~A few short minutes can send you to an entirely new destination~
Thursday November 27, 1998. 0600hrs
Anita groaned, reaching over to press the snooze button on her alarm clock without opening her eyes. It was still dark outside, and cold… and nothing about it made her want to get up. She drifted back into the warm coziness of sleep, a small smile of contentment on her face.
Beep!! Beep!! Beep!!
It seemed like only a second had passed. ‘Phone in sick,’ Liam breathed on the back of her neck as he ran his hands up inside her pyjama top to her breasts. She could smell the stale odour of alcohol on his breath and wondered what time he had come in from his night out with the boys. No, she wouldn’t be staying home just to watch him on the sofa suffering all day, sucking all the joy out of her life like a sponge. She loved him, but after five years together she knew him too well.
‘I can’t,’ she said putting one leg out of the bed and feeling the cold air on her foot. Maybe one day he would get a decent job and they could have the heating on a bit more often, she thought before stopping herself; it wasn’t his fault that luck was never on his side with work, was it? ‘I need the allowances, and a few bits from the shops,’ she excused herself. ‘It’s Black Friday,’ she added hastily, before he moaned at her for wasting ‘their’ money, ‘and it will be fifty percent off everywhere. I should be able to get some Christmas shopping done and still bring some money back.’
Liam rolled over without a word, she knew he would rather she just didn’t go away at all.
‘And I’ll get your fags, you’re nearly out,’ she added, extracting a small grunt of appreciation.
Anita went into autopilot, dressing in her uniform and scraping her long dark hair into her usual up-do, a slick of red lipstick, jacket on, and she headed downstairs. The clock in the hallway read 0628, for once she was running early, even if it was only by two minutes.
Something caught Anita’s eye as she carried her for-now almost empty suitcase past the living room door. She gasped and stopped in her tracks. On the coffee table, amongst an overflowing ashtray and empty beer cans she caught sight of her new passport… she must have left it there last night when she was filling out the forms she needed to hand in today. Anita shook her head and thanked her lucky stars that she had noticed it, avoiding what would have been a huge problem. She quickly swiped it out from underneath Liam’s mess, while thinking how no doubt the same mess would be there when she got back in three days’ time.
Thursday November 27, 1998. 0628hrs
Anita sighed in resignation as she glanced sideways at the mess Liam had left in the living room. No doubt it would still be there when she got back, she thought as she headed quickly for the front door with her suitcase, taking her winter coat from the hook and putting it on. Landing days had once reduced her to tears when she would come home to that kind of thing, until she had decided to appreciate her trips away and accept that being a good wife involved doing most (all) of the housework. Once she had accepted this the arguments had pretty much stopped, and for the sake of a bit of extra work her life was much less stressful. It wasn’t that the resentment didn’t still linger there in the background, but her mum had told her that most women felt the same, and she had also pointed out that Anita was one of the lucky ones who got to have little breaks. Anita knew she was right, while all her friends had failed to find a lasting relationship so far, she couldn’t help but think it was because they expected too much, and she had succeeded because she was a ‘realist’… like her mum, wise beyond her twenty-five years.
The ice was thick on her car and the cold wind bit at her cheeks and fingers as she scraped it off the windows. The thought of the Orlando sunshine and the Black Friday bargains in The Florida Mall made her smile despite it all and she drove out of their road without looking back. This was her time, the time when she got to be just her.
As she turned into the next road she felt the excitement for the trip start to grow, and she reminded herself that she needed to stop by the manager’s office to drop the forms about her new passport in…
Anita’s stomach flipped and she quickly checked that no one was behind her before putting her foot down hard on the brake. In a couple of turns she was facing the direction of home and careered back into her road, relieved that she had only been around the corner when she realised she had left her new passport on the table.
Thursday November 27, 1998. 0715hrs
Anita couldn’t stop smiling as she sang along to the car radio. Her mind was already in Orlando, her arms full of shopping. Her flight was almost full, a Jumbo Jet laden with people as happy as she was to be getting away. The traffic was beginning to get heavier, and slower, all four lanes of the motorway filled with cars. She looked into the windows of those she passed, wondering if any of them were going to the same place that she was, if they were as happy as her. By the looks on some of their faces she was pretty sure that most of them weren’t. She looked at the clock, 0715, as long as it didn’t get any slower than this she would make it in good time.
