Early

By Amy Marques

Sam was early and the irony wasn’t lost on him. 

For years, he had resented her sense of urgency, her need to control every little detail, and her fear of something going wrong. He would purposefully find excuses to pack one more thing (that wasn’t on the list) and use the toilet one more time. You don’t want me to have to stop midway through the drive, do you?

He wasn’t ever really late. He was just a few minutes past her rigid schedule. She’d plead, arguing that traffic was unpredictable, the weather might slow them down, and anything could happen. 

What she really meant was that anything bad could happen. She firmly believed that good things come to those who plan. Surprises are for amateurs and fools. 

He had once found it charming: her attention to detail and organization skills. Life was smooth sailing so long as she controlled all the variables. But it didn’t take him long to realize that she focused on all the wrong details and life cut down to her size left little room to be. He was stunted. Stifled. 

And now she was gone.

Without her there to beg him to hurry up and not be late, he had arrived at the airport in time to sit facing the arrivals and departures screen and wait for his flight to appear. He was so early, the nice lady at the counter had said they didn’t yet know which gate was his. His bag sat at his feet, his new passport tucked into his chest pocket (he’d checked four times – once more than she used to), and his tickets neatly folded in the order of his connecting flights. He even had time for coffee, but since airport coffee left a bad taste in his mouth, he sipped his water and silently watched the people.

Many things had changed since she left. He didn’t drink as much. In fact, now that he thought of it, he didn’t drink at all. He ate his vegetables. He flossed. Now that she was no longer constantly reminding him, he always paid his bills on time, the gutters were always clean, and the heater serviced before the cold season began. Emergency bags were packed and he always knew where his pills and keys were kept. He loved the list of home repairs because he made it himself, prioritizing whatever struck his fancy, even when it wasn’t the most urgent item on the list. Especially when it wasn’t the most urgent item on the list.

A young family sat across from him. The parents collapsed into the seats and took turns closing their eyes and trying to find a halfway comfortable slouch in the metal chairs. Their toddler played with the bag that was almost as big as he was: handle in, handle out, handle in, handle out. Their little girl, maybe seven or eight, sat hugging her backpack, staring at Sam.

The airport was full of people with furrowed brows and harried steps and yet, like Sam, the little girl across from him seemed content to quietly sit and wait.

He reveled in the stillness. Now there was no reminder to be careful of his bag. No comments on the impossible prices in the shops. No futile checking of the packing list to make sure nothing had been left behind. No going over the itinerary just one more time to make sure all the important spots would be seen. No rush to be the first to board. No muttering about the hand luggage that took up more than a fair share of the overhead compartments.

He didn’t miss her.

His flight and gate number popped on the screen. Sam picked up his bag and stood, nodding at the little girl as he did. She smiled, a gap where her new front teeth would soon grow, then let go of her backpack just long enough to flutter a hand in acknowledgement.

Sam waved back and turned, a spring in his step. Without the endless prompts and plans that had once boggled his days, nothing bad had happened. Nothing truly terrible, anyway. In fact, he felt that something good might be coming.

                                                             *   *   *

Amy Marques grew up between languages and cultures and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned three children’s books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Star82 Review, Jellyfish Review, Flying South, and Across the Margin. You can read more of her words at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com.

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