Ingrid Kills Her Lover
It wasn’t the tone of her voice on the connection. Nor was it—necessarily—the set of facts she sang before him with her quivering lightness, or the shower of comedic accents she frantically collected for the story. It was the pause on the line after the words were said. No amount of love or careful attention could have accounted for the pause. Within that silence the stitching popped and the seams splayed out. The freshest horror delivered, Kenneth took inventory of the perforation of his soul and continued walking.
The palace node of food counters in LAX beamed without flinching, given his news. Rivers of suit coats and skirts coursed around his blackening body. The intercom cut in and out like a scalpel. In the dim dawn the novelty towers of penetrating colors leaked through the narrow window along the way to connections east, churning through their reds, greens, and magentas. Tucked in the right corner of the gate branch his boarding lobby awaited the call for <a href="/search?terms=%232861" data-href="/search?terms=%232861" data-capture="hashtagClick" class="hashtag-link">#2861</a> to Denver International. Some among them would be returning home to their universally charming worlds of love, he thought. Others, never knowing the capricious affiliation of such a sensory union, would—at least—return to stake claim to the experience with undamaged legs and wonder. Kenneth, now waiting atop his faded ruby seat under a bank of fluorescent tube lights and their silver grids, couldn’t dredge out a reason for his destination.
His thumb ran across the face of his telephone. The face within the face, a photo of Ingrid, steeled him and nearly froze him to his fate. He noticed, for the first time, that she was squinting a little. She was also biting her lower lip. It always formed a dimple between the left corner of her mouth and her chin. There was a lilting smile and a faint glint coming off her eyes. Shaking, he worked the menu of features and removed her face from the taunting, glowing, once security blanket; the pinpricks of light carried an image now instead of a tender, deadly ocean under a languid, blood-yellow sun.
“Taking a cab in later, or do you want me to pick you up?”
“Do you want to pick me up?”
“Umm, sure. Of course. Yes.”
“Are you sick? You sound growly.”
“Uummph. Mmyeah…a little.”
Kenneth could smell the morning on her face, feel the electricity on her nose, see and feel the charming nest of mussed hair falling atop his face. He imagined kissing her neck, just beneath her jaw line, the smokestack, as he called it, the place on her body that generated the most heat.
“It was the birthday party, wasn’t it? You had that crap rum punch?”
A switch flew on.
“Oh, and these Moscow somethings! God, they were deadly, you really shouldn’t have missed it…shouldn’t have.”
“Who made it to Brenda’s house, anyway?”
“Anita, Becks, Dev, Bobby, Laura…Ivan.”
“Oh, and it just got worse. I forgot to eat all night. Everyone was in the pool. I didn’t have my suit so I just passed out in Brend’s room. I must’ve been blitzed, I mean, gone, because, at some point, I think it was, like, four, I got up to use the bathroom, and I went right back to sleep, but…”
“I must not have made it back to Brenda’s room, I couldn’t believe it. When I woke up, I was in Ivan’s room! He was completely out of it, too, didn’t even, didn’t at all notice, not once, that I was there. I just found my flops on the floor and booked it for home. God, I wish you could’ve stopped me. I get so stupid when you’re not here.”
“Kenny-? Ken? Oh, not this. You know Ivan’s a goofball. Believe m—.”
The numbness of incredulity engulfed him with the brilliance of the absurd. A proscenium lens from hell shot up between the airport tiles and drew a spot on him. Three years, now distilled into two years and what must have been the year she began charting the course to extinguish him, fell before his face in a raw tussle of pain. At least I’m clean, well-pressed, and in a crowd, he thought as a matter of pointless consolation. He cut the connection to the phone as a dog would cut the spine of a mouse and sought out his departures gate. This could, may, might, maybe, possibly, make sense and be manageable, he thought, once I get home. Perhaps Brenda could shed more light on the night for me. Maybe Ivan’s bedroom door was open the whole night. Why would she come out and volunteer any of this information to me unless…unless…
Final boarding announcements for Denver International fell from the ceiling tiles. Kenneth rose from his seat and walked twenty feet over to the next gate. He watched his plane taxi backward, file out, and jet away for home.
A coffee shop across the whitewashed hallway pulled up its shutters, opening. Kenneth found a newspaper, a macadamia nut muffin, and ordered a tall cup of Kona. His eyes traced the dozens of departures on the terminal screens, blinking and rolling like casted spells.