The Handkerchief – A Short Story by CJ Martin
My wife was to come in on the last flight of the night. She had been staying with her sister saying she needed “her space.” I had a feeling this time around, she had returned only to collect her things.
Having found a plug just outside the terminal parking lot, I decided to charge my laptop and work on a spreadsheet before heading in. It had been a long day at the office and finding a plug in a secluded and lonely place seemed fortuitous.
I hunkered down in a darkish corner as travelers went from cars to planes and back again. Fascinated by the faces of the hurried people, I abandoned my spreadsheet, eventually closing the laptop completely.
No doubt, anyone would have noticed me staring if they had simply turned to look, but no one did. My dark suit and the poor lighting helped, but I think it was something else: for most, destinations and goals are all there is.
For most, but not all.
I had never witnessed such sadness. The boy was flying out and the girl was there to see him off. He was decked out in full uniform with a duffel bag at his feet; she wore a flowery summer dress much too happy for their despondent quality. Her bright lipstick was somehow dulled by the sadness in her eyes. Neither, it seemed, had the courage to say, “Good-bye.”
He lifted his hands to caress her cheeks. For a moment, I thought he was about to kiss her, but his eyes revealed a man busy memorizing his lover’s features. Every shape and line, it all had meaning.
A tinny speaker announced that boarding had begun. The message didn’t seem to register until he let his arms drop. Her eyes puffed red as tears began to swell.
He pulled out a handkerchief–it was pale, green army issue. She wiped both eyes before kissing it, imparting both lipstick and tears to the cloth. Handing it back, he accepted it, his eyes never leaving hers.
She mouthed some unknown words, turned, and then fled toward the parking lot with her head buried in her hands.
His straight figure slumped as she disappeared into the darkness. The handkerchief, he lovingly folded and placed in the side pocket of his duffle bag.
It was the speaker again–this time announcing final boarding. In a hurried motion, he snapped his hand from the side pocket unknowingly exposing the cherished cloth. With a flick of his wrist, he threw the bag over his shoulder. A moment later, the man was gone; only the handkerchief remained.
I sat there stunned, unable to move. Coming to my senses, my first thought was to rush to the fallen handkerchief and find that soldier.
But as my thoughts began to translate into action, a green vested airport worker appeared where the forlorn lovers had been. She held metal tongs as if the precious article was hazardous material. A moment later, the lipstick, tears, and cloth were gone.
Rarely do emotions get the better of me. But after packing my laptop, I headed straight to the airport gift shop. The flowers made my wife smile–the first time in years.
And now, ten years later, I still buy flowers and she still smiles. I can say with certitude it is because of that handkerchief–a handkerchief long forgotten by all but me.