The roads were slick with oil. It rained maybe 7 days out of the year in Las Vegas and when it did the roads were a mess. She had been thinking this all afternoon while she cleaned out his closet. The town car was coming to pick her up at six o’clock and she hoped the driver knew how to drive in the rain. She needed to be at the airport on time. It had never been more important.
When she had opened the closet the heavy, stale smell of Benson and Hedges had smacked her hard. She’d had to step away for a moment, get some better air. Big floral prints hung on wiry hangers in the tiny closet that had been his. They waited for him to come back, to look at them and decide. Which one would it be? There was the black one with big yellow floral. A favorite. Another was navy blue with little pink flowers swirling across the part that would cover his torso. That had been HER favorite. She could see him sitting in his cab wearing that shirt, his left hand hanging disinterested out the window with a cigarette between its fingers, the right hand clutching a cell phone to his ear, his voice loud and deep and hardy. Talk radio blaring from the speakers if he didn’t have a ride.
She didn’t know whether she should take all of them or none of them. This decision suddenly was the most important of her life. If she didn’t take them all, would she later regret it? Would she later wish she had them to look at? Would she need them to remember if she ever forgot?
His shoes sat below the shirts. He only had three pair. A pair of almost new Nikes he’d bought last month at Famous Footwear, on sale. He’d bought them for the walks he planned on taking once he started his newest diet. Always the fucking dieting. Yesterday before she got the call he had been eating chicken wings from Maria’s. Twenty of them.
The next pair of shoes was his work shoes, a pair of brown topsiders. She couldn’t remember a time he had never owned them.
The third pair was with him.
She looked at the topsiders again. She slipped out of her flip flops and shoved her feet into them. They were cool on the inside, the leather worn into the shape of flat footed size 12’s. She looked at the shirts again, tried to remember every moment she’d had with him in each one. It was impossible.
She would take all of them.
The driver was early, thankfully. He was young and handsome, though a little thin. An Ethiopian, like most of them. His black suit hung off him, at least a size too big. He was warm and polite but not chatty which was perfect. He didn’t grimace at how much luggage she had. She told him she didn’t expect him to help her with it, that she would rather him not. He didn’t argue with her out of obligation. He stood sweetly by the passenger door and commented on the nasty weather. She gave no response. She planned on tipping him well so she didn’t feel guilty. She knew that was what mattered in Vegas anyway.
She hadn’t taken the shirts off the hangers. Just wrapped her arms around them and taken them out of the closet, stuffing them into a garment bag her ex-husband was letting her borrow. She had another large duffel bag full of his shoes, photos, hats, books. She wanted to leave nothing behind. She never knew what would matter later.
In her purse was over four thousand dollars that she had found in various hiding places all over the weekly rental. That was just like him. He never trusted banks completely. He had a bank account, she knew that much. It probably had a few hundred in it. But he had always loved having cash on him. She had spent two hours scouring the place to make sure she found it all. None of the bills were small of course. She hated the thought of some tweaker moving in after him and finding his hard earned money in the empty panel of a cabinet. The thought made her so angry that she wanted to stay and spend even more time scouring but she knew there was no time.
The driver had popped the trunk for her while she was in the room making sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. The garment bag, the enormous duffel bag, a suitcase, and her carry-on sat on the curb waiting. She appreciated that he hadn’t touched them. She wasn’t really sure why she didn’t want him to. She just didn’t.
“Thanks,” she smiled as she walked to the car, “I appreciate you being a little early. I’m going to load this stuff myself, you can just wait in the car and I’ll be ready.”
“Sure,” she could tell he felt awkward, that she was robbing him of doing his job and he didn’t understand why. But she appreciated the lack of questions or insistence.
The duffel bag went in first, it was the heaviest. Then the suitcase, the carry-on and finally the garment bag on top. She slammed the trunk, satisfied that something had been done and she had done it. She opened her own door and slid inside to soft leather seats. A sweating water bottle was in her cup holder, a Sade song hummed softly through the speakers.
“Thank you again,” she spoke to the driver who looked at her with smiling brown eyes in his rearview mirror.
“You’re most welcome. To the airport, correct? Delta?”
“Yes, that’s it. Perfect.”
The feeling of the car pulling away from the curb felt fantastic. She could feel the driver looking at her again but she stared out the window, sipping her water. As they pulled through the parking lot she saw barefoot children climbing all over a generator. Their mothers sat complacently on a curb next to them smoking and talking about something she imagined was very mundane. She wanted to believe they knew what had happened. Maybe they did. Maybe that’s what they were talking about. How unfair it was, how life was shitty, particularly in this town. This comforted her, imagining this.
