Swing for the Heart

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The Runway

They’d imagined this Christmas differently, but given the anticipated good news, Christmas Eve actually couldn’t have been better. Behind the window of the technical spaces that team nicknamed ‘Below the wings’ a blizzard had fully unleashed its sharp ammunition. Directly in the wind the temperature dropped under forty below and snow had gotten deep inside the room. The windows became covered with a thick layer of ice, the white wall of rushing snow completely covering up the night. Flights had been diverted just as they’d finished unloading RJ700 Seattle. During his time at the conveyor belt David froze like an icicle. Hans usually said he didn’t mind winter, because as a former agricultural engineer it was in his job description. But this deep-freeze hit all of them mercilessly. A blizzard has no sense of humor, pitilessly overcoming those who – even for a moment – fail to take it seriously. It was thrusting through the airport runways, roaring like a siren and everyone on the technical team was happy they didn’t have to go outside at the moment.

David knew that Minneapolis, the airbus, was postponed by four hours; prior to that would arrive Boeing 737, but maybe before then he may squeeze in a nap. But first he would call Alice and Kačenka. David fished out his cell from the depths of his coveralls and pressed a single button.

“I hope you’re bundled up with only your noses showing.”

“David, I’m thinking about you, how is it there?”

“It’s quite good, actually, Alice. We’re like badgers in a burrow in here, we have everything we need. It’s a bit windy outside.”

“Is it warm there?”

“Yes, like inside a fireplace,” he was playing up the reality. The room was simply decorated. Under the fluorescent lights stood a single long table with several chairs surrounding it. Everyone could pull out their chair, hide in a corner and take a short nap before the next flight.

“As if I believe you. They responded to you about the residency. Should I open it?”

“You have to!” livened up David. He has been waiting for this letter since he submitted his request. Others were able to apply online but David didn’t have that opportunity. On the third try he’d successfully passed his exam, now well above the cut-off line. He had it and now he was able to apply to mandatory residency. Other exams would still follow, but he was entitled to residency already. As a resident he would spend three years somewhere, depending on the need. That would go by fast. He would return to Alice and Kačenka and their carriage would ride itself. Everything will change! Now he had two jobs, during the day in the warehouse and at night at the airport. Their income went up noticeably and they were nearing the fantastical threshold of savings much faster. In the springtime they’re going back to the bank. It would be good if the residency were somewhere close, so that his visits to Alice and Kačenka wouldn’t take more than a day’s worth of driving. Yes, this will allow him to buy a car. A beautiful new one for Alice with Kačenka and another one for himself. And the legendary suitcase, in which he carried everything, is ready to be garbage too. It still holds together, but only if there’s no breeze nearby. With permission, David was able to store it in the warehouse, in the corner and out of the way. He has developed a rhythm of life and has everything he needs. He spends the night at the airport, day in the warehouse, even with some time to spare for sleep.

“So I’m opening, David.” His heart was pounding when he heard Alice ripping the envelope.

“So what does it say? Where?”

“It’s just one sheet of paper, hang on, I’m reading it…” David was sitting straight up on his chair and could feel it within his reach.

“Read it out loud.”

“David, they’re writing that they’re regretting but there’s no placement; that you can apply next time.” He slumped in his chair and threw up his hands.

“What? How is that possible?” He was watching the snoozing colleagues around him and was acutely aware of the wind blasts outside the window.

“I don’t know, it’s just three lines.” Alice’s voice revealed her sadness. David heard her blow her nose.

“Alice, it’s just a matter of time now. Don’t be sad. Where women cry, men curse.” Suddenly there was nothing to say. Neither of them felt like talking. A bit clumsily David tried to change the topic and soon they ended the conversation.

David felt he was treading water. What is it all for? Are they joking? He’s got a valid medical degree from one of the most prestigious European universities! After Italian Geneva and Spanish Salamanca, the third oldest institution in the world! That’s valid currency! He legitimately completed and received his degree. He has two post-graduate titles! Who needs to be checking him out? Maybe a language exam. But his specialty? Why? Why? And he even passed that one. What residency, somewhere in the middle of nowhere? So that those whom he could teach, could supervise whether – even with his completed exams – he is suitable? David leaned on the wall and just shook his head.

No matter. To evaluate how things should be and look back was a luxury. He will simply apply again. The next time they will have a spot. It’s just postponed. Just a few months. What does that mean? Nothing. Soon they will buy a house and that will be the milestone. That will be the threshold. Their own roof. They will plant in their garden what they want and he’ll stretch out in his hammock, sip sangria and watch the clouds flow in the sky. Maybe they’ll even have a pool. Even a small one. And in scorching heat he will slide into the water with delight. The wavelets will break with the white light in soft restless shapes on the blue bottom. Maybe it would be helpful to have a skilled masseuse visit sometime, to relax his back. Maybe two. They will have frozen coconut pieces in the bowl, and David will admire the blossoms on their roses and rhododendrons, planted by Alice. She will get up from the flower-bed wearing a straw sun-hat, stretch herself and say she’s looking forward to their vacation in Mexico.

