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: Looking for Service :

an excerpt by Nathan Oates

 

As soon as they called the first-class passengers I stepped to the head of the line, hurried down to my seat and braced myself for the crowd that came slumping past minutes later with their loose, swollen bags.  Any of them could stop,  pretend to cough or adjust a strap, and a runty hand could pull out a cobbled together shank which he’d stick into my chest, my neck, my cheek where it would clatter against my teeth, again and again, sinking through the soft meat of my eye.  I left my seatbelt unbuckled, ready to fly up and fight my way back to American soil.  When the stewardesses began their pantomime of safety, I was able to relax a little, probably only because by that time I’d finished two vodka tonics.  I was hoping to drink myself to sleep, but as we reached cruising altitude and the ice in my drink tumbled under the collar of my shirt, I knew I wouldn’t be so lucky this time. 

When I was first told they were sending me to this country to do an accounting of the Canadian mining firm’s books, I told them I couldn’t.  I said, “My wife is sick.”

There was silence on the other end of the line and I was suddenly unsure if I’d ever met the man to whom I was speaking.  I’d assumed he was the same Steve we’d had over for dinner a few years earlier.  My wife had made enchiladas with mole sauce.  Steve had picked around the plate, ate half his salad and a few scoops of refried beans, leaving two perfectly formed enchiladas like a big old fuck-you to his hostess who’d spent hours in the kitchen, lifting the skin off broiled peppers. 

The man on the phone eventually said, “I’m sorry to hear about that.”  Another pause, as though this made what came next acceptable, “Your flight’s tomorrow, at seven.”



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