Meredith Wadley is an American-Swiss who lives and works in a medieval micro town on the Rhine River. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon, and her writing has been anthologized and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She tweets @meredithwadley. She lurks around Instagram @meredithkaisi.
FIVE ARE CATCHING A FLIGHT IN THE MORNING
Note: It’s the night after The Deceased’s wake. Four siblings and one spouse sit around The Deceased’s dining-room table, dishes cleared, kitchen tidy, talk about The Deceased exhausted and excised, and cigarettes smoked (outside). A juice glass and four wine glasses. Two bottles of red, emptied.
Charlotte: “Okay, that’s me.” Presses her hands on the old pedestal table to stand. The top tilts, and the two seated opposite groan as their folded hands are lifted.
Note: She doesn’t need to lean on the table, and she knows about the damn tilt. Just absent-mindedness. And exhaustion. Fair enough, the tilt should’ve been fixed decades years ago, but no one bothered fetching the toolbox from the shed and just doing the job.
Charlotte: “Sorry.” Palms in the air. “When’s our flight?”
Note: Funny enough, the separate parties booked the same flight to Denver and will transfer from there. Honolulu. New York. Miami.
Bob: “Eleven. Terminal A.”
Note: Bob’s Charlotte’s husband. Over thirty years, they’ve been together. High school, community college, careers, family, retirement. Now grandkids, who love Hawaii.
Charlotte: “Come on, Rick. Let’s go to bed.”
Rick: “Do I hafta? I don’t wanna.”
Wendy: “It’s late, Rick. Charlotte will help you brush your teeth.”
Note: Rick, the youngest sibling at the table, will do anything Wendy asks, which irritates Charlotte. A childhood biking accident left him “challenged,” and he lives in a garage-conversion studio at Wendy’s. She’s the one who’s challenged. Her husband used the strain of looking after Rick as an excuse to leave Wendy and their boys. Rick’s chair shoots backwards across the polished-concrete floor, he’s up so fast. Off he marches, his hands fists, his elbows stuck out, his head down. Charlotte shakes her head and follows.
Chap: “Wait, Char—when are we leaving for the airport?”
Charlotte: “Do the math, maybe.”
Note: She’s a high school math teacher and he’s a math professor. They’re twins. The Deceased always said their arguing started in the womb. Never lets up.
Chap: “Departures, darling, are never äinlich.”
Note: His partner, a German professor, didn’t attend the wake. Something The Deceased said about him a million years ago, to the effect that Doug had seduced her perfectly normal son, ruining his life and endangering it; the AIDS pandemic—the criminal neglect—was just getting alarming. Actually, it’s a wonder that Chap’s present, except that he’s in the Last Will and Testament, having inherited a portion of The Deceased’s estate equal to his siblings’ portions. Plus, an extra line: “I leave a quarter of my estate to my beloved son Chap, whose lifestyle grieves me. Restart your life, son. It’s never too late to do the right thing and be happy.”
A voice from the dark (Rick): “What’s aimlick mean?” To his family’s surprise, he stands in the doorway, his lower jaw jutting, his gesture of defiance.
Charlotte: “You’re supposed to be getting ready for bed, Rick.”
Rick: “You’re still here. I’m not going upstairs alone. It’s dark.”
Charlotte: “Turn on the light.”
Rick: “You turn on the light. And you go to bed.”
Note: The siblings know that in his anger, he’s as red as a cake. But not velvety. Not like usual.
Chap: “We need to settle something first, buddy. So, when do we leave?”
Note: Chap thinks that being precise and in control helps keep his blood pressure manageable, which is oh, so wrong.
Charlotte: “If the flight leaves at eleven, it takes an hour to get to the airport, and we’re advised to allow two hours to get to the gate—”
Wendy: “Barring any delays, of course.”
Rick: “What delays? What’s a delay?”
Wendy puts a hand to her mouth. Her back is to Rick. She’s not much of a drinker, and two glasses untether her silly.
