Ann Rushton (fiction)

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Airport

Everyone—her mother, her brothers, her co-workers, even her best friend who apparently pretended to like him—told  Katie not to drive Tarik to the airport, but she knew she had to.  It was their last time, she kept telling everyone, until it was obvious even to her that it didn’t matter what she said.  She’d say it anyway. It was their last time like this.

There’s no winter in Rabat, he told her as they made the half-hour trek to the airport, trying to make conversation, like they were normal people, normal friends.  He wore a thin jacket, and he wouldn’t even need that when he disembarked, although, he had told her, it may be raining. Here it was well below freezing, cold for December. There was a thin layer of new snow, blowing in frenzy as they passed the plowed fields, helpless against the winter.  Everything looked frozen in place, even the puffs of steam from the cereal factories hung listlessly above their smokestacks, as if they, too, were afraid to confront the wind.

“Why are you mad at me for leaving?” Tarik asked this as if nothing would change. “You leave all the time.”  He rubbed his hands together. “I’ll be back soon enough.”

“It’s not the same,” she said.  It wasn’t.  She took trips to see her mother. She took trips to shop in Chicago. She didn’t go overseas to marry, just because that was the right thing to do. Because, ultimately, that’s what he wanted.

He thought emotions didn’t need to be shared so much.  This she wouldn’t miss, plus all the carbs they ate when he cooked.  It was different for him. He worked out like a body builder, he spent those carbs lifting weights. She ran on the treadmill but still couldn’t keep up.  She was determined to lose the extra pounds; it would be easier without him around.

Her brother, the Marine, was happy Tarik was leaving. He once told her, “I didn’t haul my ass all over that desert so he could be all happy here, fucking my sister and working out.”

She was surprised he’d misunderstood. “You of all people should get it,” she had replied. “He’s totally modern. His country is totally modern.”

But her brother had said, “You can’t fight a culture.” Now she wondered, maybe her brother was right.  She didn’t want children, but more, she didn’t know anything about religion.  This was her downfall.

Katie was glad to be driving. She didn’t want to look at Tarik. She promised her mother she wouldn’t go into the airport with him, that she would drop him off at the front door.

“Come on,” he said.  “We’ll still be best friends.”

This was all he gave her anymore.  Best friends.  Once they were in love.

She wondered if it wouldn’t matter so much if she hadn’t been through some degree of this a million times before.  Lovers become friends, each time for a different reason—I love you but I can’t commit, I love you but it’s me it’s not you, I love you but I love someone else more. And this one. I love you but I can’t. But let’s be friends. Then they’d disappear, like a bubble, popping into the air as if they’d never existed.

“Katie, you’ll never learn,” her mother had said.

She slowed down as she pulled into the drop-off lane.  A line of smokers stood against the brick wall, sucking down the last of their nicotine.  “Come in with me,” he said.  “Come say goodbye.”

Katie turned her face from him. “Everyone told me not to.”

“Come on,” he said. His accent was chopped, reminding her of the sharp taste of vinegar on a salad.   But she kept her head towards parking lot of the airport as he exited the car, tugging his luggage out of the hatchback.  The cold air swirled to the front and she turned up the heat.  He slammed the door shut and came around to the driver’s side.  “Goodbye,” he said through the closed window.  He traced a heart with his bare fingertip into the fogged glass and then swept around the front of the car into the sliding doors, gone forever.

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by Ann Rushton

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