“Everything always seems just a bit too far away,” the young man with the sideburns said, absently scratching his chin. His companion, a bigger man though not older, pushed back against the meat of the airline seat he was stretched out in.
“Damn things never work,” he muttered. He looked over at the young man. “Your’s work?” he asked, still fumbling with the chair controls.
“Uh, yeah, it’s the button there. I think maybe the problem is more internal.” He was talking about the nature of goals. The bigger man didn’t understand.
“You think I’m stupid?” he grumbled. He turned towards the young man and saw his sideburns. They were brown and short, most of the hairs were shaved, not cut. But the ends of them were up-turned, like Dali’s moustache.
“What? No,” the young man pulled back a little. “You see that guy?” he gestured towards the, “what do you call a guy stewardess?”
“Gay?” his companion offered.
The young man chuckled grimly, his face a forced smirk. “Whatever, he is a guy who is living his dream.”
“Being gay?” the bigger man said, his eyes transfixed on the sideburns.
“No, look, I mean look, really,” the young man said, pointing at the steward busy putting on an apron embroidered with a name. The sideburns had clearly been played with, teased by the young man’s fingertips at one time or another. But the bigger man was sure that he hadn’t seen it happen. Maybe he didn’t realize they made him look like he was doing his best to fly alongside the plane. The chunk that sounded as ice trickled into little plastic cups tore his attention away.
“Would you like a beverage, sir?” the steward asked the bigger man.
“What’s the clear one? Vodka?” the bigger man responded. The steward opened the Sprite can and looked over at the younger man. “Would you like a beverage, sir?”
“Coke, if you have it.”
The steward was pouring both drinks at the same time, effortlessly switching between hands to add ice to another cup and reach into his apron to pull out a plastic room key he used to snap open another tab. The steward was unsatisfied with the pour of the Sprite. Back went the hand into the apron and back again with the key card, the hiss of carbonation escaping followed. It was the movement of a satisfied man. The steward handed the young man the Coke first but his right hand followed only a little while after to set the Sprite down in front of the bigger man.
“I didn’t see you add vodka,” the bigger man said.
“And you, would you like a beverage, ma’am?”
The young man noted a distinct lack of vodka in his Coke. He was grateful. The bigger man sipped on his Sprite, his nose itched as the bubbles leapt from the little cup.
“What were you saying, about the gay guy?”
“He has to practice a lot,” the young man said.
“Opening cans of soda like that?” the bigger man scoffed. “I don’t think you practice that.”
But the young man was convinced and could not be swayed. He was imagining the steward at home, pouring endless cans of soda for his guests, never once forgetting to ask if they wanted a beverage first, but inevitably pouring the cans even if they declined. It happened in hotel rooms, the young man was convinced. He probably wore the apron, too.
“Do you have a connection?” the bigger man asked.
“I’m on the direct, heading home,” the young man replied.
“What do you do?”
The young man watched as the steward collected up the trash, the same efficient practiced movements as he scooped up loose napkins and unwanted newspapers, which were most of them. His phone shook on the fold out tray table. He picked it up.
“Can I get you a refill on that drink?” The bigger man shook his head, handing the steward his cup.
“Yes, thank you,” the young man said, handing the steward his plastic cup with crumpled-up napkin inside before returning to his iPhone.
“I don’t think he wants one,” explained the bigger man. The steward walked away.
“Don’t want one what?” the young man asked, setting his phone back on the tray table.
“Whatever he’s selling,” the bigger man said. The young man’s sideburn had been twisted. The bigger man grunted, frustrated that he had missed it. The matted brown hairs were spun together now, forming a point with only the short, shaven hairs now lying down in their correct position next to his ears.
“I work in sales,” the young man replied.
The bigger man hated salesmen. His wife had left him for a car salesman. Those were the worst kind. “I run a tourist business. Right now, I’m actually meeting up with a guy who is promising me a personalized check-in app with split ad revenue.”
“I sell data,” the young man offered. “I wish we could smoke.” He tapped his forefinger against his thigh, which bounced as his foot rapped against the carpet.
The bigger man fingered the packet of cigarettes in his breast pocket. Smoking would be nice. They could smoke at the airport, but by then, both would be eager to be getting on to their next thing. It was always the airport you were flying into, never the one you were flying out from.
The stewards slick voice informed them that the pilot had turned on the fasten seat-belt sign. The voice was a cross between Jimmy Stewart and the lady voice that every customer service department used to try and dissuade people from actually bothering to make a complaint.
“Who do you like this year at the Masters?” The bigger man asked.
“I don’t follow golf.”
The bigger man nodded in agreement. He wished he had an iPhone; the young man returned his attention to the tiny screen, intent on talking to some friend half-way across the world.