Paul A. Toth
According to his nametag, he was Albert Morello, Assistant Director, Airport Security, but for all Morello cared it might have stated, "Assistant Manager, Arby's." In their cheap fit and scratch, his black suit and deep blue shirt weren't much better than a fast food uniform.
He itched his arm and picked up a copy of USA Today. More about terrorism, more about Syria. He picked up Time. More about airport security breaches. He picked up Newsweek and sent its cover photo of Robin Williams spinning back to the rack's lower deck.
Having absorbed the headlines, he rifled through three Elmore Leonard novels, plus biographies of JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan. He came to the following conclusions:
- Jackie O'Nassis hired JFK's assassin through Sinatra connections. Happy birthday, Mr. President? Fuck you. Here's a bullet.
- Ronald Reagan never had Alzheimers and spent his post-presidency years fishing on the Gulf of Mexico. Hostages in Iran? No comprende, amigo.
- There was only one way he would never, ever leave the airport: He would have to be buried under or in it. But how?
Chew, digest, transmogrify.
In the airport where Morello lived, people came and went in the commission of their relocation, but he would never know their destinations. From his view there were no destinations, only the coming and going. One day something -- time, a bomb, anything -- would destroy the airport and his adjacent connected-by-concourse hotel. The relocaters would relocate to another airport in the commission of their relocation. The story of his life would appear in the very publications that fertilized his predictions. He could guess the storyline:
- "Assistant Director of Airport Security Albert Morello disappeared in the ashes which hovered over the city as if the sun had spilled an urn filled with star dust." A reporter's rare flourish escapes the editor's pen. Big shit. Or not. One can dream.
Ideas were in the air like dust. All one had to do was breathe that clean artificial air. A blast of nonpurified wind gave him flu-like symptoms, but this air with its cleansed molecules refreshed his brain. He was a genius in these circumstances. He breathed.
The idea came, then the expected mania that always accompanied his breakthroughs. All was right. All was good.
That night he watched his daily pornographic movie with restored concentration. Every film had to feature a different star. He refused to be monogamous in his imagination. He preferred the women as plasticized as possible, breasts like noses of B-52's, abs as tight as mandolin strings. If he wanted the real thing, he would find lovers too skinny or too fat, real women, girls next door, but for this he required a form as unnatural as that of a 747.
"Come on, baby."
Pixels never gave him the flu.
Before he went to bed, he opened Ulysses, the last book he'd ever read. There would have been no point; to him, everything was contained within it.
Later, Morello wandered to the airport bar. He sat with his back to the counter and drank, searching for the usual stray coworker who would see him and nod, never waving or saying hello because all of them were scared of him. And so came Molly Bloom, blond and red tint-smeared hair as semi-schizophrenic as her namesake's inventor. That was his theory, anyway. Schizophrenia was genetic, wasn't it? And wasn't Joyce's daughter schizo? He knew he had been set up, maybe by the book, maybe by Joyce himself. All those scrambled signals, like Radio Morello, available only on his dial.
He had never asked her if she had been named on purpose or if her parents simply had never heard of that other Molly Bloom.
"Molly Bloom, yes, yes, I know the book, it's my favorite, yes," he had told her when they first met, but she had looked at him as if he had said, "Sleep with me." Her skin was taut and thin as a kite's. If only he could have managed to charm her, he would have taken her home to see if a flashlight beam passed through her arms. But he knew she despised him, the way her nostrils tried to wiggle away from his scent. It was best, anyway. Sex was too natural.
Morello nodded at Molly's passing wiggle and watched her walk away.
"I love you," he mouthed.
In his college yearbooks, there was always a blank rectangle where his picture should have gone. Blank as the white door he opened every morning.
He might have become a writer, but he could not invent characters, plots, locations. It took him three years of college to realize his mistake: Great readers do not necessarily make great writers...or even good ones.
So Morello went to business school and worked his way toward his own particular Dublin. Everything happened in the airport. Everything was self-contained. It was a book, and if he hadn't written its beginning, he had ideas about the end.
By now, everyone had left the office, so he worked his way through the red-eyed travelers to the unmarked door at the east end of the terminal. It was white and unlabeled. How many stranded passengers had sat wringing their hands, wondering what lay behind it? He unlocked the door and went down the hallway, past the photos of the airport executive staff to the safe in back. He slipped his pass card into the secure door and entered, unlocked the safe and removed the list. Out of all the names so unfamiliar there was not one Dave or Sam. Surely one name could be traced. Surely everything wasn't scrambled beyond his recognition, participation, realization.
That night he slept, as always, without memorable dream. This, he hoped, was just like dying, a kind of practice death, zero time, space folding like origami, sound of jets muting the moans of dissatisfied ghosts, irritated devils, overenthusiastic angels, or better yet drowning out nothing. He hoped he would be aware that he was not-alive and not-dead, neither damned nor delivered. The afterlife would be a flickering movie watched through half-closed eyelids, the dialogue not quite making sense, trying to break through the static of semi-consciousness. Radio Morello.
In the morning, he rifled through his diary, wondering if he really wanted to do what he wanted to do.
It was all true.
How many phone calls had it taken to finally reach Samer? But the hotel charged him monthly, and the next bill wasn't due for two weeks.
The phone rang. Morello picked it up.
"That's the best spot," Morello said. "Yes, just drop it and leave. Everything is arranged. That's right, no use dying, Samer. You're very wise. No use dying unless your cause is all you have. But one day there will be peace on earth, when the likes of you and me are eradicated. What do I mean? Pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum, rum pum pum. Never mind."
No porno that night. Morello wasn't in the mood. He told the television he had a headache, a long day at work. He thought of Molly Bloom. It was a hell of a thing to live the way he lived, severing ties to anything that grew or died. How were his parents? Hadn't talked to them in months. "That's just Albert," his father would say. "You know how he is. He's always been a little off." Then his father would pull the lever on the armchair and kick his feet up like Archie Bunker. "Goddamn kid, living in dreamland, reading books. This world --"
Morello's father never finished that sentence despite the thousands of times he had started it.
Morello saw Samer drop the suitcase just where he had been told, then stalk out of the terminal like a shoplifter. Morello waited at the bar, drinking until what he saw resembled the view through a raindrop-ridden car window, wet paint streaking down a see-through canvas. He looked at his watch every few minutes and whispered to himself the words he heard: "No, Molly, no, no. Concourse wide with hello, tint-smeared, taken blind. No, Bloom, sleep. No, no, sleep Bloom. I love you, no. I love you, no, no. Overtime, no, no. Later, open her, no. No, semi-schizophrenic. No. Sleep, Bloom, sleep. No, no, no."
Molly Bloom was staring at him. He stared at her until his watch face split apart and spit plastic everywhere. That was all. One big no.
For some time the particles of their bodies drifted with the influenza wind, then settled amongst the wreckage. Overhead, an airplane swerved toward another temporary destination.