I started thinking about what I would have read had I participated in the Creative Writing Omnibus. I decided that I'd most have wanted to share this, the first part of the first chapter of a novel I've been working on for a while, now (and far less transgressive than Stealing Ganymede). Thoughs, suggestions, reactions more than welcome; I'm asking for them. It's called Reunion:
'All airports smell the same’ he thought. ‘Something about this much concrete, mixed with so much glass; so much boredom and fear." He settled himself a further into the chair. The leather creaked a bit, protesting.
He looked down at his shoes, wondering what might have happened to the shine they'd had when he first bought them. The leather looked cloudy, wrinkled. He tried not to think of his own skin. He was ignoring the television up at eye level just behind him. On it, a man in a charcoal gray suit was saying “Tonight, in our ‘you should know’ report, dramatic pictures from Jupiter, mysterious gas giant in our own back yard—“ Jonah tuned him out again.
Outside the window, the blinking red lights of a plane landing. That’ll be mine he thought. He frowned, and tried not to think about how airplane wings have a tendency to bounce and almost flutter. He tried not to think about how people told him over and over again that this was ‘normal’.
As if that reminded him, he checked his watch. It was time. He pulled a small bottle out of his backpack. For the two thousandth time, he read the typing on the label. He opened the top, and shook one tablet into his palm. He closed the bottle and put it away, again. Standing, Jonah moved to the small water fountain he’d seen earlier. He checked over his shoulder to make sure his bags were still where he’d left them. Then he put the pill in his mouth, leaned over, and drank. When his mouth was full of cold, metallic water, he stood up, and swallowed. He closed his eyes. Then he leaned over and drank again. He turned half expecting his bags to be gone. When they weren’t, he walked back to them, catching sight out the window of a strong white light descending from the clouds.
His phone rang just as the plane he was watching touched the ground. He picked his bag up from the floor. He couldn’t remember when it had gotten so heavy. Rummaging through the file folders and stacks of loosely clipped paper, he finally found it. He couldn’t remember why he’d chosen such an annoying ring tone.
He recognized the phone number immediately, but still looked on the top of the screen ‘James-Agent’ it said.
He pressed the little button on the side, and said “Hello?”
“Hi, Jonah.” James’ comfortable voice said.
“Hey, you. What’s up?” he asked.
“Nothing. Just wanted to let you know that things are going very well, here. We might have ‘Distance’ out in paperback by December. I think we’ll have a contract slugged out next meeting.”
“Good,” Jonah said, closing his eyes, “I still don’t know how I let you talk me into putting the damn thing with a company that couldn’t do paperback through a subsidiary in the first place, though.”
“Hey, newsflash big man; when Dutch and Sons went under, we had to carry that stigma with us.”
“I know,” Jonah said, closing his eyes.
“You sound bummed.”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just—“
“Airplanes,” they both said, together.
“Exactly,” Jonah said.
There was laughter on the other end.
“What are you laughing at?”
“Nothing,” James said, still laughing under his breath. Outside the window, a large white light, on the ground, now, turned toward the giant window next to the gate he’d be leaving from. His stomach tightened.
“So, when’s this whole shindig supposed to happen?” James asked.
“What, the reunion?” Jonah asked in return.
“Day after tomorrow,” Jonah said.
“Okay,” James said, the giggle still in his voice.
“Just tell me,” Jonah said.
“Tell you what?” James asked, the laugh growing more audible.
“What you’re laughing at.”
“Okay. I’ll tell you,” James said, his voice still smirking, “I just think it’s really funny that a guy who writes science fiction is so afraid to fly, that’s all.”
Jonah didn’t say anything.
“I didn’t want to say anything because you always get so quiet and angry when someone points out little stuff like that, even when they aren’t character flaws,” James said, “like at that first party we did for—what was the name of that little novel you brought me first?”
Jonah rolled his eyes, “The Message. Why is that always so hard for you to remember?”
“I have no idea. I guess I didn’t get the message,” James said, and Jonah could hear his smile.
“Anyway, you remember that the publisher wanted some buzz, so they asked that guy—what was his name? The physicist that everyone makes fun of?”
“Sam Cargan,” Jonah said, understanding exactly where this story was about to go. Idly he began to look through his bag, moving folders aside to read the typing on the labels. He wondered about acceptable ways to end a phone conversation quickly. He wondered if he’d have to make up a sudden catastrophe to do it.
“Yeah, Sam Cargan. Nice fella, but he is a physicist, you know? They all act like eggheads.”
“He had a very good point, though,” Jonah said, and wondered why.
“Yeah. What was it you told him as I walked up?”
“I just said I didn’t understand why he’d slammed me in the magazine. I thought that it was science fiction; that the story was the main thing.”
“It was a good point to make. I mean, so okay, so you hadn’t read every last scrap of information there is on black holes—“
“Einstein-Rosen events,” Jonah corrected.
There was silence on the other end. Jonah immediately wished he hadn’t just done that. He closed his eyes and mouthed the word ‘shit’.
“Yeah,” James said, the pause coming exactly where Jonah knew it would, “Okay, well, I just wanted to tell you that we could have paperback rights for ‘Distance’ before the week’s out.” The second pause fell heavier than the first.
“Okay,” Jonah said. He thought about all the things he should say, how he should apologize for constantly doing things like that. Instead, he just stared out the window. The nosecone and front windows of the plane drifted through the night mist toward him. He stood up and walked over to the window. Without knowing why he touched his fingertips to the thick, cold glass. Golden light reflected dimly off the condensed beads of water running, one drop at a time, down the pane.
“Alright. Have a safe trip, Jonah,” James said.
“I’ll try,” Jonah said, mesmerized by the plane, the cold window. He heard the phone click. He took it away from his ear without looking at it. The length of the call would be displayed on the screen. He held it away from his face so that he didn’t have to look. He turned the power off with a small twinge of panic.
‘If that’s the last phone call I ever make’, he thought, ‘how pathetically botched a chance to connect it was.’ He put his head against the glass, the cold on his forehead making his stomach tighten.
“Attention ladies and gentlemen, the time is 9:43 p.m. and flight 381 from Chicago is now arriving at gate 4,” the pleasant loudspeaker announced. He didn’t know why, but he looked upward.
Turning from the window, he walked back to his seat. He pulled his bag off of the seat he’d left it in, and put it in his lap. From the bag, he pulled the battered hardcover of his last novel. The pages were a bit yellowed, and the dust jacket was torn in a few spots. He wished he already had the paperback. It’d be easier to carry.