Note: Bob’s half asleep. Scratching his beer belly.
Bob: “A delay’s like the taxi being late, flat tire, tank running empty, or being in an accident—”
Note: It takes Bob a tad too long to notice rising smoke tendrils, the smell of singeing flesh, and Charlotte, Chap, and Wendy’s laser glares. They score a raw tattoo into his wide forearm: ~Shut The Fuck Up~
Oh, dear. Damage done: Rick does the Rick Commotion Thing, thrashing on the floor, bawling, and shouting. Snot bubbles from his nose.
Rick: “I don’t wanna go to the airport! You can’t make me! I don’t wanna die in an accident!”
Chap: “Hey buddy, calm down.” He grabs Rick, who’s slid within reach, and hugs him with his full, weight-lifted body. “This bear’s got you. This bear loves you. This bear’s going to lick your salty face if you don’t stop crying.”
Note: Chap’s squeeze-love always works. Rick’s sobs become hiccups. He snorts a few times, a multitiered sigh rattling his tantrum’s finale.
Chap hands his brother a pressed handkerchief. His magic makes Wendy, as Rick’s caretaker, a bit envious. She has neither the strength nor bulk—nor the tenor—to calm down her charge. Her magic is patience.
Patience needs patience. The hourglass of her patience is draining fast, running low.
Charlotte: “Come on buddy, I’ll sing you to sleep. “Jingle Bells—all of it.”
Her lure works. She leads the way, flicking on lights, and Rick, supported by Chap, follows. Chap returns and tells the others that Charlotte’s coming back as soon as Rick’s asleep.
There’s silence at The Deceased’s dining room table. They can hear Charlotte reaching “Sleigh!” five times.
Following Rick’s biking accident, The Deceased said to the siblings, “You care for the boy. You caused his accident. I won’t be around much longer, anyway.”
Of course, teaching Rick to bike didn’t cause a drunk to plow into him. And The Deceased lasted nearly forty years; Rick is fifty.
Charlotte presses the tabletop as she sits. It tilts. “Why am I here? Long day tomorrow.”
Note: She’d have left Bob years ago—he’s just not sharp enough for her—but he’s too nice to leave. Nice like moving her to Hawaii after retirement, buying the place with an annex so Wendy and Rick can visit twice a year. (She’s never invited Chap and Doug, a meanness that Bob doesn’t condone but effectively enables.)
Chap: “I demand to know what time we’ve agreed to leave.”
Charlotte: “Seriously? Agree with Bob on a time.”
Chap: “You’re always the last out the door, Charlotte.”
Charlotte: “Really? Exactly how many flights have you missed on account of my five minutes of tardiness?”
Note: The Deceased always cried from some room other than the one the twins occupied, “Your tit for tat is killing me!”
Bob: “Let’s agree on eight o’clock. Good night, Charlotte. I’ll be up in a minute.”
Wendy: “It’s a small airport. You don’t seriously think we need two hours to get to the gate, do you?”
Bob: “It’s what’s advised.”
Wendy: “How about nine o’clock?”
Note: Bob, a former high school coach and sex-ed teacher, knows the rules to every game and sticks to them. He also thinks he understands Chap’s distress. Sticking to what’s advised is his way of saying I get you! to his brother-in-law. Unfortunately, Chap is lousy at smelling empathy. Too often, he confuses it with ridicule: it’s not in his nature to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. Right now, he suspects his brother-in-law is parodying him, which would be Bob hitting well above his average. Chap also believes in hierarchy; he finds being parodied by someone like Bob infuriating. He holds Charlotte—younger by nine minutes—responsible for being treated like a buffoon. She brought Bob into the family, after all.
God, Chap’s a mess around family, especially when Doug’s not there to dial him back.
Charlotte: “I’ll request an Uber for eight-thirty.”
Chap: “I’ll request the Uber. Eight-fifteen.” Charlotte won’t be controlling this decision. Arms I-mean-business crossed.