“The 737 is here,” David was roused by a hoarse voice.

“So they landed after all?” he asked.

“They had to. But everything’s fine.” Steve got up and assigned duties, “Hans and David will be at the wings, you on the right and you on the left, Hans will pull up the rubber stoppers to the wheels, David will place the cones and Hans will then bring the conveyor belt; Joe will bring the trolleys and I will be marshaling. Let’s go.” They grabbed their orange lighting wands and opened the door. Icy wind of the only slowly subsiding blizzard slashed over their faces. They lowered their heads, pulled their tuques further over their ears and stepped towards their posts. The wind was still pushing a stream of snow across the plain, when two white reflectors penetrated the darkness at the far end of the runway. They were slowly approaching and Steve took his spot, suspecting rather than seeing the yellow line. A moment later, Steve was already moving his orange wands, to the sides and above his head. Hans on one side, one arm pointed to the middle line, the other upwards; David on the other with arms outstretched the opposite way. With a penetrating, high pitched noise, the giant was coming closer into position. Steve left his wands facing outwards, slowly bringing them above his head. The moment when the plane was only a few steps away from him and Steve was able to look into the pilots’ faces high above in the cockpit, he crossed his wands above his head. Boeing 737 came to a soft stop. Engines still roaring, the orange beckoning light underneath its trunk was flashing in the snow. Steve was standing in front of the noisy colossus with his crossed wands until Hans would place heavy rubber stoppers under the wheels. Everyone knew their roles and was fulfilling them as he should. David was standing underneath the wing with two cones. One belonged below the tip of the wing, the other in front of the heavy engine. The enormous motor was suspended close to the ground and the screaming mouth of the suction propeller yawned the length from one’s thighs up to above the head. Its power was terrifying and feared by all. The engine can easily draw in a grown man from a distance of several meters. The sound of the motor mixed with the noise of the still-raging blizzard; nobody was able to hear anyone else and visibility was minimal as well. Behind the engines the hot stream of air perfectly swept up the ground several meters behind. David was waiting for the orange flashing light to turn off, so he could count to thirty and bring the cone in front of the engine. Now. The beckoning light went out. Tuque over his ears, immeasurable noise all around, Steve with his wands in the front, Hans with the stoppers somewhere on the other side of the plane. Joe was coming in with the luggage trolley from the opposite end.

“…twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty.” David started walking. Steve was yelling something at him from the front, but David couldn’t hear, only saw his lips moving. He was trying to signal something, but his wands – still crossed above his head – prevented him. Why is he yelling? Is he in a hurry for the cones? He’s bringing them. David stopped mid-step, puzzled, showed Steve his cones and continued to walk towards the engine. He couldn’t see what Steve saw. The flashing light had gone out, but the engine was still running at full power. Human error. Steve could see David approaching towards the engine, ready to place his cones in the front. He dropped his wands and, keeping a safe distance from the engine, sprinted towards the end of the wing, where he took a sharp turn and jumped on David. He pulled him down like a lion a zebra, then both of them remained lying on the ground. Only now could they hear the engines slowing down and their cry gradually growing quiet. Both of them covered in snow, they sat up and stared at each other. Steve was breathing heavily, looking closely at David, and after a few seconds said: “You were almost finished, doctor.”

“But I…. The light went out, I really counted.”

“I know. I know that. He will be in serious trouble. But remember. You have to look not only at the beckoning light down below, but also at the stream of air behind the engines. Is it vibrating? Don’t go there. Only after it’s calm like inside a pantry, is the engine stopped,” yelled Steve.

“Steve… it would’ve sucked me right in!” replied David. He shook Steve by his shoulders and facing him closely he shouted, “thank you, Steve. Thank you. Thank you.”

“You can buy me a beer.”

Everything was written in the protocol, signed, submitted, recorded. The blizzard eased up, but was still letting them know of its presence. David sensed it should be him who should go fill up gas in the luggage trolley. He stepped out into the icy wind, pulled his hat over his ears, sat down and drove out with three wagons behind him into the white darkness and wind, heading towards the far end of the airport.

David was becoming smaller and his contours were disappearing in the snow storm, as he was pushing further into the white cold darkness and the soft rattle of the wagons grew overpowered by the howling of the strong wind and rushing snow. The dark back of the small figure was nearly invisible as it faded into the blizzard. Nobody could hear the words that the wind ripped from David’s mouth as he sang: “…everything is familiar…the sound of dad’s shoes…my mom’s pie…and the freshly painted fence.”

Then the figure disappeared in the blizzard. Maybe the wind heard parts of the song, but nobody else, only David.

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