by Christina Tabacco
The flight to Salt Lake City was uneventful, save a few quakes of turbulence that rattled the hulls of the plane. Each time, yuppie thrill-seekers bound for a weekend on the slopes whooped. Probably trying to save their coupon-redeemed drinks from sloshing from their wide-rimmed cups, Esteban thought, briefly distracted from the case file he brought to review.
Gazing through thick lenses perched on the bridge of his nose, Esteban resumed his study of the papers stacked neatly in an accordion folder on his lap. The client, Ken, was fired from the corporate job he held for many years. He hired Esteban to bring an age discrimination lawsuit against the company. The evidence was, on the one hand, good: an email stated that Ken had “aged to irrelevance,” but on the other hand, sources confirmed that Ken was an exceptional and well-documented jerk to many of his colleagues. We shouldn’t be taking this one, Esteban thought, thumbing through the stack of papers until he located what he hoped not to find, a copy of the signed fee agreement on embossed letterhead. He frowned, his olive forehead wrinkling along well-defined creases. He sighed; his junior partner’s judgment was consistently poor. This was just the latest example and yet another reason not to retire, Esteban thought and repeated the mantra aloud softly.
The warm touch and pressure of his thumb and forefinger to his brow brought relief. He squinted out the window. Gold light illuminated the snow-capped Uinta Mountains as the plane swung towards the salt lake.
How many more years would he put in? His wife would have had him hang it up two years ago, when his cardiac ablation surgery had unexpected complications. He winced at the memory. In his absence, an arbitration had been mishandled and lost by co-counsel.
Esteban was recuperating at the hospital when he found out. His response: a low growl followed by the Velcro-sound of electrodes ripping off chest hair. He stomped towards the exit, machines beeping in earnest. A nurse appeared in the doorway, wide-eyed, like a meerkat sentry on high alert. He marched towards the exit, hospital gown parting like a curtain on a breezy day, and yelled, “The Sameer case is more important than life itself!” In the next instant, two orderlies materialized, alongside his wife, who looked stricken.
He stopped and slowly turned back towards the bed, deflated. Soon after the health scare passed and now he was fine. Hell, I’ll retire when I’m dead, he thought.
The plane landed and parked at B21. Ear muffled workers clad like highlighters flung bags from the conveyer belt to the baggage truck. In the concourse, an indelicate odor battered his nostrils. To his left was Fried Fred’s. Esteban chuckled, remembering the trial slogan he once used against the poultry giant in a case: “Finger lickin’ not so good.” The client was fired from Fried Fred’s when he took time off after getting injured on the job. The jury loved it, making the poultry giant pay for its heartless acts to the tune of 3 million dollars. A smile spread across Esteban’s lined face.
He continued down the flecked linoleum hallway, gazing upwards at the murals of scenic Utah: rust colored gorges and canyons complimented pale blue skies raked with wispy horse tail clouds... and something out of place in the upper right-hand corner he had never noticed before-- two seagulls in flight. Why so far from the sea?
Before he could theorize, Esteban spied a man in a maroon button-up. Recognition tickled his memory: it was Mr. Kettlemen, his high school physics teacher. Esteban was approaching the man when he glimpsed another familiar face to his left, an ex-girlfriend, seated in the Flights of Fancy Bar and Grill. She, Tracy Laridae, was wearing an emerald velvet dress that pooled on the floor, exposing a pale calf. She leaned over the round table engrossed in conversation. Esteban studied her dining companion. Unmistakable. Her dinner date was the lazy-eyed dentist who performed a root canal on Esteban during law school. A swell of confusion formed at this improbable set of coincidences—swiftly followed by a deep headache. He pressed his palm to his forehead, but the pressure only mounted.
A nearby slurping sound made him turn. The Mariposa County judge who threatened to disbar him for using an unprofessional gesture during trial sucked water from a steel fountain. Esteban froze, his legs glued in place.
An automated voice blared, warning that this was the final call to Long Beach. He stared towards a random boarding area, unsure of what to do. He swiveled back towards the concourse at the sound of familiar voices, rough and loud. His college rugby teammates appeared, trundling down the concourse shoving one another playfully. They brushed by him without taking any notice. He stared at their hulking backsides for a few seconds before a flight crew entourage caught his attention.
Impossible. It was his family. Mama wore a pilot’s suit, short hair bobbing while she spoke in sweeping hand gestures to Papa, strapping in his uniform, clean-shaven and nodding in agreement with her. Two trim flight attendants with neck scarves held themselves apart, queens surveying their turf. Those were his sisters, Alma and Magali.
Esteban broke into an open mouth smile and choked at the same time. A peach pit to catch in his throat and stole his words as he tried to call their names. Tears streaked downwards, forming rivulets. Esteban tried to run to greet them, but his limbs merely trembled in place before collapsing. His body splayed, an open display for the terminal.
He heard the clacking of someone running at speed in high heels and wondered what if they were going to Long Beach. A shaft of light poured through the high south-side windows. Esteban noticed the brilliant flecks of nothing suspended in its beam, like plankton waltzing and far off, he swore he heard two gulls cawing a simple duet.
Christina Tabacco is a writer living in San Francisco. She is also an attorney, surfer, and trained safari guide. Her favorite authors include David Mitchell, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and Barbara Kingsolver.