Reading Hemingway on BART on the way to jetBlue Flight 644

I had skipped ahead to the end of the Hemingway novel and knew it was sad. The soldier’s lover hemorrhaged after their baby was born dead. I read slowly from the middle after that, dreading the ending.

But now on the train to the airport I was close to the end. The soldier and his pregnant girlfriend were together one last time in a fancy hotel. He had deserted the Italian army while they were in retreat and come to find her on the lake in Stresa.

I hadn’t realized that they could have more time together before the end came. Before the certainty of death there remained the possibility of sex. It was like the fine white wine on your tongue before the heavy red that tasted of metal and acid. In the wine country they poured the sauvignon blancs first and you sipped them while you made up your mind about the other things, and often they were the best and you loved them because they were light, and first.

As the train came to the airport you felt light, weightless, even. You existed only in the in-between places, in the airport, in the sky. You knew you might die and you made peace with it. Whether this was true all the time or perhaps even more likely on the highway or the street late at night did not matter. In the airport, on the plane you knew it might happen.

The day before a man had driven a flaming car through the gate of the airport in Glasgow. Noah told me about it while we drank vodka made from sweet potatoes.

“The car was on fire and he was on fire.”

“Were many people killed or only some?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Maybe some. Maybe none.”

I poured more vodka into the small glasses. It was cold on your tongue and burned as you swallowed.

Getting to the airport this time you felt a stillness and were not on fire. You loved no one and no one loved you. Or if you loved anyone, it was only in vestiges, like antibodies after a vaccine or virus. If someone tested your blood they would find evidence that you had had a fever once, but only from the microscopic cells you always carried that would try to fight it off if it came again. Some of the viruses you could get again, full-blown, and others you had fought off once and for all. You remembered what it was like to be sick, but only in those old soldier cells. By now it had been long enough that it could have happened to someone else. It could have happened to someone in Glasgow.

The mechanized voice in the terminal announced that the threat level was orange. Orange came before red, and maybe even amber. Amber was what dinosaur DNA could be preserved in, for millions of years, in a droplet of blood inside an ancient mosquito. Amber was worse than orange, but better than red. The voice did not say what the threat might be, only that today the color of waiting for it was orange.

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