(Lights are down. From the darkness a voice comes over a speaker)
AIRLINE EMPLOYEE: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We regret to announce that flight 1872 to Washington D.C. will be delayed. The plane may have suffered a lightning strike and we will have crews inspecting it immediately upon its arrival. The tower has pushed the flight back a half hour. We apologize for the delay.
(Lights rise to show the inside of an airport terminal – gate B 2. Seats are filled with anxious travelers, two airline employees stand behind a desk, speaking with disgruntled customers. The wall of windows behind them shows an empty tarmac, the rays of the late afternoon sun slowly dry the ground, which still shows evidence of an early morning thunderstorm.
There is a young man who stands out from the crowd. Upon hearing the announcement he shakes his head, replaces the earphones he holds in his hands, and begins walking purposelessly in the direction he happens to be facing. A half hour delay. There would still be plenty of time, but he could not sit still. He had arrived at the airport at noon, allowing himself time to eat and talk himself down. He had executed his role in the plan flawlessly. The rest of the world, however, failed to be in on it.
Things had begun on an ominous note that morning as an unusually warm front brought with it spring like skies and showers to match. He had been awoken from his light sleep by resounding thunder, which he imagined had scared the snow into melting. However, as the day wore on, the sun came out from hiding and things had begun to look up. Until now.
After walking past the third Starbucks in the terminal he decided to give in and kill some time by purchasing a double espresso. It was the only thing he ever purchased from them, and did it without a second thought. With his standard joke to himself regarding how gigantic he must appear while wielding the tiny paper cup, he chuckled, downed the espresso, and then fully realized the folly of his decision. So much for even the slightest possibility of sitting still now. With nowhere else to go, he returned to the gate and sat on the ground, his back against a pillar.
AIRLINE EMPLOYEE: (over the speaker) Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. We have confirmed that the aircraft for flight 1872 to Washington D.C. has been struck by lightening. Crews will be performing safety checks in order to determine if the aircraft will proceed to the next destination or if we will have to find a replacement aircraft. We apologize for the delay and we thank you for your patience.
The young man removes a cell phone from his jeans pocket and sends his friend a text message – “The Universe won’t let me leave Chicago.”
(Lights go down and come back up. Much time has passed. Sunlight can no longer be seen through the wall of windows.)
AIRLINE EMPLOYEE: (on speaker) Ladies and gentlemen, the aircraft for flight 1872 has passed safety inspections and we will begin boarding shortly. However, I have been informed that, due to the recent drop in temperature, the runway and wings will have to be de-iced. One again, we apologize for the delay and thank you for your continued patience.
(The young man checks the time on his phone – he has been at the airport for over 7 hours. During that time he had used, to his knowledge at least, every bathroom in the terminal, just to mix it up. He tried to eat, but felt sick; tried to read, but couldn’t concentrate. For the last few hours he had sat against the pillar next to his gate, which allowed him the best vantage point for people watching. His eye went first to the few attractive women, and he attempted to give them suitable names – ones full of intrigue, with a touch of the exotic – but all he could come up with were the likes of “Alice” and “Eleanor.”
There was, at least, constant foot traffic providing him with an ever-changing sample of the American populace. His favorite was the elderly woman proudly donning a sweatshirt with which she proclaimed to the world that she was “Wild About My Grandkids,” with the “Wild” composed of animal print in order to convey the seriousness of this statement.
Did she receive it as a gift from these aforementioned grandchildren? No, he decided, she wore it with too much of a brazen air – she had bought it herself , and used the term “darling” in relation to the garment at least 7 times during the purchase. What would happen to it after she died – would it be donated? Would one of the grandchildren wear it for the humorous effect while quietly missing his favorite grandparent? Maybe her husband would keep it because it had been his favorite. Besides which, it smelled like her and nothing else could any longer bring him comfort. Hmm….no. No she would be buried in it, and that was that.
As she walked to her gate, the scene transitioned to two little ones, but apparently not the ones referred to on her sweatshirt. Perhaps somewhere there was someone wearing a sweatshirt referencing them. They apparently hadn’t been walking for long, as they didn’t quite have the hang of it yet. The little boy was dressed in a traditional blue onezee and the girl in pink. He watched them stumble in joy while the parents paid little attention – hopefully someone was wild about them. And so it was he passed the time.
AIRLINE EMPLOYEE: (on speaker) Ladies and Gentlemen, we have been given the go ahead to begin boarding. We will be proceeding by the group number on your boarding passes. Please have them out and ready to go. First class and gold level members please line up first…
He looked as his boarding pass – Group 5 – he would be on last. But here it was. Finally.
