TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The ice cold lemonade was her only defense against the hot sun overhead. She shielded her eyes, and watched. Across the street, the phenomenon continued, just as it had every summer afternoon for as long as she could remember. The small store, with its candy cane awning and large window display of souvenirs, attracted a steady stream of tourists. Sweaty, sunburned bodies entered through the single door, but nobody ever came out…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
Macy cupped her hands around my ears and whispered, “Watch, Mommy. The people walk through that door.” With a knowing grin, she pointed to the crowd exiting the terminal through Gate 9. “And they never come back.”
I paused for a moment before I replied. “I suppose you’re right. Some of them will eventually return, but not everyone.”
A frown developed across her face. “Daddy will come home today… Won’t he?” She folded her arms over her chest.
Somewhere in my child’s mind was the answer to that question. I closed my crossword puzzle book, my brain struggling to compose an appropriate response to her inquiry. What would Dr. Shelton advise? I swallowed back the lump forming in my throat. “I think, Macy, if your daddy had a way of getting to you today, he absolutely would.”
Her face glowed with hope and I couldn’t help wondering if I’d made a terrible mistake.
“Do you think he’ll bring me a souvenir?” She curled her feet beneath her knees, and bounced in place.
“Hmm…” I scratched my chin. “Are you thirsty? How about we visit Lucy?”
Macy’s brunette ringlets sprang into action as she jumped off the airport terminal bench. “I guess we’ve got time until the next flight.” She traipsed after me, flip-flops smacking the floor with each step. Behind her, she pulled a pink Kelly the Kitty suitcase.
We made our way through a maze of speed-walking passengers, into our favorite store. A candy cane striped banner hung above the entrance, a 50% sale on select souvenirs. Inside, the manager, Lucy, was busy dusting the shelves.
“Back again? You two ladies have been my best customers today.” She wrapped her plump arm around me and squeezed. “You okay, Honey?”
“You know… July 25th… Always a rough day.” I watched Macy pick up a shot glass with a scorpion painted on its side. “But, I appreciate you helping us out with the airport. It’s nice of them to let us through security for the day.”
“Careful, Sweetie.” I motioned for Macy to put the glass down.
Macy returned the souvenir, and moseyed over to a display of cacti planted in miniature pots.
“She’s still got the bag.” Lucy shook her head. “Has she even opened it in the last three years?”
“I don’t know. She won’t let me touch it… She hides the luggage key until July 25th. I just hope this year…”
Macy was by my side, tugging on my shirt sleeve. “Here, Mommy.” She leaned into the store’s refrigerator case, and pulled out two bottles of lemonade. “One for you. One for me…and, oh, I almost forgot.” She grabbed one more lemonade, and placed it on the counter. “One for Daddy.” A gap-toothed smile enveloped her face. “Ms. Lucy, Daddy’s finally coming home from his business trip today. And then we’re leaving for Colorado. I’m going camping.”
“That sounds lovely.” Lucy patted her eyes with a tissue as she rang up the purchase.
* * *
Back at the terminal, Macy and I sat and waited, slurping our beverages and chomping on packaged pretzels. The extra lemonade rest on the floor by Macy’s suitcase.
“He’s here,” she yelled, when the doors to Gate 9 opened. A horde of disheveled people shuffled through the doorway.
Macy ran through the sea of folks, bumping her bony shoulders into purses and backpacks. “Daddy,” she called out. “Daddy?”
I sat along the sidelines, watching, waiting — my heart ripped from my chest and stomped upon by every passenger walking by. I longed to hold her in my arms and promise everything would be fine. But, I had tried that before. She’d kick and scream until I released her into the human wild to scan each face that walked off the plane.
* * *
“Mom, I know what’s best for my daughter.” I pressed the cellphone to the side of my face as I paced the airport terminal. Macy was sitting on a bench counting pretzel bites into two equal piles. “Dr. Shelton said this is what we need to do….we just have to keep trying.” I lowered my voice until it was barely audible. “I’ve tried other doctors, Mom. They can’t help her.” The call abruptly ended. I sighed, and shoved the phone into my shorts pocket.
When the last flight for the day arrived into Terminal 9 at 11:50 p.m., I rubbed my eyes and looked over at Macy. Her glossy eyes were fixated on the gate door, her hair unraveled, strands poking out in every direction. Too tired to run, she just sat and watched, studying each person like a scientist would evaluate a net full of insects.
As the terminal cleared, she slid her lifeless body to the tile floor. Her trembling hands slowly unzipped the little pink suitcase. One by one, she pulled out papers—crayon drawn pictures featuring her and her father camping…hiking…laughing.
A picture for every day he’d been dead.
I glanced up at the plaque bolted to the wall above our heads—a tribute to the crew and passengers of Flight 658.