A short story by Lydia
Five days later, Gregory Rhodes, PhD, was the first to submit a theory on the Blackout: “I think we’ve reached a peak,” the interview began, “we’ve accomplished too much.”
The reporter, Denis Holloway, who’d landed the exclusive, made a face and scoffed. “We’ve accomplished too much? Please. How else is modern civilization going to progress?”
Dr. Rhodes, a gentleman in his late sixties, smiled patiently. “Of course you’d think so. Every generation thinks so.”
The reporter waved away the response. “Let’s get to the science, okay? How does this explain the global weather shifts, the plane crashes, the blackout?”
“Let me show you a rudimentary experiment, Denis. It may seem a bit basic, but please bear with me. I do have a point to make.” The doctor reached for the water glass next to his chair and then spoke to an off-camera crew member. “Could I get a pitcher of water please?”
There was some shuffling behind-the-scenes before someone, sporting a headset and a cast around his left arm, handed the white haired man a pitcher of water. “Thank you.”
Dr. Rhodes poured the remainder of his own water into the pitcher and held up his empty glass. “This… is the world.”
Barely disguising his frustration, Denis nodded and huffed. “Right. Okay, and?”
“It started off empty, and we slowly filled it. See?” He poured water from the pitcher into the glass. “But what happens when it’s full? It overflows.” Dr. Rhodes purposely poured water to over the sides of the glass. It landed in a puddle on the floor of the television studio. “Where do you expect the water to go when there is no more room?”
Denis sighed, not bothering to remain professional, even for the sake of his audience. “The world is full of what? This is too esoteric. Be tangible, Dr. Rhodes, please. Our viewers need clarity.”
“Ah ha! Good question. Full of what?” He stuck his index finger in the air, as though he were checking the direction of the wind. “Everything. Too much of everything. Our modern footprint is a mess beyond repair. The world may have turned off, as all you tweety birds out there call it, but while we blacked out, something else turned on. Now, it’s up to us to figure out what that something is.”
Shaking his head, no tolerance for Dennis, Dr. Rhodes or his superstitious jibber-jabber, Ben turned away from the airport television. He did not want to dismiss the death and outright chaos he and Kyle experienced last week as an over-simplified glass of water. He took another sip of coffee and stole a glance at the cluster of reporters gathered by the baggage carousel.
The miraculous return of tourists from across the globe, along with their harrowing tales of survival abroad, had been front page news since the bulk of media outlets were revived two days prior. The latest batch, including Emma, was flying through JFK, expected in mere minutes, and he eagerly awaited her arrival.
The sound of her voice on the phone yesterday had sounded like an angel of mercy, an odd comparison for him to make after years of atheism. “Ben? It’s me. I’m coming home. Can you pick me up from the airport tomorrow afternoon?”
“Of course, of course!” he’d agreed, much too loud, clutching the phone in his sweaty hand. There was no mention of what happened before Iceland. The break-up was forgotten. Neither broached the topic of Caitlin. It was just understood.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, just a few bruises,” she’d said, sounding gritty, sultry, still very far away. “I just want to come home. I want to sleep in my own bed.” A sigh sailed through the phone and into his waiting ear.
“Emma…I-” he’d began, not sure what to say.
“It’s okay, Ben. I don’t care anymore. Just pick me up from the airport. Please.”
That was it, the conversation in a nutshell. Now, he waited. The plane from New York, carrying hundreds of tourists who had been trapped in various parts of Europe and South America during the blackout, landed safely. In just a few moments, they would come down the escalator to a media frenzy of cameras and microphones, but all he cared about was seeing Emma, safe and sound, in one piece.
The baggage carousel came to life and, with a sad thunk, spit out the first three suit cases. They made the rounds for at least five minutes before the full load of damaged duffel bags, guitar cases, and ski bags joined the merry-go-round. He studied the colours and designs but nothing looked familiar. Ben interpreted this as a bad sign. Did she miss the flight?
