From The Cold

Entry by: Godai41

24th December 2014
In the Cold: Travel Haven Lax
There was no clock in the lounge, but it must have been about 10:30 or 11 p.m., as much as you ever know the time at those airport hotels. Everyone had been there at least an hour. Tino and Tina kept refreshing us, between breaks, with surprisingly catchy versions of old numbers and some that a few of us had probably never heard. Perhaps they had written some of them themselves or, more likely, had taken old Mex and Tex-Mex songs and jazzed them up and down for this floating, airport lounge crowd.

Tino and Tina appeared more like brother and sister than husband and wife, though apparently neither. They smiled coolly and infrequently at each other from a distance, and once or twice she praised Tino's guitar, but they never touched. They had, it seemed, been the entertainment at this Travel-Haven LAX lounge for a long time.

Just a few of us were scattered throughout the lounge, a weeknight crowd. None of us appeared to know anyone else there, and no two of us were sitting together. If there was a design, it was that of the painter tentatively putting down first strokes on the canvas or the artist in the first stages of a composition still moving objects and models around.

The whole night I stayed on the edge, where I feel better. In the lounge of this Travel Haven, next to the airport, I stood, in fact, on the edge of the edge.

The lounge was a fancy waiting room with music. The barmaid's smiles were seconds ticked on a cavernous mouth of a clock disclosing the hours until a shift would end. The customers, awaiting morning flights, sitting back, rooted in deep, black vinyl chairs, allowed their buttocks to sink in, waiting to be watered. The muted fluorescent light accented the ridges and canyons of their puffy faces, and their ears, struggling to catch pieces of conversation and the often-exotic melodies, seemed to have enlarged. Tina tried valiantly to make the customary eye contact with us and to exchange the expected chatter, but she failed to penetrate the puff.

She and Tino were perched on stools on a pastel lit, unraised "stage" in one corner. Opposite, about 30 feet away, were the bartender and two bar maids who overlooked the customers seated between them and the stage. To the left was a dining room, now almost completely curtained off, apparently used for daytime dining. To the right, a corridor ran alongside, leading to exits, elevators, meeting rooms, and a tourist information booth. The passageway was still well lit. Although this light did not penetrate the lounge, its glare hurt the eyes, and most of the customers turned their heads away.

Suddenly, his face contorted, he thrust his torso into the room. Necks twisted, strained to see him. As we stretched, the sound of our vinyl seats crinkling irritated my ears. He began to mutter: "You still can't get what you want. . . . Here I'm running around. . . sitting . . . what for . . . no reason . . . what . . . ." After his first three or four words, which drew attention to him, heads resumed their original angles. Tina continued to sing, even though the man in his cabled, white serge sport jacket went on muttering. He muttered unnoticed through the break, and, then, just as suddenly ceased and left.

Again, there was nothing to do but hear the music and let the time go.

One or two left the lounge. Fewer and fewer guests passed. Squeezed into a mold, the remaining customers would have taken the shape of a large egg. The room itself began to assume their shape. Knowing it was too early for their flights and too late or too early to sleep, they sank deeper into the vinyl and watched Tina.

None of us realized how transfixed we had become by Tina until her eyes picked out and followed a movement on the side of the room near the corridor. All the eyes moved, perhaps for the first time in an hour, and followed hers.

There he stood again, partly in the lounge, partly in the light from the corridor. In an instant he had caught her eyes and made them couple with his. Everyone else's eyes locked into the eye contact the two made, and most of them scowled, as if awakened too early.

He caught her--and our--attention just because he was there. A few seconds back everyone had inhabited a familiar universe established long before, had acclimated themselves to its resources available for life: sounds, light, and air; food and drink; its spins and turns, grades and inclines; its population, its dangers, and its safety. Now, on the edge, a stranger stood, noticed.

How long had he stood there?

He held only for five or six seconds before he penetrated the lounge. Their gaze did not uncouple. There was room, yes. He hadn't been expected; that was acceptable. Barely. He was not known by the company. All right, also. It couldn't be helped. What there wasn't was time. He was late. As for a religious service, a play. . . . Late. Late. No one could enter now. We all felt that.

His smashing of the spell created over the past few hours was complete. He began to move from the door, leaving the light behind. He moved between the bar and the scattered chairs toward the darkened dining room. We thought: he's not going to disturb us further. Her eyes still followed his movements, and he, in turn, never relinquished his hold on those eyes. He made an abrupt right, and we saw now that he had intended all along to move and was now moving toward her. He had been blocked from advancing directly by the thicket of chairs and tables in his way. He was no more than twenty feet away, facing her.

He had molested us, thrust himself in the line of our light, wrecking our vision. Cut our tie to each other. Now he proposed to speak in front of us. To her.

"I've been trying to find you all night. I know, I know, you've been here all night waiting for me, singing and waiting for me all night. But, I mean, I've been trying to find someone like you out there, outside. I looked. You just weren't anywhere.”

"I like you.”

"It's not even close, I mean, to what it should be. Everything's covered up. It's supposed to be fingers talking to fingers, lips speaking to lips. It's supposed to be hugs. All the rest is dressed up. Do you know? How could you? You don't have leaves falling here so you can see trunks and deep between them. That's how it should be. Trunk to trunk. Nothing to say.”

"Only your singing words are good."

She hadn't said a word the entire time, had just kept her eyes on him. No one had moved.
He walked out, down the corridor, toward the elevators. Everyone was watching the door. Maybe they thought he would come back or they just couldn't take their eyes off it. I don't know what the others were thinking, but I was sure we would jump out of our chairs and catch him before he could get away. We would shake him and make him come back, or explain, or at least pay for this. But I guess I knew we wouldn't. I looked around to see if somebody was moving, but everyone was just lying back in his chair, and some of them even looked as if they were hypnotized. I would have gone after him myself, but somehow I couldn't move from my chair. I wanted to tell everyone, "Let's get him back before it's too late," but when I looked at them, they seemed to turn away very slowly. Or they stared at the entrance. I looked over to the platform. Even Tino and Tina seemed to be hypnotized by the spot where he had stood a few minutes before.

What right did he have to do it? After we had accepted him, even if he did barge in! If you ask to come in, and say you're staying, then you can't just decide to leave. It's not right.

We let him in. We accepted him. He belonged. He belonged to--with--us. If he didn't want to stay, if he knew he was going to leave, he shouldn't have tried to come in the first place. He shouldn't have made us think he wanted to come in. He disturbed our nest and cracked our shell. Molested us.

There was something about him, I'm sure, so we changed it all for him, and then he left us. I wanted to catch him, get him back, and. . . and understand--but the rest of them wouldn't have gone with me. I know it. They wouldn't have! And I can't do everything alone.

I would have liked to move my chair over, to sit down with one of them. But no one was alert, or, if they were, they were still staring off somewhere. Besides, if I had moved my chair, it would have disturbed everybody. They all seemed to have congealed into the original mass, the shell they had had when I had first arrived. There was no one to ask, no place to look, nowhere to go. We were inert units fused into a single shell flat on its back. Anyone could have passed by us, tripped over us, or poked us without being able to distinguish us from our surroundings. Even the flow of our breath could not be heard.

I sank into my swivel, vinyl bar stool, turning, shifting it slowly from side to side, transfixed in the motion, the rhythm, I had set, waiting to be rescued by night's end, still some three hours off.