The young man is in the aisle, looking for his seat, he finds it.
MAN: I’m just there.
He points to the window seat, there is a young girl is in the aisle seat. She smiles casually and allows him past her to sit down. She is wearing a black hooded sweatshirt over a black and white striped t-shirt, blue jeans, and black sneakers. Her long brown hair is pulled back into a ponytail. He gives her little notice.
STEWARDESS: (over the loudspeaker) . Hello everyone, we apologize for all of the delays. If you’ll please take your seats as quickly as possible we will try to get out of here soon as we can. Crews are expected to arrive at any time to begin deicing the wings. As soon as they do, we’ll get you on your way.
MAN: (exasperated). They haven’t done that yet?!?
The young man groans, turns off his phone, puts his head against the window and closes his eyes, attempting to sleep. Whenever he closed his eyes in recent days he would see images from his nightmares – callous laughter always ensued. As he begins to drift off the pilot’s voice comes over the speaker.
PILOT: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. While there is nothing to be concerned about, we have asked our flight attendants to remain seated for at least the first 20 minutes of our journey. After that we expect clear sailing. As always we thank you for your patience and your decision to fly with us. Welcome aboard.
Before the announcement is finished, the young man is asleep.
(the lights go down and come back up slowly. Time has passed. The plane is shaking from turbulence)
Young man awakes with a start. His mind is still immersed in the dream, his reality fuzzy and confused. He soon realizes it is the fingernails from the girl beside him digging into his arm that had woken him up. He turned to scream at her, but immediately sees the worry on her face and quickly switches from anger to compassion. He also realized for the first time, just how beautiful she is.
MAN: Don’t worry, it’s only minor turbulence, this really isn’t bad. It’ll be fine.
She turns to him looking shocked, with wide eyes, but seems to have thought she had convincingly hidden her fear. She realizes her hand is digging into his arm and pulls it away
WOMAN: Oh my god! Forgive me, I didn’t realize.
As she lets go, he smiles, noticing the slight hint of her British accent.
MAN: It’s okay, really. I have this cat who likes to wake me up by digging in his claws – I just thought I was at home in bed.
WOMAN: (slight smile, embarrassed) I am so sorry! Your poor arm! I’m a nurse, let me look at it… well, training to be a nurse. I’m usually not like this. Just with all of the delays and holiday chaos…
He holds up his arm to show it to her.
MAN: Fine, see? Now it matches the other one that the cat prefers. And I prefer to be symmetrical, so we’re all good. (she smiles) How long was I asleep? You know what time it is? I’ve gotten so used to just using my phone.
WOMAN: Somewhere after ten I suppose. Don’t wear a watch either. We haven’t been flying long, it took forever on the runway. You looked as if you were out soon as you sat down. You alright?
He looking out of the window.
MAN: Yeah, okay, thanks. I am, I haven’t been sleeping much lately…God! I can’t believe all the delays!
WOMAN: You trying to make New Year’s plans? Seems like everyone is upset about it. It’s already been the new year in England for hours. Just talked to my husband on the phone. So knackered I don’t think he even knew who I was. Didn’t have any special plans though. But you did?
MAN: (chuckling to himself) Well, this is going to sound absurd and melodramatic, but I’m trying to win the heart of the girl I love.
MAN: She lives in DC. We went to college there together. But after graduation I returned Chicago and she stayed there.
WOMAN: And you’re just going back now? How long ago did you graduate?
MAN: I mean, yeah, it’s been a few years, but I spent this past fall there for an internship and only left 3 weeks ago. I told her I’d be back at New Year’s and if she was interested in giving this a try I’d move back for her. Here’s the most absurd and melodramatic part – . I told her we didn’t need words and if she just kissed me at midnight, then that meant yes, and if not, well, I’d return to Chicago and we’d just resume our lives.
WOMAN: You’re right…that absurd and melodramatic.
MAN: I told you! I know… I’ve seen too many movies, but everyone always says they want their life to be like a movie, but the only thing holding them back from making it into one is themselves. Life should be about making great stories.
WOMAN: Well it certainly sounds like a lovely ideal.
MAN: What, your husband never did anything crazy for you, to win you over?
WOMAN: He didn’t have to. I did all the chasing. He was a big-name footballer, and I was one of many after him.
MAN: Sounds like you were the lucky one then. Everything came together and he chose you out of all of them.
