That voice? A woman's? Familiar.
Forehead creased, his eyes shifted up to scan the faces of the people crowded at the airport departure gate. Which one had called him?
"Bill, over here!"
He craned his neck and scratched his graying beard. Who? Where?
"Silly Billy, you pretend. Just like you always used to."
Silly Billy? Always used to? Audrey!
"Audrey? Is that you?"
"Yes Bill. It's me."
He smiled, stood up, and looked more intently into the crowd around him-bewildered.
"Where are you Audrey?"
"Over here Bill, by the telephones."
He followed the voice to the telephones and the dozen people that stood there. No Audrey.
"Where?" he called back.
"Don't you see me? I'm waving like a lunatic."
Placid-faced strangers walked past with the movement of a slow river. Their eyes darted to Bill's and quickly away. His eyes darted to theirs, imploring of each, "Are you the one? Have you seen her?" No. Men, women, children, young couples smiling, old couples confused, pilots, copilots, travelers, janitors, but--no Audrey.
"No," he called back, "I can't see you Audrey. Keep waving. Where are you?"
"No Bill, you're looking the wrong way! Turn around. This way."
He turned, looking for telephones, looking for a waving woman-a shy girl he knew when he was seven, a teenage beauty he knew when he was seventeen, and, finally, the grown woman he knew when--
"Oh, Bill, come on."
The voice seemed farther away, an echo from inside some empty tunnel. He walked toward it scanning faces-left, right, left; women, men, women; white hair, blond hair, black hair--no, no, no!
"I don't see you Audrey. Keep waving. What are you wearing?"
"Keep waving? I feel like an idiot, I'm waving so much! And I'm wearing black-all black-just like I always do. Black dress, black blouse. For crying out loud Bill, I'm right in front of you!"
If she can see me, Bill thought, why doesn't she come to me?
"Right in front of you!"
He stared at everyone, but there was no one. A shifting human current; a single being. There was no Audrey. There was no black dress.
Right in front of you . . .
He began to walk.
"Bill, where are you going? Bill, I'm over here!"
He went to the men's restroom, washed his face, and then washed it again.
Back in the crowded corridor he heard, "Bill!"
"Now boarding all passengers for flight 450, direct service from Denver to Dallas, at gate B44," announced a mechanical voice on the intercom. "Please have your boarding pass ready."
"Bill, where are you going?"
"To Dallas," he said quietly, walking toward gate B44.
"But Bill, don't you want to see me? It's been a long time."
"A long time? Yes it has."
"No, Audrey. Not this time, not now. Not ever again. If you want to see me, then come to me. If not, leave me alone, leave me alone forever."
He watched the crowd. No one came forward. No one spoke to him.
He turned toward the boarding gate.
"Stop," her voice soft, quiet, and near.
"Okay, you win. I come to you."
Slow and deliberate footsteps behind him.
"Here I am Bill, all you have to do is turn around. Just turn around and look at me? Just for a second. You'll see. I'm real."
The voice was very near. So near that it could have come from inside him.
. . . inside . . .
Was she there this time? If he turned would he see her? Or would he hear her teasing laugh saying, "Come find me, Silly Billy"?
He handed his boarding pass to a young flight attendant that tore it and handed back a stub.
"Bill, don't. I'm for real this time. Please, just give me this one chance. Please."
He walked down the passenger-boarding ramp--"Please!"--boarded the plane--"Please!"--and buckled up.
The door closed, the hatch sealed, and somewhere: "Bill, don't."
He shouldn't have. She might have been telling the truth.
"I'm for real this time."
He should have looked. Just looked. Because maybe . . .
. . . maybe . . .
Jeremy Kuban lives, eats, sleeps, works, and occasionally writes in Denver, Colorado. Two of his stories have been published on Aphelion.
Visit Aphelion's Lettercolumn and voice your opinion of this story.
Return to the Aphelion main page.