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WARNING - adult content, not suitable for children
NOT JUST A PLAIN RIDE
a short story by Mark Kolke
September 19, 2011
Shortened Sunday, once a month, was wearing me down.Not just the disruption to my weekend, but a largely wasted week of travel and fatigue – like clockwork, every month. It was getting so I could do it in my sleep.
I work for a Calgary-based financing joint venture that Goldman Sachs put together with some wealthy oil men.We had backed a North Sea drilling venture – in the Catcher Field.The joint venture drilling group offices in Edinburgh are the scene of these monthly audit meetings. I don’t begrudge these meetings, but it would be so much easier if we could video conference them. I keep trying to persuade the group, but since I’m the only one travelling, and since I represent the lenders rather than the principals – my voice is faintly heard . . .
It begins – with a trip to the airport Sunday at noon, in time for a 3:15PM departure, arriving at Heathrow at 10:15AM Monday, then hanging around for my connecting flight for Edinburgh at 3:15. By the time I get settled into my hotel about 6:30PM, then meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, and a flight back Wednesday night arriving about half-past exhausted sometime Thursday afternoon – and it ends with a visit to the office Friday for a de-brief with my team, and a chance to triage all the trouble that landed on my desk while I was away.Within a couple of weeks, I’m up to date again, and then it’s time to prep for the next trip.
Flying on business was one thing, but flying for the purpose I was – to simply turn around in two days without having seen a countryside, played some golf or eaten a great dinner in a fabulous restaurant – not a pleasant thought at all. This gets just a little harder to take each time a plane’s wheels lift off the runway.
At best I could catch up on some reading, do a little work – sleep, read, work, watch a movie – and then get back on the plane.It would be nice, once in a while, to have some variety.
I said good-bye to the twins, bid housekeeper Louisa good-bye and made my way to the car service guy waiting at the curb. He loaded my bag into the trunk. I kept my briefcase and laptop bag with me as I settled into the backseat.I wasn’t any more excited about the trip than usual, but I really liked the feel of the luxury chauffeur driven LincolnTown Car.OK, it wasn’t a limo, but it gave me a limo-feel.
From the time I checked in for my flight and got to the departure lounge – it was difficult not to notice her.
She wasn’t outlandishly dressed, or fashion magazine-gorgeous, but stand-out-in-a-crowd distinctive.She was ensconced in conversation with two old women in the row near the check-in desk.When the flight was called, those old ladies rose and waddled down the ramp to the plane.And she followed, apparently to help them, because she didn’t appear to have a mobility problem of her own.
When I boarded the plane, I saw the old birds up front in first-class without the object of my observation anywhere in sight.I wondered, fantasizing for a moment, that she would be waiting, up ahead in the seat next to me.
No such luck, but close. She was already settled into her seat as I got to mine.
I pondered scenarios for chatting her up.
Was she going away, or going home?
Was she ending her trip in London, or going on somewhere else?
And, if she was, what were the odds she’d be heading to Edinburgh too?
Silly notions, I know – but suddenly, with only glimpses of a lovely looking woman – my drudgery, my obligatory trip, was now a potential adventure.
Mind candy, and likely nothing more, but nice mind candy.
I haven’t had much of that, or real candy either, since my wife Alana died of ovarian cancer four years ago.Sorting out life – the kids, getting a housekeeper and changing jobs – has been far more than a full time job, so dating or making something happen with a new woman in my life has been out of the question.Well, maybe not out of the question, but I’ve not had the energy for exploring someone new.Now that Shauna and Craig are in 2nd year university, there is time to breathe, but I‘m still spending far too much time working and no time is left for playing, or for thinking about playing.
But suddenly, my brain is active. I worked a bit on my laptop, read some reports and leafed through the in-flight magazine, but my brain, and my eyes, were on her.
If I’d been next to her for the last eight hours I would be miles ahead, or behind, I suppose – but I would know things, have had the opportunity to chat her up.It would have been pleasant, or boring; but I would guess pleasant.
From what I’d witnessed, she seemed an agreeable sort, and I can hold my own in most social situations.
She sat up straight in her chair.
She straightened her rumpled clothes.
Fitful sleep-bits interspersed with interruptions of every imaginable kind was drawing to an end; the twisting and turning, the way you do all night in the comfort of a large bed, but done in an airplane seat between burly people had left her rumpled, yet still lovely looking in my eyes.
As the plane taxied to the terminal she leaned forward, pulled a small bag from the pouch in front of her and extracted a device that looked more like a shag-rug rake than a hair grooming tool, so that she could repair the matting an overnight on a polar route flight can do to hair.I was unfamiliar with this, having never had hair of any length at all, and now, having what little is left shorn off. For me, a face cloth has been my form of comb for a very long time.