WOMAN: Yeah… lucky…
MAN: Unfortunately, I don’t exactly have a high profile ability to entice the opposite sex with like a famous athlete. I just figure that life has been full of so many regrets and missed chances that if there is a possibility that there is someone who’ll not only put up with me, but truly love me, I have to take that chance. If I fail, I fail, but I’ll never have the “what if” hanging over me. I hate “what ifs” – they cloud your thinking and then you miss out on more chances, which lead to more “what ifs.” It’s awful. Anyway, what else in the world is worth making a complete fool of yourself for?
WOMAN: I hope it works out for you.
MAN: Thanks. Me too.
They both smile and look away from one another
(The lights go down and come back up as the pilot is finishing an announcement)
PILOT: (over speaker) The seatbelt lights are off, you may now move about the cabin.
The young man looks at the girl, she is obviously still upset by the turbulence.
MAN: I used to fly this route all the time going back and forth from school. It used to scare the hell out of me
She turns to look at him.
MAN: The first time I flew it was to come home for Christmas. I had one of my girlfriend’s black hair ties that I used to wear on my wrist. All I could do to keep the fear at bay was to run the tie between my fingers and focus solely on that. She was my first girlfriend and I figured if I could convince the universe that I deserved to see her then I’d be okay.
WOMAN: That’s cute.
MAN: Yes, well, we broke up soon afterward, which also broke the power of the hair tie. After that I would just down a half a bottle of NyQuil to knock myself out. It worked well.
She laughs and he smiles.
MAN: By the way, I’m Thomas.
WOMAN: Kathryn, everyone just calls me Katie.
THOMAS: I am very glad to know you Katie. I always worry about who I’ll have to sit next to. The NyQuil used to help with that as well. Now that I think about it, they probably used to tell their friends they had to sit next to the passed out guy who was drooling on himself. Huh.
KATIE: I was afraid I’d have to sit next to that dance team. I had this horrible vision of being surrounded by them.
THOMAS: Oh yeah, the ones up front? Yikes. What was their name? Something silly and misspelled…
KATIE: “Team Xtreme.”
THOMAS: Yes! That’s it. Ha! You know, seeing them all in their black outfits, when I first sat down I only caught a glance of you in your black hoodie, I figured you were one of them.
KATIE: My God no! I guess the only way it would have been worse as if I was one of their mothers!
THOMAS: Exactly! However, they’re about the only interesting ones on here. I mean, look, you’ve got your generic businessmen/politicians in their suit, but they’re on every flight.
KATIE: Maybe that’s just what they do. Maybe they’re not politicians or businessmen at all, they’re really just “that guy.” They get paid to sit on the plane and insure each flight reaches the non- offensive passenger quota. How do you think you apply for that? Certainly they could use a few women too.
THOMAS: Seriously. Forgot the whole nurse thing, what good would that do? (pointing) Oh! Look at that mom over there in the sequin running suit and multicolored straw cowboy hat. How did I miss her? Hot.
KATIE: God, did you see her poor daughters? Both had embroidered bags covered in sequins. Why do people have children and treat them like pets?
They both laugh. It slowly dies off, and both are momentarily quiet.
KATIE: So…no NyQuil today?
THOMAS: No…no… nervousness over the girl eclipsed nervousness over just about everything else possible.
She smiles a half smile.
He shifts his body, along with the conversation onto her.
THOMAS: So what were you in the states for? Your husband have an international match or something?
KATIE: No, he’s back in London. He hates to fly, never left the continent. I’ve been here a few weeks, my brother lives in Chicago. His wife died recently. He’s about the only family I have left, I could’nt let him spend Christmas alone.
THOMAS: I’m sorry. That’s a good thing you did though, really.
KATIE: He’s…after our parents died, my brother dedicated himself to his wife, only to lose her. I’ve never seen anyone in love as they were.
THOMAS: Oh God. That’s awful. Why doesn’t he go back to England with you?
KATIE: He hasn’t left his apartment since the funeral. I was hoping I could get him out, but he would barely let me leave the place while I was there. He’s afraid of the world now, I suppose, he’s watched it take everything he ever cared about.
THOMAS: Except for you.
KATIE: Except for me. And here I am leaving him. But I have to get back for school. I was hoping to stay for New Year’s but I can’t. Still though, we did have some very nice times. There were glimmers of the boy I used to know. He took his big brother duties very seriously, I couldn’t bring anyone home without him interrogating them, and now… well, it is what it is.
THOMAS: You can only do whatever you can do. But, I mean, you’ll certainly be helping a lot of people as a nurse – other people’s brothers… parents. It’s a positive thing, that’s great.
