restricted access Last Flight
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Last Flight
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Photo by Andrew Malone

[End Page 122]

The man helped the young woman place her luggage in the overhead bin. He wore a dark blue suit, a white shirt, the collar open. He was the kind of man you find in the executive lounge of an airport.

"Thank you," she said.

"Sure," he said. [End Page 123]

In the seat-back pocket in front of him, he placed a crisply folded newspaper. A flight attendant passed through the first-class cabin and asked if he and the young woman would like something to drink, but they both declined. Another flight attendant came on the PA and informed the passengers that despite the fog, which had threatened to ground them, they were planning an on-time departure.

"Thank God," she said.

He didn't say anything.

"I was certain—I mean, just looking outside—I was certain that we were going to be canceled," she said.

And then to herself more than to the man, she said, "I don't know what I'd do if this flight got canceled."

At first he didn't acknowledge her. He crossed his legs and looked out the window where the fog enveloped the fuselage completely. It seemed remarkable that they were going to take off in this. One couldn't see the other planes parked at the gates, the maintenance vehicles scurrying about below or the airfield.

He turned to her and said, "Are you making a connection?"

"No," she said, "but I have an interview tomorrow morning for a residency."

It took a moment for this to register. "You're a doctor?" he asked.

"Technically, yes, but please don't have a heart attack," she said.

The plane departed from the gate and the engines cycled up, and as they taxied to the runway, the vapor outside took on a darker hue— nighttime. Droplets formed on the plastic windows, and they both looked at them.

He said, "What kind of residency is it? Is that the right term? Maybe I should be asking what kind of doctor you are."

"No, that's the right term. It's in peds—pediatrics, I mean."

He nodded.

"You don't have to perform surgery in the interview, do you?"

"No, no," she said. "They just want to meet you. Get a sense of you."

"Well, then, I'm sure you'll do great. They'll be lucky to have you."

He said it as if he knew her very well, believed in her and in her abilities.

"I'm Alice," she said.

"Stuart Mahoney," he said.

They shook hands. [End Page 124]

On the monitors several rows in front of them, a video described what to do in case of a water landing. The cabin was dimmed, the plane very new.

He rose for a moment, though they'd been told to buckle their seat belts. He took out his boarding pass from his jacket breast pocket, then his wallet from his back pocket, and set his wallet on the armrest between them, placing the boarding pass inside one flap.

She noticed a series of credit cards in the black leather, and one flap fell open. There was a picture, very prominent, of a young man who appeared to be her age, perhaps a bit older. This young man looked a lot like Stuart—dark eyebrows, dark skin, a nose you couldn't overlook.

She asked, "Is that your son?"

It was his son: Tom. He had died a year ago.

"Yes, it is," he said. "Tom."

She reached out to touch the wallet, turn it so that she could see it better. The gesture shocked him.

"Do you mind?" she asked. She meant to take the photograph out of the sleeve, as if it was a picture of a newborn.

"Not at all," he said.

She turned on the overhead light and held it carefully, examining it closely, and handed it back to him.

"Cute," she said, smiling. "How old is he?"

Suddenly—they hadn't been able to tell where they were because of the fog outside—the plane sped up...

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