It could have been romantic, flying west together into an eternal sunset. If only they were speaking to each other.
Katrina gazed out the small portal window, silently absorbing the orange-drenched clouds from the confines of seat 37E, arms folded over her chest. If she let her eyes slip out of focus, her view could be a tranquil ocean, or a silent desert.
“What?” Scott broke their silence from 37F, squaring his shoulder away from her and tilting his phone screen out of view.
“What, what?” she asked back, doing nothing to soften the thorns in her voice.
“You’re looking at me. What do you want to say?”
“Nothing,” Katrina said. “I wasn’t looking at you. I was looking out the window. You’re just in the way.”
“Yes, that’s me. Always in the way of your good time,” he mumbled as he turned his head away from her.
A part of Katrina knew that this should be the end of it, for now. She should sit back and watch the long day bleed out in a burst of pink and yellow. But that part of her was drowning in frustration. “Be careful with words like always,” she said instead.
Scott’s head swiveled back as he hissed, “Screw Dr. Rossum and her extreme words. I’m done.”
The man in 37D shuffled in his seat pulled out a bulky pair of headphones, elbows extending into Katrina’s space as he placed them over his ears.
“Sorry,” he murmured as he entered his own sonic cocoon.
“Sorry,” Katrina replied with a shrug, but her voice was lost behind a soundless wall. He was already leaning back in his seat, eyes closed, wispy goatee jutting toward the low ceiling.
“See how easy it is? You apologize to strangers, to servers, to the fucking steak on your plate…” Scott’s voice was too loud; it rang in Katrina’s ears. As her eyes darted among the nearby passengers, she heard him release an explosive sigh.
“See how useless it is?” she whispered, nodding toward their seat mate. “Apologizing is easy enough when I mean it. And I’m tired of apologizing for you.”
“Then don’t,” he said, turning away and burying his eyes in his phone. “You think you’re so much better…” he grumbled without looking at her.
Katrina was too tired to respond. She retreated, instead, into the strained silence. For a while, there was only the persistent hum of the plane engine, the murmur of nearby voices, the rhythmic breathing from 37D, and an occasional click from Scott’s phone. Katrina closed her eyes and leaned back, hugging her own ribs.
She’d been up since just after 6:00 am, Florida time. One last swim in the warm Atlantic, the crisp bite of one more cafe con leche. She had eaten her pastelito at a round cafe table, the humid air resting lazily on her bare arms, and savored the sweet burst of guava from the crunchy puff pastry. Alone, she felt as light as if she were floating, buoyed by salt water.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached our final cruising altitude of 34,000 feet,” the captain’s voice crackled over the intercom. “We should arrive in Los Angeles at 9:30 pm local time. Again, we apologize for the delay. We’ll try to make some of that up to you in the air. We expect a smooth ride.”
They had spent three extra hours at the airport, waiting under fluorescent lights and constantly blasting air for an unspecified mechanical error to be resolved.
“Time for one last mojito?” Katrina had said, but Scott was not in the mood. He had begun to fume, glaring at toddlers and yelling at ticket counter workers.
“Stop it!” he’d demanded as Katrina doled out sympathetic shrugs and apologetic grimaces in his wake. “You have to value your time more than this.”
“I do value our time,” she said. “That’s why I don’t want to spend it being miserable.”
But really, she thought, the day had gone sour long before this.
Katrina opened her eyes and took in the colors of the eerily long sunset—guava, mango, intruding streaks of plum. The plane chased the sun west, as if it might outrun the darkness. But the sun always stayed ahead of them, just out of reach. It would be dark before they landed.
It started with the torn bag, Katrina mused. Maybe the cafe table where she set it down had been damp and dewy, or maybe it was the lingering moisture on her clothes. The bottom of the yellow paper bag split open, and the pastry she was bringing home for Scott dropped onto the sidewalk a block away from their AirBnb condo.
“Where were you,” Scott asked, sprawled out on the living room sofa with his phone, when she got back.
“I went out to grab some breakfast. I didn’t think you’d want to wake up,” she said over the television’s drone.
“Nothing for me?”
Maybe it was the accusation in his voice—the way he said nothing instead of anything, his assumption that he’d been forgotten—that prompted her to reply simply, “No, sorry.”
Sitting now, washed in the fruity bouquet of colors in the never-ending sunset, elbows pulled in close, she wondered if a different reply would have changed the course in the day. Not the flight delay, of course, but the tone. Would he have had the energy to help her pack, sweep the floors, load the last night’s wine glasses into the dishwasher? Instead he went to McDonald’s.
“I got you a pastelito,” she said out loud.
Scott turned his head slowly. “Where is it?”
“This morning, I mean. I got an extra one to bring home for you, but it dropped.”
“I don’t know. Small acts of kindness? I was thinking of you.”
“I told you, I’m done.” His voice had the chill of an overworked air conditioner.
Katrina winced. “With Dr. Rossum or with me?”
Scott let out a labored sigh. “I don’t know right now.” His voice was gentler. He began to twist toward the window again, but stopped. This whole vacation was Dr. Rossum’s idea. Get out of your routine… What does she know?”
“True,” Katrina laughed—a wry, bitter sound that surprised her.
What if their routine was what held them together in stasis? Outside the routine—the shared goals and responsibilities: two jobs, one alarm clock, nine or ten hours apart—they were too different from one another, she thought. The more she thought about it, the more certain she was. That difference was the source of their tension over the last five days in Miami. He would rather sleep in, lay in the hot sand with a book while she dove into the waves. She’d wanted to enjoy all of the colors and flavors of the city, the light pink art deco hotels lining the strand, the smells of garlic and coffee and sunscreen that hung heavy in the humid air. She wanted to dance salsa on a tiled terrace under a full moon.
She could hear his refrain: slow down; vacations are for relaxing.
Katrina wasn’t sure when she began to think of him as dead weight. Fine, stay home. Her own refrain haunted her. She was certain he sensed the shift.
“Maybe there’s some value in routine,” she said aloud to Scott. She noted that he nodded before turning back to his phone.
In less than four hours, they would be back to their routine. Then what? What if they were chasing some light that would always be out of reach? Katrina tried not to imagine what Dr. Rossum would say about this.
Coffee-colored shadows were spilling across the sky, swirling bruised and purple, by the time the flight attendant made it back to row 37 with the drink cart. “Can I get you anything?” he asked.
37D stirred near the aisle, but didn’t wake.
Scott spoke before Katrina could reply. “Yeah, two mojitos.”
“Be right back with that,” the flight attendant crooned as Scott handed him a twenty, and moved down the aisle without taking an order from Katrina.
Scott turned back to the window, to the waiting glow of his phone.
“You sharing?” Katrina ventured in a voice that she hoped came across as more playful than accusing. “Or do you really want to knock yourself out?”
Scott shrugged. “Small acts of kindness, right? You can have one.”
The shift from mango to coffee was complete by the time the mojitos arrived. The sun had eluded their westward progress.
Katrina lifted the plastic cup to her face and breathed in the refreshing sharpness of mint and rum.
Scott raised his cup toward his wife. “To routine?”
Katrina nodded and met his cup with hers over the armrest. “I’ll drink to that. To routine.”