KATIE: That’s true…
THOMAS: You don’t sound convinced.
KATIE: No, I mean, yes, it is a great thing, a noble profession and all…but I hate it. I know it sounds selfish, but I hate it. Being surrounded by all that misery, I just can’t handle it. End up crying most nights.
THOMAS: It doesn’t sound selfish. I couldn’t do it. Hell, I can’t even volunteer at the animal shelter – I’d end up with 20 cats. But if you hate it, why do it? Isn’t there something you’d rather be doing?
KATIE: I used to want to be an actress.
THOMAS: So there you go, why not do that?
KATIE: Things happen.
THOMAS: Things like marriage?
KATIE: Things like marriage. I mean, I just didn’t quite have it though, you know?
THOMAS: So that’s that? Just settle into a career you hate instead? If your husband’s a big name it can’t be money, and you’re barely, what 23, 24?
KATIE: 22. And yes, that’s that. It didn’t work out.
Silence. Noticeable tension.
THOMAS: Look, I’m sorry. We don’t even know each other and I’m being an outright ass. I’ve just seen so many friends give up on all their dreams. Things that meant the world to them – painting, writing, music, acting – all these great creative things. And then they get married, and all of a sudden it’s just like they’re a different person. You get this piece of paper and suddenly all of your passion gets transformed into this weird endless search for comfort. (He pauses) God, I’m still being a jerk. I’m sorry. I’m going to stop talking now.
KATIE: Yes, well, that isn’t me.
THOMAS: No. I’m sorry for insinuating that it was. Truly.
She nods and turns away. He sighs and looks out the window, lost out the window. Eventually she speaks.
KATIE: What you’re doing, flying to her and all, it’s wonderful. I hope it works out for you.
He turned slowly, looking straight ahead, his eyes go to the floor.
THOMAS: It’s going to be a disaster.
KATIE: I’m sorry?
THOMAS: This whole thing is going to be a disaster. If the tickets were refundable, I wouldn’t be going. When I left she said that “of course” we’d be talking and everything, but then, as soon as I left she felt cold. There were a few texts, and I called her once, but she sounded like she couldn’t wait to get off the phone. I have no idea what happened. I understand that I’d deserve that type of behavior if I just up and left, but I guaranteed with the tickets that I’d be back and, if she wanted, I would move permanently. When we told each other how we felt, I began by saying she was one of the handful of people I have always felt completely comfortable with, and I really loved that about her. This is the first time since I’ve known her that I feel completely and utterly uncomfortable. I suppose something in me believes that it can still work out, but in reality it’s going to be a disaster.
He clears his throat and fixes his attention back on the window. Her eyes find the floor.
KATIE: That… that person you described before, about getting married, and changing and all that – that’s me exactly. I wish I had an answer for you, why it happened, how, but I don’t know. I mean, he supported my acting until we were married. Then I don’t know what happened. No idea. He felt I needed to fit into the role of “wife” that he had in mind, and even though he would be traveling with the team all the time I was just supposed to be the supportive wife, the bloody sidekick. It was almost as if he was worried I would succeed and take the spotlight off of him.
THOMAS: How long you been married?
KATIE: Year next February. He was around when everything happened with my parents, when I really needed someone. After they died, we were married. I needed strength, and I suppose in my state he fit that perfectly. Now… now I have no idea what we are, or what he thinks we are.
THOMAS: You still want to act?
KATIE: Of course! If anything, now more than ever. I went to so many wonderful shows in Chicago, but I could never fully suspend disbelief and truly enjoy it, all I kept doing was picturing myself up there again. My brother and his wife used to go all the time, he still had a number of tickets so he let me use them. His wife was an English teacher, she loved the theater. I walked around the city every night after the performance until my feet were frozen. There are so many beautiful old flats and every time I passed one I imagined forgetting everything else and just moving into some tiny space and dedicating myself to acting – eating, sleeping, and drinking acting. God I wish I had…
She smiles to herself, and they share a quiet moment.
THOMAS: I’ve always wanted to do just that. Just hole up somewhere and devote myself to the creative process.
Their eyes meet, but she doesn’t say anything.
THOMAS: Do you think relationships are doomed from the start? Just a matter of how much time is left on the meter? It certainly seems that way at least. (Pause) We should just do it – If all relationships are bound for failure we should just say “fuck it” and the two of us runoff and get one of those glorified closet apartments and put nothing before passion and creation. What do you say? I’ve always wanted to live in London.
KATIE: My husband would kill you.