Bob: “We’re good with that, aren’t we baby?”
Charlotte: “You know what? I am fine with that. Good. Night.”
Wendy: “I’m not; Rick going to bed late—he’s no early riser. He’ll be running on borrowed energy. You know how hard it’ll be keeping him occupied and calm in that tiny airport? For nearly two hours?”
Chap: “We’ll be there, too.”
Wendy: “Our final flight?”
Note: The others are picturing The Rick Commotion Thing in a packed plane. Snot bubbling from a middle-aged man’s nose.
Bob: “Quarter to nine?”
Note: Chap sends out the request.
Charlotte and Bob disappear into the master bedroom with its attached bath, and Wendy occupies the family bathroom. Chap and Rick share their old room, now a guest room. The Deceased at some point conscripted Chap’s old desk for her own needs, painting it pink. Several cruise-liner knickknacks cover its surface. The siblings have already gone through the desk drawers, pulling out anything relevant; not much. A pair of diamonds studs that Chap found went straight into his pocket. One for him, one for Doug. If they’re real.
He sets his phone on the nightstand, changes into his pajamas, and sits on his side of the bed, waiting for the bathroom.
The covers rustle. Snoring.
Once Rick graduated from a crib, their parents bought themselves a king-sized bed and gave the boys their old queen. Around the same time, eight-year-old Chap began feeling sexual urges. His fantasies were always set in summer. Outdoors. Involved lifeguards. Tanned, dark-eyed, and thick-lashed lifeguards. Muscles. One day at the pool, Charlotte caught him staring at boys and erect. At home, with a Playgirl magazine in hand, she accosted him. “Here,” she said, shoving it at him, “you’ll appreciate this more than I do.”
Then she tattled, telling The Deceased she’d caught Chap reading a Playgirl. Christ.
Nevertheless, his fantasies intensified. In them, he was the skilled one, approaching men who were older but innocent, innocent but willing. Oh, how he longed for a fleshen experience. But just thinking of approaching a man, knowing how he’d blush and give himself away, gave him a tightened chest.
One night, he brushed up against his toddler brother. Touching warm skin aroused him. Tantamount to incest! He’d never act upon the arousal—being gay didn’t make him a pedophile—yet the more he tried erasing all cerebral and sensual memories of that erection from his mind, the firmer it clung. Like a fossil to slate.
He went to The Deceased and asked for bunkbeds for Christmas. He’d really wanted a racing bike but getting bunkbeds would give him peace of mind.
The beds delighted Rick.
Sharing a bed with his brother this week, Chap hasn’t slept well. Now he realizes why.
The bathroom door opens.
Wendy: “Bathroom’s free. Goodnight.”
Chap: “Sleep tight. And thanks, sweetie, for all you do for Rick. For us. I could never—”
Wendy: “Hey, you and Doug taking him to Martha’s Vineyard every summer? It’s the best thanks, ever. Seriously.”
Note: Every Rick-free August, Wendy visits her grown sons and travels around Europe.
Chap: “He snores.”
Wendy: “Who isn’t snoring these days?”
Note: Chap suddenly longs to tell Wendy about his adolescent arousal incident. She would get the distress he’s feeling now. But he’s never even told Doug. It seems Doug should know before—
Note: Chap’s wearing his I’m-about-to-say-something face, eyebrows raised, lips parted. Her question clamps him up, though. If he shared the incident, she might think Rick’s not safe sharing a bed with his gay brother. Or going on vacation with him and Doug. Rick’s perfectly safe.
Chap shakes his head, Never mind, and she smiles.
In the bathroom, his mirrored self looks ghastly. Waxy flesh. Wrinkles like claw marks. A mess, old age.
From bed, he watches headlights slashing the darkness as if propelled by the gravity of a death slide. He recalls playing Star Wars with Rick, lightsabers swooshing. “Cut me in two,” he’d laugh.