“I just want to get to Fort Kent to see the foliage,” Kenneth said with a lack of affect, and a stony expression. “Can you explain this to me again please,” he asked, pausing to look at her name tag “…Marcy? The flight has been delayed twice already. I’ve been waiting here for hours, because it’s far too cold to roam the city this late at night, and now you’re telling me that my flight is cancelled?”
“Yes sir,” she shifted her weight from one foot to the other and glanced around the waiting area. Kenneth realized she was trying to gauge how many more times she would be having this conversation.
Anyone who knew Kenneth well, as short as that list had become, could tell that he was extremely irritated—at least as irritated as a man like Kenneth got. This was demonstrated by the thumping of the index finger on his right hand, at the exact rate of one beat per second, on the counter over which this discussion was taking place. “Because of a hurricane in Florida?”
“Yes sir, the hurricane has caused all flights to be grounded.”
She looked down at the counter, shifted her weight again, adjusted her standard airline blazer, took a deep breath, put on her customer service smile, and steeled herself for the barrage of questions she knew was coming.
“Is the plane that was supposed to convey us from Harrisburg to Bangor, Maine perchance in Florida?” Kenneth gestured blandly over his shoulder at passengers piling up uncomfortably close behind him, crowding his nostrils with the unruly mix of unwashed bodies, and overwhelming perfumes. Kenneth tried to include the throng in the conversation, because he knew if his mother were here she would tell him it was polite to do so, as they were united under a common goal, but he seriously doubted he would see any of these people in Fort Kent.
“Why, yes sir,” her eyes shot up to meet his, and he guessed she had just realized she had not passed that information along.
“This conversation would have been much more efficient if that information had been disclosed in the beginning.” His finger stopped thumping. “I would like to cancel my tickets and receive a refund.”
Marcy reddened from the rebuke. “Of course, may I have your name sir?”
“Kenneth Noah Williams.”
The waiting area behind him was waking up as those close enough to hear this conversation began to the details to travel mates and strangers alike. Kenneth stood out from the crowd in one of his casual suits that differed from his business suits only by length of time possessed, and the faded color. Those behind him appeared more like they were dressed for bed or a night club rather than travel: some in sweats or even actual pajamas; others with far too much body exposed due to clothing that was too tight, or too little actual cloth. However, when passing through security Kenneth had learned the value of a minimalistic dress code. His progress was delayed, hence the line itself was delayed, causing further discomfort at being the cause of impediment to his fellow passengers, when he was forced to remove belt and suspenders (because redundancy is the keystone of safety), sock suspenders (because he disapproves of socks bunched around the ankle), and his tie chain and tie pin, (because again, redundancy), all of which are now stuffed into his carry-on making him feel far too exposed.
“I'm sorry sir, we will be unable to refund your tickets at the face value because they were purchased through Groupon. We can reschedule, or refund a fifty percent. This is—“
“-- because Groupon collects a fee. I know, the hotel, and the private plane said the same thing when I called them yesterday.” His voice never raises or waivers. Not once throughout this exchange has Kenneth showed any outward sign of emotion, aside from the beating of his finger on the counter, which begins anew, but not nearly as fast as before.
He remembers explaining to the hotel representative on the phone that his girlfriend had broken up with him, and simply didn’t need, nor could he afford a suite, “Well, then bring your mother,” quipped the hotel employee. To which Kenneth had replied, in a voice betraying no sorrow, that she had died only days before his girlfriend left. The subsequent flurry of apologies had only increased Kenneth’s discomfort.
This memory dragged him deeper, and he pictured Kayla — in her funereal dress, tipsy from the wine at the wake — telling him that she had to go. She was crying when she told him she would not be able to handle pulling double duty, and with his mother gone she could already see it going that way. She loved him for the kind man he was, and that was why she could deal with all of his little quirks, but she wasn’t ready to mother a grown man.
This had hurt Kenneth more than anything in his life, almost enough to cause tears, almost enough for him to tell her it hurt, but in the end he just drummed his finger on his thigh and stared at her as she packed her things.
Kenneth’s head snapped up as he was yanked from his daydream, “I'm sorry, yes, when is your next flight to Bangor?”
“We fly to Bangor twice a week,” she says, “Monday mornings, and Thursday nights.”
The tapping increased back to its extreme one beat per second. “I was set to return on Monday. I was only granted a three-day weekend.”
Marcy leaned in and whispered, “If you go now Sky West has a flight to Bangor departing soon, but it will probably fill up quick with passengers from this flight.” She winked slyly. “I used to work for them.”
Kenneth picked up his carry-on, and walked in the indicated direction without further word, leaving Marcy to field questions from his fellow passengers, the first of which he knew the answer to. No, the airline would not divert another plane to replace the one stuck in Florida. Doing so would hardly be efficient. It would start a domino effect of late and cancelled flights, disrupting months if not years of planning by customers, the airline itself, and the FAA, and angering thousands of people. Simply cancelling this flight would only misplace eighty passengers.