THOMAS: Right… Rome then. I’ve always wanted to live in Rome.
KATIE: (playing along) Now there is an idea!
THOMAS: Good, so we’re agreed. We’ll move to Rome.
KATIE: Absolutely. Do you speak Italian?
THOMAS: Only the few dirty words my grandmother taught me. It’s not that big of a country though, right? A few million people – I’ve got to have distant relatives in there somewhere.
KATIE: Perfect. So we’ll find your family, they’ll put us up, I become a famous actress, we are simultaneously celebrated and ridiculed for our unorthodox lifestyle, through which we end up sparking a new renaissance.
THOMAS: I suppose that will do. Can I grow a horribly stereotypical mustache?
KATIE: I would insist on it.
THOMAS: I’m in. The world shall be ours! (pause) So we’re agreed then…the southern coast of France it is.
They both laugh and share a moment in each other’s eyes before turning separate ways.
KATIE: Do you really believe all that, about how all relationships being bound for a sad ending? Maybe we should run off together and we could be happy. It’s so funny how people just pass through your life as they do, everyone just floating. Some stay longer than others, but eventually they pass through, one way or another. So, if we did, no looking back, do you think we could ever be happy? Or would this just happen again on another flight with other people, and so on ad infinitum? Maybe the ones who’ve settled down have realized it. Maybe we’re the ones in the dark, we’re the naïve ones.
THOMAS: I don’t know if we could ever be happy – with each other, or with anyone else. But I do know that another meeting like this won’t happen again – for either of us.
KATIE: Then maybe we should just do it. Maybe in DC we should just get off together and take the first flight we can to wherever it’s going, and that’ll be home. Maybe that’s how we should begin the new year.
THOMAS: Maybe we should at that…
He looks at her with a lilting seriousness.
KATIE: Since you‘re one for dramatic scenes, how about this – I’ll get off the plane first and you wait until the end. If we run into each other again when you got off, then that’s it, we’ll go off together, no looking back.
THOMAS: I’d always support your acting career you know.
KATIE: I know. I’d never play games with you.
THOMAS: You have no idea how tempting an offer that is at this moment…but I won’t find you ‘cause you won’t be there.
KATIE: How can you be so certain?
THOMAS: You’ll continue on with your normal, albeit delayed, schedule, as will I. More than likely I’ll have my heart broken, and you’ll be continually unappreciated. Like you say, we’ve just floated here and this is just a blip. There’s something about you, and it’s something just out of reach that I can’t place my finger on but that I’ll always dream about. Whenever there’s a hitch in either of our relationships we’ll think “what if…” or “I should have…” but that’ll be it – a dream to hold onto, a possibility, and that’ll be enough to keep us going. When we fly again there’ll be a flicker in a small recess of our hearts that will convince us that our paths will cross again, that we will miraculously sit next to one another again, but we never will. But still, up until the moment when we actually see someone else in the seat beside us, we’ll hold onto that glimmer of a possibility, never fully admitting it to ourselves. Should I go on?
THOMAS: We’ll tell a few friends “I met this amazing person on the plane,” but we’ll never give this seemingly random meeting the significance that we feel it actually has, and we’ll certainly never tell our significant others. They’ll look at us from time to time and see something in the corner of our eye that they cannot explain, something that makes them slightly uncomfortable, but they won’t know why. And whenever we think about this meeting, we’ll smile – but only for each other.
Silence. They look at each other with wordless emotion.
PILOT: (on speaker) Attention ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain, and we have approximately 1 minute until the new year. Get ready to start counting down shortly.
KATIE: You never told me what you do.
THOMAS: Nothing. I haven’t found anything worth doing yet.
KATIE: What do you want to do?
KATIE: I guess you won’t make it for midnight.
THOMAS: Looks that way.
The rest of the plane is in motion while they sit motionless, looking at one another.
PILOT: (on speaker) 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Happy new year everyone!
Cheers ring out throughout the plane. Katie grabs him and they kiss long, deep and meaningfully.
KATIE: Happy new year, Thomas. I’m sorry, but I didn’t want to have that as a “what if.”
THOMAS: Me either.
PILOT: (on speaker) Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of myself and the rest of the crew, happy new year. May there be a happy and healthy year ahead for each of you. We are nearing our destination and will begin our descent soon. Per FAA rules, I need everyone to stay in your seats until we’re safely on the ground. We know you have many choices for air carriers and are glad you decided to fly with us. We’ll have you on the ground in no time. Until then just sit back and relax. For those of you with connecting flights we’ll be getting that information to you shortly…