This story is by TBink and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Now what? Alan sat with elbows on knees, chin in hands, and watched. Rain pounded down and cascaded through the home’s gutters. They hummed with rushing water. Rain saturated the ground and swirled around the street drain. A downpour changed Alan’s plan to sit in the park and write. His wife, kids, and the dog swarmed around the house, making it impossible to think. He needed quiet. A place to think was essential. Alan had to minimize the effort of slapping computer keys to make mental space for creative thought.
The answer came while he petted Grace, his wagging, Chocolate Labrador confidant. Alan grabbed his laptop and said goodbye to the preoccupied family as he passed by them on the way out of the house. No one seemed to notice. He tossed the laptop on the passenger seat of his Electric Blue Elantra GT, N-line edition, and headed out. Reverse first, then six forward gears to snap through. The freeway was empty, and five exits later he barrelled around a cloverleaf ramp and was off.
Being alone in a quiet place was his plan, and his destination did not disappoint. Paying for parking was Alan’s only gripe. Other than that, the airport was perfect. Comfortable seating abounded, as did electrical outlets for his computer. A few coffee shops and delis were open, allowing him to relax in style. There were a handful of travelers, but they took off their shoes, dumped out their pockets, and headed through security to catch one of the few flights not canceled because of the pandemic. Several people wandered through shops while waiting for arriving flights. He didn’t see anyone else who was there to write. He was a select group of one.
Alan stared vacantly at giant travel posters as he mentally plunged into the storyline and drained his first coffee. He realized he needed a bagel and more coffee. He pondered the plot while he walked to the deli at the far end of the hall. The head-clearing exercise felt good.
He arrived at the Non-Stop Deli, where an attention-getting young woman with beautiful dark eyes and coal-black, glossy hair meandering over her left shoulder helped him. Her name tag announced her as Catalina. Alan and Catalina took their time with the transaction as there wasn’t another customer in sight. What a smile, and dimples! Alan knew she belonged at the heart of his story, whatever it might be. He also knew where he would go when his stomach growled for lunch.
Back at his table, he stretched his arms and flexed his fingers. Motivated by coffee, a whole-grain bagel, and the beauty of his star character, he wrote. He wrote what came to mind, knowing that he had to get a first draft on paper, and that he did better when he didn’t second guess his effort. He banged keys and words appeared, then sentences, themes, and a story.
In Alan’s story, a jet left the gate for a two-hour flight. The plane had twenty-three passengers. As ground crew backed the plane out, the crew observed an abnormality in a landing gear, a wobble. They notified flight control and the pilot and halted the departure. The tractor stopped pushing, and air traffic control alerted a maintenance crew.
Captain Roberts, the pilot, announced a delay for a required inspection and promised updates for the passengers. The maintenance crew arrived and began assessing. They required more test equipment, so Capt. Roberts announced this to his passengers. The equipment arrived and those on-board peered through windows as workers scurried around the left wing landing gear, pointing, discussing, gesturing with hands, and shaking heads. An hour passed from when the plane first pushed back, and true to his word, Capt. Roberts kept the confined twenty-three confined aware of the operation. Worn spacers on a small strut support bar created the wobble. The Embraer 190 regional jet, a proven aircraft, could not depart until maintenance personnel replaced them, a critical repair but not one significant enough to require a change of aircraft.
Everyone dealt with the news in their own way, but many squirmed in their seats, sighed, and checked the time. With blessings from the flight crew, cell phones sprang to life. Minutes passed with little activity outside the plane. Then Capt. Roberts was back on the intercom.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the coronavirus has resulted in most flights being canceled and that means fewer maintenance staff on hand. We’ve called in a landing gear technician and he should be here in 35-40 minutes. Meanwhile, the flight crew will distribute snacks and drinks, and you are welcome to use your electronic devices. I’ll keep you updated as I learn more.”
Twenty-three people in scattered seats rolled their eyes but could do little else. The airline assigned seats so far apart that no one could turn to a seat row companion to grumble. Flight attendants Shari and Linda loaded the food cart with coffee, tea, sodas, beer, and snack packages of pretzels, peanuts, and bite-sized cheese crackers. At least the passengers had control over their snack.
The meal satisfied few, but they did not blame Shari, Linda, Capt. Rogers, or the ground crew. Some fumed, some fidgeted, and some accepted the situation with a brief, calming meditation.
Jennifer and Dave, who staffed the gate, were aware of the delay. They agreed that Jennifer could grab them some yogurt and coffee at the closest deli, the Non-Stop, where Catalina worked. The two women were friends and chatted whenever Jennifer visited the deli.
As Jennifer paid for her yogurt, she brought Catalina up to date. “We have a plane stuck on the tarmac,” she said.
“Why, what happened?”
“Landing gear problem, it’ll get fixed, but there’s no food on the short-hop flight. People are getting grumpy.”
“I don’t blame them,” announced Catalina.
Jennifer went back to work. Catalina wiped the counter and had an idea. She called Jennifer at her gate and ran it by her. Jennifer checked with her supervisors, then called Catalina and gave her idea a thumbs up.
The enterprising Catalina called the cafe owner, explained the situation, and spilled her plan through the phone in a well-shaped pool of words and concepts. The owner approved, was excited, and encouraged Catalina. He asked her to keep him up to date on developments.
Catalina was working to support herself through graduate school in business, where she was earning a master’s degree in International Marketing for Sustainable Practices. Her proposed solution would address the hungry twenty-three, the airline’s image problem, and would market the Non-Stop Deli as well as herself. Or it would produce nothing more than lunch for passengers and flight crew. That would satisfy her.
Catalina had already made salads and sandwiches for the day. She complemented this supply with newly made food until she had 30 mix-and-match lunches. Back in the Non-Stop Deli office, Eddie and Sue, the owners, were on the phone with newspapers, radio, and TV. They described the situation on the plane and their plan to provide a free lunch to the hungry passengers.
Sue then called Catalina to let her know that she would hear from media folks. The media confirmed the story with the airline, and an airline supervisor notified Capt. Rogers of the delis offer. Captain Rogers announced the arriving food to the on-board flight crew and passengers. Twenty-five pairs of hands clapped, and twenty-five voices cheered, as Shari and Linda joined in with the twenty-three passengers.
The press and airline execs arrived, and Jennifer rolled a spare airline food cart to Catalina who loaded it. A hydraulic lift raised Catalina, Jennifer, and the cart to the plane. Jennifer watched as Catalina, Shari, and Linda proceeded down the aisle passing out good cheer, food, and smiles.
Catalina’s plan was a smashing success, and the press, hungry for upbeat news stories, flooded the market with it. The media swarmed all over Catalina. She and her dimples, dark eyes, and meandering coal-black hair made the national news. She received many job offers pending her graduation.
That was Alan’s story, but writing it was slower and harder than he expected. Isolation at the airport and Catalina made it possible.
He called his wife, Eleanor.
“Where are you?” she asked.
“At the airport.”
“What? Why are you at the airport? Is there anyone else there?”
“No,” He replied. “I’m alone. Isolated. It’s perfect for writing. Well, actually… Catalina is here. She’s been splendid company. I’ll explain when I get home.”
“Yes, an explanation will be in order,” proclaimed Eleanor.
With a smile, Alan closed his laptop and packed up. He returned to the Elantra, punched it in first, and took off.