The main building’s interior of the Harrisburg International Airport was colorless and bland. Aside from the giant compass on the floor, only shades of white broken by the bodies passed through his vision. This comforted Kenneth. His apartment was decorated similarly. He owned only the barest necessities, a single off-white couch in his off-white sitting room, the only splash of color being faded red wine from the time Kayla spilled. Contradictory to the steadfast décor, travelers simply milled about, wandering almost aimlessly as they waited for their flights. Their colorful garments, and colorful language made Kenneth uncomfortable. He believed progression though the airport should be done in single file as economically as possible. Anyone waiting for something, or someone, should be doing so outside of the established thoroughfare. The airport is a public place and as such everyone should be dressed professionally. Kenneth viewed the goings on at the airport with a sense of wonder shaded by embarrassment, and disgust. He didn’t understand why no one saw that mutually zigging and zagging through the herd was the least efficient way possible to get where you want to be. And some of the outfits worn were more perplexing still. He hadn’t seen that much flesh even that time he and Kayla had made love.
Marcy was correct. SkyWest was travelling to Bangor. The flight was not direct, however. In order to resume his trip today he would have to suffer a short layover in Michigan. The plane was already boarding, so without hesitation he purchased a ticket and took his seat.
Kenneth was a man’s man, according to his mother. He was head engineer at the Harley Davidson plant in York. “He was paid to design and build the very machine that killed his father,” she would say, “What could be more hardcore than that?” Kenneth did not feel “hardcore” when he put his pocket protector in every morning, or when he traded his driving glasses for big tinted safety goggles because he had sensitive eyes. He was taller than most, but could barely grab a box of copy paper from the supply closet without help from one of the guys on the line. And, truth be told, Kenneth had never actually ridden a Harley, or any motorcycle. If asked why he only expressed the dangers motorcycles posed, he stated that his Father died on one. He only ever drove hybrids with the highest safety ratings. He would own a Tesla if he could afford it, but his father died without life insurance, and for the last decade or so he had paid for his mother’s medical care. She had been on the Motorcycle too, and never quite recovered. Kenneth had tweeted to Elon Musk once though.
Kenneth stood at the baggage return until all of the passengers from his flight had retrieved their baggage and left. The conveyor was empty, and he had not yet seen his bags. Maybe they went straight to the connecting flight. This airport was nothing like the one in Harrisburg. It was much smaller, and practically empty. Kenneth got flustered when he was rushed. When he got flustered his mind kind of ran off without him and hid in a dark corner of his head, as if it was trying to avoid the confrontation it swore was coming, but never did.
During these times he only caught parts of conversations, when his mind peered around the corner to see if it was safe to come out. He’s not dumb, he knew this happened, he just couldn’t do anything about it. At work he had safeguards and signals set up with bosses and co-workers to mitigate the damage, and keep him filled in. Outside of work, his mother used to help calm him and relayed any information he may have missed. Kayla had helped him too. The Sky West plane was already boarding, he had decided too quickly. He knew he missed an important piece of information.
Kenneth located the information desk and approached the little old man behind the counter. "Where am I?” he asked with no greeting or fanfare.
“You don’t know where you flew to? That’s a curious thing,” the old man said with a warm smile.
“I am well aware of my final destination, I just do not know where I am currently.” He had trouble searching for the words needed to express his dilemma under such a violent attack. “I was told there was a layover in Michigan.” His forefinger began to beat out its rhythm on the counter.
The old man cracked a grin that effected his whole face. “You thought you were going to Detroit didn’t you? I'm sorry to tell you son that you are a good five hours north of Detroit by car, in Chippewa, Michigan only a few miles from the Canadian border.” The grin faded, “And I am even sorrier to tell you that this is your final destination, at least for today. Haven’t you looked out the window, son?” Kenneth shook his head. “Well, it started snowing pretty good about half hour before your plane landed. They almost made the call to divert it, but the pilot swore he could land, so they let him. Damn fine landing too. But they have grounded all the planes since then. Somethin’ about the hurricane messing with weather patterns brought down a bad blizzard out of Canada. Say, you ok son?”
Kenneth knew his brain was fighting. Something wasn’t right with the old man. He looked mean but sounded nice, but he also looked nice and sounded mean, and Kenneth knew it couldn’t be both. His finger revved up to its max speed, matching the clock overhead. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and concentrated like his mother taught him. “I am not Son, I am Kenneth Noah Williams.” He wished Kayla were with him. She would probably tell him that the man was nice, and sounded quite friendly.
“Well, you're somebody’s son aren’t you?”
“Not anymore.” The calming thoughts of Kayla and his mother brought him back.
