Short story written in 1996 (goes to show how much better at writing I was back then)|
__________Being only nine years old, Stan Worthey did not have to worry about the technicalities of interstate air travel. But he was old enough to do his own packing, and it was a task he took pleasure in. His suitcase lay open on the floor. All his essentials were in there -- his textas, his stapler, his video game, his pen-light, his tapes, his stapler, and nineteen other items on the list he had drawn up. He did another quick check through the suitcase, being cautious not to disturb the perfect arrangement of objects. Yep, it's all packed, he thought. I can't wait to get back home.
__________Stan's elder sister Elly walked into the room, which was Stan's temporary bedroom. "Stan!", said Elly. "Grandad says we'll be leaving for the airport in half an hour. Are you ready?"
__________"Yes", replied Stan, closing the suitcase. "I can't believe we're really going home. After all this time, we're finally, finally..."
__________"It's only been two weeks", interrupted Elly. "Why are you so excited about leaving? It's as if you don't like staying at Granny and Grandad's place."
__________Stan gripped a stapler with both hands. "But we're going on a plane! We're going to fly! We're gonna go..." He made an aeroplane noise as he moved the stapler across in a straight line.
__________Elly rolled her eyes, as if air travel was passť to a twelve-year-old like her. "Anyway", continued Stan, "Mum and Dad said they've got some presents waiting for us at home. I don't know what mine is. I hope it's a stapler."
__________"Get real! Mum and Dad would never be that boring", said Elly. She picked up a notebook from off the bed. "What's in the notebook?"
__________"That's a list of the things we're going to do today", answered Stan, eager to show it off.
__________Elly read the list aloud. "Get into car... see airport... get to airport... park car... get out of car... go in door... this... this is stupid! What's the point of it all?"
__________"I'm just keeping track of everything."
__________"But how will this make your trip better in any way?"
__________"It just... it'll be good."
__________"So you're going to hold this notebook all the way and tick off things as they happen?"
__________"Yes! And I'm also going to write the time of each event, in that column."
__________Elly doubled over with scoffing. She was thoroughly amused by her brother's weirdness. But Stan didn't care -- he wanted to relish every moment of this plane trip. He looked out the window at the clouds way up above; in just a couple of hours he would be flying amongst them.
__________The children's grandfather was a retired man in his late sixties. He enjoyed having Elly and Stan over to stay, but they were not quite as well-behaved as his own children had been, and over the past two weeks he had become rather irritable. Stan was a little frightened of him, and tended to avoid talking to him if possible.
__________"Now kids", said Grandad, pulling the car out of the driveway, "Are you sure you've got everything? I don't want to have to go back halfway to the airport because one of you forgets a stapler or something."
__________"Yes Grandad", said Elly, who was sitting in the front seat.
__________Grandad continued as the car purred onto the main road. "If we find any staples left on the floor, we won't be posting them to you."
__________"It's O.K. Grandad, we picked up all the staples", reassured Elly.
__________"Good then." The old couple's house was fairly close to the airport, so the car journey never took long. Less than fifteen minutes later, the airport came into view and Stan ticked off the second item on his list. But then without warning, Grandad slowed the car down and did a U-turn.
__________"Why are you turning around?", asked Elly.
__________"I forgot something", murmured Grandad hesitantly.
__________"You forgot something? What?"
__________"The plane tickets."
__________"You forgot the plane tickets? Oh my God! We're going to miss our flight!"
__________"No you won't. And don't take the Lord's name in vain."
__________"Look, it's all right. I think if we rush home and get them, we should be able to make it back just in time for the flight. Don't worry."
__________Elly looked at the receding airport and sighed. Stan frowned. This was bad; he had written down the time at which he caught sight of the airport. Now there would be a big illogical gap between when he saw the airport and when he arrived at the airport. This would make a mockery of his list. Why couldn't things run to plan.
__________The car zoomed along the road from whence it had come.
__________"O.K.", said Grandad when they arrived back at the house. "I'll get the tickets and I'll be back in a jiffy."
__________"Do you know where they are?", asked Elly. "I think I saw them on the stapler cupboard."
__________Grandad climbed out of the car. "I don't need you to tell me where the tickets are", he said, and hurried inside.
__________Elly made a spiteful laughing sound. "Cranky old man", she murmured. "He's been getting worse lately. I mean sure he's got a lot of staplers, but the more cranky he gets, the closer he comes to having another heart attack. Did you hear the stupid argument he had with Granny last night? I tell you, he won't last another two or three years -- I mean, how old is he now? Seventy? Seventy five?"
__________"Mm. Mm.", replied Stan. He was rather shocked to hear Elly saying such things, if only because he knew she loved Grandad so much. Three minutes later the old man emerged from the house bearing the tickets.
__________"What took you so long?", asked Elly darkly.
__________Grandad slung himself into the driver's seat. "Had a bit of trouble finding them", he said.
__________"Where were they?", enquired Elly as the car started.
__________"It's O.K., I think we're going to make it on time", said Grandad, feigning deafness.
__________"Where were they?", repeated Elly.
__________"On the stapler cupboard."
__________"I knew they were. I told you."
__________"That's enough out of you", snapped Grandad. He pulled out of the driveway and started the journey again. This time the car was full of silence and angst.