“…you flying to?”
She realized the driver had been speaking to her and although she wished he wouldn’t, she couldn’t be too rude.
“I’m so sorry, can you repeat that? I was tuned out for a moment.”
He smiled, forgiving and sweet. She could tell he was a very happy young man. Probably fairly new here. His english was distinguished and deliberate, a faint accent but completely easy to understand. If this was any other time in her life she would have engaged him, asked him questions about his love life, his job, his children. She would have told him anything he wanted to know about her, she would have been hoping he’d ask.
“Where are you flying to?” Oh, of course. They always asked that.
“ Virginia.” She said it in a way she hoped conveyed she was not interested in speaking about it any further. It was something completely foreign to her, this new aloofness. She wondered if this was how she would be forever.
“Oh! Virginia is so beautiful! I have a brother who lives in Charlottesville.” They were at a red light. His eyes were on her again, smiling.
“How nice,” she said. The old her would have gushed about the mountains, the university there, the grounds, Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, the leaves in fall. She would have told him about going to college in Staunton, just 40 minutes north. How she had fallen in love with a boy from there, how he was an asshole and they would have laughed about how TYPICAL that was.
The light turned green and she again felt relief at the movement of the town car. The driver didn’t speak again, not right away. She stared out the window, looked at the convenience stores and strip malls blurring by. She hoped this was the last she ever saw of any of it. She thought of the shirts in the garment bag, the shoes stuffed into the bottom of the duffel bag. It excited her to know they would all be far away from here when they saw the light of day.
At Trop and Las Vegas Boulevard the driver spoke again.
“Will you be on vacation in Virginia?” his eyes smiled at her again. She was snapped from her thoughts and it annoyed her. She was raised to hide such feelings but she couldn’t hide them today.
“No. I’m not. I’d rather not talk about it, if I’m being honest,” she said it in a crueler way than she meant to. She liked the driver very much, she did. But she was tired and anxious and more than anything she wanted to be where she was going.
“Oh… I’m so sorry, ma’am. Of course,” he looked away from the mirror. He really must be new to this town.
The car moved again and she could hear the planes. She wondered if he had arrived yet. They had told her they would be on the same flight, it had been arranged. She was anxious to know he had gotten to the airport ok. She wondered what he was wearing. She had all his clothes. She had meant to ask them what he would be wearing, how he would be dressed, so she would know.
The driver had turned up the music. She didn’t recognize the song but it was beautiful. The old her would have asked the driver who this was, what a beautiful song, what a beautiful voice. The driver hadn’t looked at her since she had snapped at him. She felt so bad.
They were pulling off Trop turning right into McCarran. She felt good knowing everything was running as smoothly as it was. She wanted to be on the plane knowing things were in motion, knowing he was on the plane with her and that they were flying far away from here, far away from everything that had happened.
The airport wasn’t busy at all. Most of the cabs were in front of the Delta departures but it wasn’t a huge mess, thankfully. Her driver pulled up right next to the curb under the Delta sign. She went to open the door but it was locked. Of course. The driver wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t THAT new.
“That will be 63,” the driver had turned to her, same smile. She could see one of his front teeth was chipped a bit and he was missing another one farther in the back. His gums were purple.
“Oh, yes. Of course,” she had forgotten about this part. She should have been ready. She fumbled through her purse. He politely looked away as she went through the hundreds she had already managed to crumble. What must he think of this?
The smell was even on the money. Jesus, how much had he been smoking? She handed the driver a hundred, the only kind of bill she had. She could see his panic but she soothed him quickly, “I don’t need any change.”
His smile was back and the bill quickly disappeared into a jacket pocket as he pushed opened his door and ran quickly around the car to open her door on the curbside.
“Thank you. I do insist on getting your bags this time. Please,” he held open the door with one hand, reached in to help her out with the other.
“I guess that would be ok,” she said as the heat hit her. Only April and the desert was already turning on them. How she would be glad to get them both away from here! The luggage had lost its importance once the heat violated her façade. She just wanted to be in air conditioning. Fast.
The driver was gentle with her baggage. She could only imagine what he thought was in it. What would she think if roles were reversed? Did she look like someone with a secret?
The driver had gotten the duffel bag out and had called over one of the handlers to take her bags to check in. She smiled at his kindness, he even tipped the handler himself and told him in a pleasantly austere way to take care of these bags, that they were “most important.”
Once the bags were gone she smiled politely at the driver, thanked him again and began to walk towards the terminal. The sliding doors slid open quickly and she was almost inside when she heard the driver calling to her from the car.
