I bought Collie a couple of tuna sandwiches and an airplane shot of rum. I hoped I wasn’t contributing to any future alcoholism. He sipped from the glass and set it down. He asked if he could have a Dr. Pepper instead. I told the stewardess (sorry, flight attendant), to keep them coming for as long as he wanted. She smiled wanly. She wasn’t stunningly beautiful, but her hips were full and her brassiere contained a generous package of feminine magic. I knew if I amped up the charm, I could persuade her to join me in a brief layover. But my heart wasn’t in it. Charm will only take you so far; eventually, you have to go to work. And I was tired. Not just because of the long flight delay, but because of all the stirred memories. I didn’t want to see Ruth’s face while using someone else’s body.
“I’m actually not an artist,” said Collie. “Do I look like one? You know, the goatee and the hat? I just dropped out last semester, heading home, head hung in shame and all that boolshit. Not an artist.” He sighed. “An economics major.”
“Going to buy the world a trip around itself?”
“My folks idea, not mine. I was good with numbers and stuff. But I don’t have a practical bone in my body. I like to write, you know, poetry, alternative history stuff. The next Great American Novel. But that’s not a healthy career choice. My father’s words. ‘Learn about money,’ he said. I’d rather learn about Fitzgerald.”
“So learn about Fitzgerald.”
He shrugged. “Too late. I’m going home to work in my uncle’s garage. I’m good with my hands. I took auto classes in high school. I’m ept, if that’s a word. Some writer, huh, doesn’t even know if ept is a word. I’ll be good at it. People need their cars to run, am I right? And the pay’s good. So WTF, right?”
“The word is apt. Inept is its opposite.” I rubbed my eyes. “English is a strange language. We have three dozen words for fucking, but not a word adequate to dethrone passion. ‘Insanity’ might come closest.”
He nodded and scratched his little beard. “So why Syracuse, man? Family?”
I nodded. “Syracuse is the airport. Watertown is the destination. My family relocated there after my father died, and that’s where my mother was raised. I’m a Southern boy. Or was. Or maybe just a mongrel. It’s just a short visit, I hope. I think I have to make amends, bring home the slaughtered calf, make peace before I rest. Or something. I don’t know. Put an end to something.”
I smiled. “Death is always serious. Except when it’s not. Or something like that.”
“Something like that,” said Collie. “That’s tremendous.” He finished his sandwich with a single bite.