__________After a slow bad-traffic journey, the trio arrived at the airport carpark. Grandad hurried the children out of the car, saying "We can still catch it! We'll have to run!" The atmosphere was urgent, but still Stan managed to snatch a few seconds to tick off the next item on his list and write the time. Once they had the suitcases sorted out, the hasty walk to the airport building began. They had not been walking ten seconds when Elly suddenly dropped her baggage.
__________"Elly, come on!", roared Grandad. But Elly's eye was caught by something behind her.
__________"I thought I saw a stapler lying on the ground back there..."
__________Stan and Grandad looked over their shoulders and made angry objections. "There's no time for that NOW!". But Elly had already run back and looked at the gap between two cars.
__________"It is! it is a stapler!" She picked up the stapler and slipped in into her handbag, then ran back to where Grandad was waiting with impatient eyes. Stan was not so much impatient as jealous that she had found the stapler instead of him.
__________The trio stood at the check-in desk and handed over luggage. Grandad's hands were shaking. "Is our flight running on time?", he asked. "Are there any delays?"
__________The airport worker glanced at his computer screen as he lifted Stan's suitcase off the scales. "Flight 434 -- running right on schedule. Better run over to Gate 8 in five minutes, or you'll miss out. Geez, what's in this suitcase? It feels like it's full of staplers!"
__________A few seconds later they were jogging through the airport, heading for an escalator. Stan had his notebook and pen in hand -- he remembered there were entries on his list which read "Get on escalator" and "Get off escalator", but he wouldn't be able to write in his notebook while he was hurrying along like this. The next entry on his list was "Go into long passage", and before he knew it that was happening too. He was getting way behind on filling in times. He just had to put his hand-luggage down for a second...
__________"Hey Stan! Come on!", yelled Elly.
__________Stan was looking at his watch and fumbling with the pen and the notebook. "Wait! I've just... I've just gotta..."
__________Elly stormed back to him, furious, and tried to grab his arm. "Stan!", she snarled. "We're going to miss our plane! Do you understand?"
__________"Yes... it's O.K... there! It's done." He picked up his hand luggage and started to walk, but then another question presented itself. "Where's Grandad?"
__________The two children looked around them, searching for the familiar face of the old man amongst the crowd. He wasn't there. "Grandad!", called out Elly, in distress.
__________"Here I am", said Grandad from behind. "It's O.K., I was just buying a paper."
__________"Grandad, we don't have time for that! Stan, put away that notebook and let's MOVE!"
__________"Excuse me", said a strange man. "Did you say that you were buying a stapler?"
__________Grandad moved away, yielding to Elly's pull. "What? No, a paper, I said!"
__________Gate 8 loomed in the distance as the three figures ran down the passage in a final burst of speed. By the time they arrived, all three were out of breath. Grandad could hardly speak straight; he was too old to be racing the clock.
__________"Door -- still open --", he panted.
__________"Yes! We made it!", breathed Elly.
__________"Goodbye -- Stan -- goodbye -- Elly --"
__________But before Grandad finished his farewell, Stan noticed something strange about the door. There were people starting to come out of it. A long, steady stream of passengers was emerging from the plane. The sight brought a moment of panic to his stomach, thinking that this must be the wrong gate after all. But no one else was panicking. Grandad approached an airline employee and spoke to him.
__________"Excuse me -- is this -- flight 434 to Melbourne?"
__________"Yes sir", said the man in uniform. "But there is a minor technical problem with the plane which we've just discovered. So -- would you mind proceeding to Gate 10, where another plane will be arranged for you shortly."
__________Grandad looked at the passengers, then at Stan and Elly, and almost gave a grim laugh at the turn of events. He turned back to the employee and asked "So how much delay will there be?"
__________"About half an hour, while we do a safety check on the plane."
__________Elly closed her eyes. "We had all that rush and panic", she said. "And it was all wasted. We could have just walked."
__________They were sauntering slowly away from the door, all three of them looking tired and dishevelled. Grandad said, "This is all too much for an old man like me. I need to take a rest." He lowered himself into a plastic chair.
__________"Aren't we going to Gate 10?", asked Stan.
__________"Not right now. I've got to take a rest here. It's all right for you children -- you never run out of energy. But I'm too old for this. Somebody bring me a stapler."
__________Stan and Elly didn't move.
__________"Elly, why don't you run down to the shop and buy me a stapler. No, make that two staplers. And make sure they've got plenty of staples in. Here's a twenty -- bring back change."
__________Elly reluctantly took the money and walked away, muttering to herself, "He'll staple himself to death one of these days, the stapley old stapler." Only Stan heard it, and he was more concerned with his notebook which was looking a bit messy. The next three entries were "Go into gate", "sit down", and "door opens", but he had crossed off the last two entries during the paper-buying incident because he figured they wouldn't have time to sit around in the gate and wait for the door to open. But now the unexpected delay changed everything. It was making a total mockery of his carefully planned list. With a sense of defeat he pitched the whole notebook in the bin.
-- Stephen Clark