“I hope Virginia makes you happy again!”
It was a peculiar thing to say to a stranger. It startled her so much that she had to turn and look at him but he was already in the car. His eyes were on the cabs, limos, and cars passing by as he attempted to pull from the curb. His face was forward and he was already thinking about something else. She could tell. He wasn’t as new as she thought he was.
Her happiness was the last thing on her mind. Of course it was. The definition of it was completely new to her now and she guessed it would be a long while before she would discover it again. She imagined it wouldn’t be unlike coming across a new word in a book. She would have to look it up the first time to catch the meaning of it. Soon after she would forget it, forget ever finding it, forget it existed. And then one day she would come across it again, most unexpectedly, and from then on it would stick with her.
At least she hoped that was how it would work.
The woman at the ticket counter was short, sphere-like. She wore unflattering navy blue pants that tapered and a blouse with buttons that pulled. She could see the woman’s nude colored bra through the openings between them. The woman’s eyes didn’t smile but her mouth did, revealing braces. She was always alarmed by a grown woman wearing braces. Particularly when there were more obvious things she could be correcting.
“Name please?” the woman’s voice was high, a desperate kind of pitch.
“Marnie McCurtis,” she shifted her purse which had dug a strap indention into her right shoulder.
The woman clicked her tongue. It was a horrible sound.
“Yesssss, ok, I see you here. And you’re also flying with…” the woman glanced up and looked behind her as if she expected another person to pop up from behind and yell SURPRISE while wiggling their jazz hands. She stared at the woman and waited for her to say it.
“…with Michael McCurtis? I see the tickets were booked for both of you?”
“Yeah but he’s not coming. I mean… He won’t be sitting with me.” She hated this woman. She hated her for making her have to explain it. A decent person would just KNOW. A decent person would be able to read the writing on her face. It said DON’T FUCKING ASK.
“Oh, “ the woman clicked her tongue again, “Is he getting a different flight, does he need a refund? Because these tickets were booked online so they’re non refundable… “
“Yeah,” she said, “He knows. But he won’t be needing a seat. Which actually brings me to another question…” She looked at the woman who had finally stopped the clicking and now looked at her prepared to say no to anything she was going to say.
She continued, “I actually have some pretty precious cargo that should be on this same flight with me. I was told to confirm with y’all that it had arrived and was being loaded.”
She noticed the woman’s name tag sitting at an angle on her ample and droopy left breast, “Neena. Sorry, what a lovely name. Yes, it’s actually my father… He passed away yesterday and Fairfield Mortuary had arranged it so he would be on this flight home to Virginia and I just want to make sure everything is still on schedule and he’s being boarded.”
Neena’s eyes had widened and she immediately looked at her computer screen, “Oh of course! And let me just say,” Neena’s face contorted into empty sympathy, “We here at Delta are so sorry for your loss. If I could just get his name…”
“Michael. Michael McCurtis.”
Neena’s face lit up. Finally. The lightbulb had turned on. She hated herself for being so self absorbed to think that everyone should just KNOW. But she truly felt they should. She didn’t care how pathetic or delusional that was.
“Oh Miss McCurtis, I’m so sorry. I just didn’t realize…” Neena fumbled and Marnie felt guilty. Guilty and sick and ready to be done with this part. She was already exhausted from all the telling.
“So your father was going to be a passenger… originally?” Neena was hesitant she could tell. Stuck between being nosy and professional.
“Yep,” Marnie sighed and laid the purse on the counter,”We were going to Virginia to visit my uncle. It’s his 50th birthday tomorrow. So the timing has been incredibly perfect.” She fumbled through her money again, “How much do I owe you for my luggage? I know a lot of it was overweight.”
Neena looked at her with genuine pity, “Oh. Well, Miss McCurtis in light of this tragedy let me see if I can waive one of the baggage fees.” Neena punched the keys quickly and smiled, “Yes, I can go ahead and waive the smaller bag’s fee. So the total will beeee… eighty-five dollars for the rest. Since, right, one of the bags was over the weight limit. Slightly.” She smiled again. Marnie threw a hundred on the counter. It would have been exciting to have this money yesterday. Today it was just a means to an end.
“Keep the change, Neena. Thanks for that, really.” And she meant it. She grabbed her ticket and her driver’s license back and turned away. Something else accomplished.
She’d had a mental checklist going on since last night. People to call. Things to arrange. It was slowly becoming smaller and smaller which scared her. Once there was no more checklist, the real thinking would begin.