Across From her Dead Father in an Airport Bar Brian Trent
Andrea sits across from her dead father in an airport bar, their table a red square rimmed by black. Dad’s recorded hands cradle a frosted beer from 2020, and his recorded lips part to ask, “Does he make you happy?”
“He does,” she says quietly, meeting her father’s gaze across two decades. “He is a good man.”
Her father sighs and conjures a smile at his unborn daughter. She smiles back and tries to touch his hand on the table, but her glasses and earpiece have their limitations. His visual presence, and the sound of his voice, will have to do.
And that’s good enough, she thinks.
Dad sips the foam of his beer. From his side of the conversation, a disembodied voice announces, “Flight 5532 to Heathrow is now boarding.” He lowers his drink and grins, the foamy white moustache providing a brief glimpse into what he might look like if alive today, part Santa Claus, part Mark Twain. He sighs and stares deeply into his smartphone camera, seeing past the technology and into an era he will never witness first-hand. “Time to fly, honey,” he says.
“Together,” she replies.
* * *
The flight to England is one hour for her, hypersonic. Six hours for Dad, passenger jet. Upon boarding, she settles into her aisle seat and shifts Dad to her left; his old ticket indicating that he’d been sitting by the window during his final trip to Great Britain.
London from 30,000 feet is a circuit-board on black glass, electrons sketching neat geometries and clustered souls. Andrea knows that her father is seeing a different city—an older city, a bygone city, a place that no longer exists because time marches far in twenty years—but up here among the heavens there is little difference. Intricate lattices of electric light display the stamp of humanity upon darkness. Andrea wonders if anyone down there is looking up and seeing her plane swooping low at Mach 5 like a shooting star.
She wonders if they’re making a wish.
“Your mother and I met in London,” Dad records into his smartphone. The device is not visible to her, but Andrea fondly recalls those rectangular, handheld devices from twenty years earlier. “We fell in love here. We swore we’d return—as a family—once you were born.”
He coughs—the cough that will kill him—and Andrea whispers to the empty seat, “You’re here now, Dad. And so am I.”
* * *
Outside the airport, Mom clutches an umbrella against the rain, remembering when she stood here with a smartphone camera twenty years earlier on a sunny afternoon. But today is overcast and storm and glassy streets and autodrive cabs. Today is a storm that seems primeval, like some deluge from the planet’s dawn, molten possibility sizzling beneath a rainstorm of a million lonely years.
Andrea emerges from Heathrow Airport and crosses the street towards her. Her daughter appears to be alone until Mom dons her own glasses and sees the sunlit ghost accompanying her, and the sunlit smile she never forgets.
Dad’s recorded presence stares at his wife with an intensity that pierces the rain. “Hi, my love.”
For twenty years, Mom has thought about this moment. It’s a parallax they had set up in desperate conspiracy, as a young couple with a newborn daughter and a prognosis that set a terrible countdown. They talked of physical letters he could scribble on paper—for letters were the original defiance of time, incantations in handwritten ink speaking across seven thousand revolutions of the sun. They discussed emails he might mark for future delivery, and time capsules, and crates that she might open on certain important dates—sweet sixteens and high school graduations and college commencements.
They decided on something else.
“My love,” Mom whispers, seeing the ghost and thinking of all she might say and all he will never hear. “My love…”
It is all she can think to say.
* * *
The hotel hasn’t changed in twenty years, and the guests check into rooms that were old when Dad was alive. Thunder booms over lobby news-holos and real-time updates from every corner of the world as Andrea checks in with the ease of a biometric blink while Dad manually inserts his credit card into the reader.
“I’m always here for you,” he says, looking at Andrea.
“I know, Dad,” she assures him.
Their fingers brush on the welcome desk. She knows there are recorded files to conjure like old spells, and that late at night she will listen to his advice, his reflections, his best wishes for the daughter he would never meet. There are secret conversations to be had. Stories to be told like forgotten legends. Dad as confidant to his daughter’s dreams and fears.
The bar is closed, but in her room Andrea clinks an imaginary glass against his and they talk long into the night.
“I love you,” Dad says, and Andrea replays the moment and responds in words that he will never hear.
* * *
The next morning, London of two time periods interlaces in gold and gray. In 2020 there were several bridges over the Thames, and in 2040 there are several more, but at the Big Hour a rainbow adds its own prismatic band. Divergent points of geography and chronology are united in the touch of a star ninety-three million miles away.
The attendees are mostly flesh-and-blood, though several far-flung relatives decide to remote-in from various corners of the world. Andrea is glad for that, because it means that the crowd is already donning their glasses. They are sharing the same looking glass, the same portal, the same forum.
A flourish of music cues everyone to stand at attention and switch to the agreed-upon channel. The surrounding city fades away. The groom waits patiently at the altar. The audience turns to watch Andrea, in bridal white, being walked down the aisle by the father who promised he would.
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May 27, 2021 @ 9:52 pm
Beautiful, evocative, and imaginative.