wants to make 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 from you this Christmas.”

“Why wait?” Faith leaned over the shotgun seat and 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 really means a lot to me.” Jay halfway shut the door. “I’ll open it on the plane, okay?”

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

E2 pict

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