An announcement sounded: “Passengers from United Airlines flight US2658 from New York, please pick-up your baggage at carousel five.”
The reporters braced themselves for action. Some fixed their hair. Others checked sound and read their notes. Ben, on the other hand, just prepared himself for a reunion with his ex-fiancé, and wasn’t sure what to expect.
The escalator started to glide downward, and the passengers slowly descended, eyes tired and bloodshot, searching for familiar faces. He did the same. The moment his gaze landed on a stranger, he moved on to the next person, scanning until he locked eyes with Emma. She was wearing her hair long, tumbling down her slight, bony shoulders. Her lips were set in a grim, oddly mischievous line. He couldn’t read her expression.
She raised a hand and waved, and it took all of his self-restraint to not run through the crowd at top speed to meet her half-way. All he could do was return the wave, stupidly raising his hand in a casual flash, as though this weren’t a big deal, as if the world hadn’t turned upside down.
As she dodged media and other airline staff, Emma got closer, and Ben was embarrassed to realize he felt light-headed. He was nervous, ashamed. As she approached, he couldn’t help but notice that she looked different. Her eyes were bigger, or wider, or darker. One (or all) of the three. Her stride was longer… or maybe it was more confident? He couldn’t put his finger on the pulse of what made her so… watchful, observant, playful. It was a strange combination of words to think of, but there you go. Tragedy and trauma changes people, right?
She only smiled and kept walking. No words. (And, no purse, just a plastic bag.) Eventually they were face to face, practically nose to nose. He didn’t think it was right to kiss her, but he wanted to. Her mouth was weirdly red, intensely captivating.
“It’s so good to see you. I’m so glad-” His voice caught, and he turned away. He couldn’t cry. Humiliating. “Are you okay?”
She blinked slowly, took in air through her nose. “Yes, I’m fine. As I said, just a few bruises.” She craned her neck to one side and showed a blue mark across her collar bone. It looked vicious. More brutal than anticipated. He tried to touch it, but she brushed his hand away. “Don’t.”
She opened her mouth to speak, licked her lips with a dark pink tongue. “It’s so good to see you, Ben.” Her voice was more like velvet than he remembered. A luscious whisper.
When Emma leaned in for a hug, he caught a whiff of her breath, winced, and was momentarily filled with fear. Fleeting, yes. For a moment, it was there, and then it was gone. It barely registered in his conscious mind. He shook it away, wondered why it was there at all, and squeezed her tight, pressed her close. “Me too. This has been such a nightmare.”
She laughed, a loose, foreign sound. “You took the words right out of my mouth.” She stepped back and fingered a red mark on her forehead, along her hairline. “Will you take me home now? I want to go to sleep. I‘m so tired.”
He took her face in his hands, intended on looking deeply into her eyes, but was drawn to her open mouth again. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear a camera flashing, immortalizing their reunion for the newspaper. “Absolutely.”
“Are you going to keep me company?” she asked, whispering into his neck.
The warmth caused his skin to come alive with gooseflesh. “Of course. I won’t leave you alone for a second.”
“I just want to fall asleep and know that you’re there, next to me.”
“I’ll be there. I promise.” The universe, he was relieved to discover, was giving him a second chance after all this insanity.
When they moved apart, she looked sad all of a sudden, then angry. Her eyes flickered back and forth between the two a few more times before settling on the first. “You have no idea what I’ve been through, Ben. No idea.” Her voice quivered, drew him in, and broke his heart in two with guilt.
“What? What is it? What happened?” He couldn’t understand why, but he didn’t want her to respond. The unknown answer scared him, made his palms sweat profusely. The question had weight.
She shook her head, then smiled again, closed her eyes. “It doesn’t matter right now.” She weaved an arm through his and pressed her cheek into his shoulder with a long sigh. Her fingers pressed deeply into his skin. Too deep.
To lighten the mood and, hopefully, ease into forgetfulness, he asked, “Hungry?”
“Starving,” she said, and covered his lips with the first of what would be many, many kisses.