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A Strange Feeling

Diane Payne

Waiting for a flight.

You're waiting for someone to announce boarding while reading this book, or at least looking at this book trying to appear as if you're reading, when the man next to you leans over and asks, "What do you think?"

You're not sure what he's referring to and make a strange guttural sound.

He looks disappointed. You can tell his entire life has been filled with these high expectations of others. It's no wonder he's frustrated and constantly trying to engage strangers in conversations, continuously hoping to have his expectations reached.

He gives you one more chance. "I haven't read it," he says.

Ah. The book. What do you think of the book? "It's alright. Collection of short stories. Like all collections, some are better than others."

"Like wine," he says.

You nod your head, then decide to be sociable. "You watch Sideways?"

He laughs. "Great movie. I had a lot of fun with that one."

The ticket agent announces your flight has been delayed. People moan. Some curse. The man asks if you'd like to go to the lounge and get a drink.

Might as well. The book has become nothing more than words filling pages. Word after word about people coming and going, doing something, anything, and you're waiting for a plane that may never materialize, surrounded by people you've been scrutinizing, judging, conjuring up their life histories, their thoughts, you even assume you know everything about this man from his one comment about watching a movie. You make lame introductions while walking to the lounge. You each wait for the other to order Pinot Noir, and you think about ordering a gin and tonic just to be ordinary, instead you point to the wine list and lift your eye in that silly way, gesturing to the pinots, and he says,

"What the hell. Let's do it."

You imagine this conversation being in a book and think about how only those who have watched the movie would understand the connection to wine, and even those people wouldn't particularly care what they ordered. Those readers would be like you, wishing the damn story would move onward, do something. Who cares how someone lifts an eyebrow?

"The entire theater seemed to be filled with middle-aged people who were craving wine. We all laughed at the same scenes. It was weird," he says. "It's awkward describing myself as middle-aged. How did that happen?"

You become difficult and say nothing. You decide he's weird. You're hard on everyone.

"If only we were at a vineyard," he says, providing you with conversational options.

You consider what he's said and try to decide if you want to let it go unchallenged, or if you want to play along with it. "Well," you say, then realize you have nothing to say to that comment. You feel like a writer lost in a story. "If we were two women, it’d probably seem more natural that we'd bring up a book one of us were reading, then head to the lounge when our flight was delayed."

"You think?" he asks.

Rhetorical questions drive you crazy. Instead of getting up and returning to your gate, you buy the next round. You feel momentarily forgiving.

"I have a friend who loves airports. He hangs out in places like this and writes. Always uses a laptop. Think he tries to look as if he has an important job, is always on call; maybe he hopes he looks like a writer. I don't know. He tells me he gets inspired at airports and likes to go there to write. He's a fiction writer. Never believe anything he says. Always feel like he's testing his stories out on me."

"Who is he?"

"Doubt you've heard of him. He hasn't published a book. His name's Sam Long."

He pauses a second then shakes his head that he doesn't recognize the name.

"Well, he tells me he rarely leaves the airport without meeting a woman, exchanging numbers. He makes up endless lies at the airport, as if he's a fictional character, then he can't bring the women to his apartment because he's acting as if the airport is just a layover, not his hometown."

"Maybe he's more interested in meeting women than writing stories."

You pause, and then ask, "Who isn't?"

You both laugh a minute.

"Guess we should see if there's a plane waiting for us," he says.

"How long before that man with his head buried in his laptop gets to bury his head in the lap of a woman he meets at the airport today?" you ask.

"Lucky bastard. I should carry a laptop instead of magazines."

"Yeah, but if it didn't work, imagine how miserable you'd feel carrying that damn computer throughout the airport."

"Yeah," he says without much conviction.

He runs off to the bathroom before boarding and you stand in line somewhat surprised that two strangers of the same sex are able to go to the lounge and bullshit. You board the plane feeling slightly less cynical about life, yourself. It's a strange feeling. Come on, admit it. It is a strange feeling, even for you.

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