She was a row ahead, in the mid-portion of the Airbus/A330, one seat in from the aisle. I guess that would make it 20G.Earlier, as lights were coming on now in preparation for landing, the bulky fellow next to her on the aisle was getting animated and blocking my view. I wanted him to move.
I had been watching her the entire flight.
I was, as usual, sitting in my window seat 21E, for the view. I was, on this flight, next to a fat girl whose name I never asked – who snored more than I do, which is a lot.
Thank goodness for headsets.
And for the view, from my seat of the delicious dish in 20G.
She had features – each could, I suppose, be described as plain, ordinary or conventional – but in combination that could only be described as striking, beautiful and incredibly sexy.Her deep honey brown hair splintered grey, a blunt stylish cut just off her collar, a taught neck indicating she was in shape, fit and tidy. Through the flight I spotted her two more times, as she made her way to bathroom breaks – and twice when I went for a stroll.
She had on a tight Burberry skirt fit snugly on a tidy petite frame – her soft smile greeted the panorama, not directed at anyone in particular – was noticeable, as were her lovely orbs of breast softness that no man with eyes could miss, small perfectly shaped champagne glasses with large areolas pressing their imprint into the fabric, harnessed behind a starched white shirt.
And her hands.Oh my, slender fingers, nails nicely manicured – the real thing, not those fake-nails that seem so popular lately – clear nail polish.Each time she took something from, or handed something back, to the flight attendant I saw those lovely hands in action.
As I looked at her, I wondered if I was just exhibiting animal lust, or missing Alana, or both.
Silly, really, to be imagining dialogue with someone I don’t know – someone who is sitting a few seats away from me, solely on the strength of her being attractive, and me being attracted. I knew nothing. She might be married, though her ring finger is as vacant as mine.She might be someone I wouldn’t like, but somehow I don’t think so.
I might be someone she would like.
But really, would she?
Fifty-two, widower, bald, out of shape – pear shaped actually – workaholic, part-time dad to my late wife’s twins from her first marriage.
I might have been a goodish catch twenty years ago, but what would a striking woman think of me now, what would she be attracted to?Sure, I’m smart, earn a good living, like good films and cooking great meals, golf and enjoy travelling.
But, the proverbial inevitable excruciating question looms, and remains, what do women want?
More specifically, what does this one want?
Then the plane docked at the bridge for disembarking.The usual rush and crush as everybody tries to stand in the aisle at the same time ensued; overhead bins were popping and the aisles were full.I figured the chance of getting close to her in the aisle was fruitless – that my best chance to approach her, to introduce myself, would be at the baggage claim area.
As passengers filtered off the plane the line moved slowly down my aisle.As I entered the first class cabin the two old ladies were gone, obviously not in need of deplaneing assistance.I expected, as I got to the luggage collection area, that my mystery quest would be huddled with those two again.To my surprise, as I entered the baggage area, the object of my eye was standing alone by the baggage carousel waiting for her bags.
I strolled over to the same spot and stood near her in some hope that small talk would automatically erupt.It didn’t.She was perfect – about 5’2”, wearing a light navy raincoat and a tan shoulder bag – both of obvious high quality.Beauty and a sense of fashion.
And I lacked the nerve to speak.
We were both rubbernecking about the terminal, watching for the conveyor to start spitting out bags.As she looked my way I smiled, nodded. And I felt words catching in my throat – and I was unable to spit them out.
She smiled too, and nodded as well.
I wanted to say something – anything!But what?I could say “Nice flight, eh?”
But that seemed stupid.I thought about asking her the time, so I could adjust my watch.
That seemed, for a moment, a good idea – and I was about to ask her when my cell phone rang.It was Brittany, receptionist at the office in Edinburgh, confirming that I’d arrived on time, and to advise that a package of documents was being sent by messenger to my hotel – so that I could be fully prepared for the meeting tomorrow.
I ended the call with, “Thank you Brittany, my flight leaves here at 3:25, and gets into Edinburgh at 4:35 – so as long as the package gets to my hotel before 6PM I can review it this evening.”
As I hung up, a soft voice nearby said, “What a coincidence, I’m going to Edinburgh on that flight as well.”
It was SHE.“I’m sorry – that was rude, to be overhearing your conversation, but when I heard you say my own flight details for heading on to Edinburgh, the words just came out.”
“No problem at all. In fact, I was about to ask you if you knew the correct time – so I could adjust my watch, because I don’t want to miss my connector.”
“Shit, no …. I lied. I knew what time it was. I make this trip every month. Sorry. I’m really sorry, I was trying to be clever – to think of some small-talk, some way to speak with you and introduce myself.I noticed you on the plane.Actually, I noticed you in the terminal in Calgary, I noticed you on the plane – could hardly keep my eyes off you, and then looked for you, here in the baggage area. I feel stupid – like a school boy, too shy and nervous to talk to the pretty girl.”, I explained.