The old man’s face softened. “I'm sorry Ken. How can I help you?”
“It’s Kenneth, Kenneth Noah Williams, and I need to get to Fort Kent.” He knew he needed to ground himself. The buffers that guided his interactions with the rest of the world were gone, and his chaotic mind was taking over. He looked around trying to separate himself from his confusion.
This place was kind of nice. It was graveyard quiet. There were no kids in pajamas playing in the walkways, or half-dressed crowds shuffling about like living dead. There were very few people here at all. Kenneth realized his travel mates must have been paying attention to the weather, and made arrangements to be picked up, or booked rooms nearby, and with no other flights coming in the steady stream of commuters and explorers was not being restocked.
“My name is Roger,” the old man said. He adjusted his glasses and began typing. “Well, on a good day you can drive there in about eighteen hours, if you have your passport and can cut through Canada, but in this it will probably take twenty-four. If you don’t have your passport, which I assume you do not, then it’s a little over twenty-four hours’ drive south through Ohio, and Pennsylvania, then back north through New York and Vermont, again on a good day.” He looks up from the computer, “What’s in Maine that’s so important? Family emergency? Somebody dying? Hurt?”
“I made plans with my girlfriend to see the fall foliage.”
“So?” Roger’s face scrunched up in confusion, like he was expecting a punchline that would never come.
He stared at Roger. “So?”
“Yeah, so what? There is a hurricane coming up from the south, blizzards in the north, and you want to go look at leaves? People don’t travel in weather like this unless they have a major catastrophe.” He waved an arm half gesturing, “Look around, you’re practically the only one here. We’re a small airport but not this small.”
Roger was right. The few shops and eateries were closed. So were the airline counters. A lone guard was going around locking up bathrooms and shutting down lights in unused areas. “What else could I have done?” Kenneth asked, genuinely. “Never mind, could you help me find a room nearby?”
“Can’t you just cancel your trip?”
The old man was right. Kenneth had been running on autopilot since his mother died. The idea of cancelling the trip never even occurred to him. His mother had died and his girlfriend had left him, and now he was sitting alone in a hotel room booked by Roger, a little over twenty-four hours into his vacation. He had not slept since Wednesday, and he hadn’t slept well since last week. This was the first time he’d stopped moving, and now the grief he had been fleeing finally caught up. Dread barreled into him, knocked him back onto the bed, and beat him senseless. He was painfully aware that he had never been alone. Someone had always taken care of all of the things that made him uncomfortable. Talking to strangers on the phone, scheduling appointments, even little things like shopping, had all been done by his mother or Kayla. He didn’t only miss his mother, he was afraid of living without her, without them.
Great sobs built up in his chest. These were the first tears he had shed for his mother, the once strong woman turned frail — described by co-workers as a cross between a topless biker chick, and Martha Stewart — who would show up at the plant twice a day to check on him. Once tears started it was a flash flood. He finally mourned his father — the beast of a man that had to duck to walk through doorways in their home, with a beard so long Kenneth could reach up and grab it from his highchair— which he’d never done because he had to be the man of the house. He had to be tough. He sobbed for the life he had never had. He really only worked at the Harley plant because he hadn’t dared look for a job any further than ten miles from his home, fearing being away from his mother. The thirty miles to Harrisburg was the farthest he had ever been from home. He wailed for Kayla — remembering the little girl climbing down out of the Ryder truck the day her family moved in next door. He knew he didn’t understand romantic love, but he did know she deserved better. He cried himself to sleep in a great release.
Kenneth spent an entire day in that hotel room, and he came out a man’s man, as his mother would have said. He flew home as soon as the runways were clear and was thirty minutes early for his shift on Tuesday. When he got to his office he noticed his name was no longer on the door, and his boss Mark was inside with someone he did not know. When he entered the room his boss looked at him like Kenneth just caught him having an affair. Kenneth understood immediately. He knew he was hard to work with, and he didn’t fit in. The guys on the floor tried to joke with him, but often they just made him uncomfortable. He just didn’t know how to socialize, at all. He extended his hand to the strange man, “Hello, I hope you do well here.” Then he looked over at his boss, “It’s ok, I understand.” He saw a box with his personal things, as he reached for it he said “Did I ever tell you Elon Musk responded to one of my tweets? I tweeted him a formula to make his batteries more efficient, and he offered me a job.”
“That’s great Kenneth, I'm so proud of you.” Mark said, with the soft voice people usually use when talking to toddlers, or the mentally challenged.
“What?” Mark was a little surprised and confused.
“You can just call me Ken,” he said, and turned and left before they could see the tears forming. He was all alone, terrified of change, and forced into a new beginning. His finger drummed on the box he was carrying as he walked to his car, but it no longer followed the ticking of his watch, it now synched with the nervous rhythm of his heart.