She stood there – mouth slightly open, not saying a word.Oh gawd, what have I done?
Then she burst out laughing – what a relief that was.
We exchanged names, shook hands – and then the baggage conveyor started rumbling.
She is Effie Finlay, from Edinburgh, returning from visiting her late mother’s sister – her aunt Elsie who lives in a nursing home in Calgary.
“Well, Effie Finlay from Edinburgh, since we both have several hours until our flight, would you do me the honour of letting me buy you lunch?”
“Sure, Grant Paterson from Calgary, you can buy me lunch – but let’s not eat here at the airport. The food is dreadful.Let’s get through customs, check our bags for our flight to Edinburgh and then find a cab to take us to a respectable place nearby; is that alright with you?”
I smiled, nodded – enthusiastically, and in short order we had collected our bags from the conveyor, made our way through customs clearance and visited the Air Canada counter to check our bags and obtain boarding passes for our connector flight.
And then we were off. Effie led the way, knowing just which exit to seek, where the cab queue were located – and within moments were whisked away in a cab.
Effie instructed the cabbie, “Please take us to La Trompette restaurant on Devonshire Road in Cheswick. Do you know it?”
The cabbie grunted acknowledgment and sped off into weaving lanes of traffic as if he was driving a getaway car in an old episode of the Avengers.
What a treat – a visit to west London, a French restaurant, a Scottish lass to guide me and to be my lunch date.We chattered like old friends catching up; telling stories about who we are, where we are from – it was all a blur. I was worried that I would forget all the details – her parents Tom and Eloise were dead, she had a brother Richard who lived in Edinburgh.She golfs. She’s divorced, no children.She’s charming. She smells like a spring morning – no small feat when you’ve crossed the north pole overnight and not yet showered.She smiled lots and laughed easily.In no time at all we were at the restaurant. I paid the cabbie and as we entered the restaurant, Effie greeted the owner in flawless French.OK, I don’t know that it was flawless, but I remember enough of my high school French to say that the accent was flawless, and her speech animated.
Her relationship with owner and restaurant were quickly proven as the wait staff were so attentive and brought dish after dish. I never saw a menu and didn’t recognize most of what I ate, but it was fabulous.
Effie said, “I am so glad I met you Grant. Otherwise I would be sitting in some bar or sandwich shop in Heathrow, eating crap and reading a pocket book. Instead, I am here in one of my favourite places – being entertained by a charming Canadian who was staring at me through the entire flight.”
I gasped!She’d noticed.I was momentarily embarrassed at my conspicuous attention to her during the flight, and at the same time flattered that she noticed me noticing her.
‘Sir, excuse me – sir, you need to put your seat back up and return the table tray to its locked position.We’ll be landing in Heathrow shortly sir.If you need to use the washroom before we land, you’d better hurry, but you do have time”, the flight attendant startled me from a deep sleep.
The fat girl in the seat next to me was asleep too, but her seat was up straight – so I motioned to the flight attendant, who roused her to move her legs so I could get out into the aisle.
As I moved down the aisle toward the washrooms I noticed that 20G was empty. Where had she gone?As I staggered down the aisle I realized – I hadn’t met her, hadn’t gone to a French restaurant in west London – that was a dream.Please – can I get back into that dream?
There was a small queue formed in the aisle, waiting for people to come out of the lavatories. As each person came out, they had to negotiate their way back through the aisle which made for close quarters, especially for the bulky folk.
There she was now, up ahead, working her way through the crowd.
“Excuse me”, she said.
And someone moved.
“Excuse me”, she said.
And the next person moved.
And again. And again.
“Excuse me”, she said.
I extended my hand, “sure, but before you pass, could I introduce myself and offer to buy you a drink – or lunch, when we land?”
She extended her hand to meet mine, “Maybe. Let’s chat first, shall we.”
“My name is Grant Peterson, I’m from Calgary – headed to Edinburgh on business for a couple of days.”
“Pleased to meet you Grant Peterson; my name is Darlene Simmons, I’m from Calgary too – I’m on my way to meet friends from London who are on a little holiday in Portugal.”
When we got to the baggage conveyor, we resumed our conversation. Darlene had less time than I did – but she was happy to have a pint with me in one of the Heathrow pubs while she awaited her connecting flight to Lisbon.
Over lunch we exchanged stories, and business cards; she divorced five years ago, has no children of the two legged variety, but has a pair of Shih Tzu’s named Fred and Barney. She calls them, the boys.
We laughed and parted with indications we would call each other, back in Calgary in a couple of weeks.
Quite a start, this was, to my trip – but I must say, Darlene was pleasant company andI have no criticism of her, but once you’ve met and experienced Effie, how could anyone else measure up?