Looking over her shoulder, Anita indicated and pulled into the fast lane. She pushed down on the accelerator, relieved to finally be moving at over 30mph. She rolled her eyes as brake lights flashed in front of her… why was it that whatever lane she got in seemed to become the slowest? Impatiently she swerved into a gap to her left, and then over again, traversing the traffic like a boy-racer. She laughed out loud at her unnatural behaviour, finding enjoyment in the weaving in and out that she had always hated Liam for doing.
Absorbed in the moment she wondered whether anyone around her noticed how clever she was being, catching an old man gesturing wildly at her as she cut across and in front of him. She laughed and tossed her head back theatrically at him in the rear-view mirror, bringing it back up too late to notice the car in front of her coming to a sudden stop.
Anita could feel the adrenalin coursing through her body, her legs trembling as she pieced together what had just happened. Someone was knocking on her window and asking if she was okay, but she couldn’t answer them just yet, not for a moment, not until she knew whether she was or not. She moved only her eyes, looking down and around her. She tuned into her body, checking for any pain, before daring to move her hands, touching her face, circling her feet under the dashboard. The steering wheel seemed much closer to her now somehow. Anita sighed in relief, sinking back in her seat, from what she could tell she wasn’t hurt.
The old man was at her window. She expected him to be angry with her, but his face was full of concern when she finally looked at it. He opened her door and Anita shakily undid her seat belt, letting him help her out of the car. She looked in horror at the front of her beloved old Ford Fiesta, all crumpled up into the back of the Land Rover in front, which had crashed into the car in front of it, and that one into the car in front of that. With the old man’s car just touching her bumper, Anita counted five cars in total that were not going to be making it to where they were heading any time soon. People were standing all around, their cars abandoned at funny angles across the motorway as they had tried to avoid being one of those that now stood in need of rescue. More cars crawled past them at a snail’s pace on the inside lane, people staring out at them to see what had happened, before putting their foot down and taking off into the now empty motorway ahead.
Anita sighed. She wouldn’t be going to Orlando today, that was for sure.
Something was definitely going on up ahead, Anita thought with frustration as every lane slowed almost to a standstill. She still had plenty of time but not if they stopped completely. She looked over to the inside lane, the only one that seemed to be moving, and wished that she hadn’t tried to be clever when she had come over into the fast lane. Checking her wing mirror she waited for the opportunity to move over; she avoided eye contact with other drivers who were no doubt frustrated too, but she had a flight to catch and politeness wasn’t going to get her there on time. One last quick tug of the steering wheel and she had made it, ignorant to the beeping of the driver she had cut in front of. He had plenty of time to slow down, or he would have crashed into the back of her after all, she thought in silent argument with him.
It wasn’t long before she saw the cause of the traffic jam, as she slowly drove past the cars that had not been as lucky as her, four in total stacked one behind the other in various stages of disrepair. People were stood out of their cars, bewildered looks on their faces, and she was pleased to see that no one seemed to have been hurt. An elderly man whose car was parked in the back of a Land Rover caught her eye as she drove past, and she smiled back sympathetically. There was nothing she could do to help them she told herself as the motorway opened up in front of her. Of course, if there had been injuries she would have stopped and helped, she was trained for everything from broken bones to CPR, but there hadn’t been any, had there? She put her foot to the floor, her old Ford Fiesta excited by the chance to open up and show what it could do. By the time they reached 90mph Anita had forgotten the crash and the smile was firmly back on her face.
Thursday November 27, 1998. 1030hrs
Liam was standing at the door with a strange expression on his face as Anita got out of the taxi. She had called him from the garage as soon as the rescue truck had dropped her and the car off, and told him that she was okay, so why did he look so worried?
‘Thank you,’ she said, handing the driver a five-pound note for the short journey and taking the still empty suitcase from him. Liam was walking down to meet her, completely out of character for him, usually he didn’t even get up off the sofa when she got back.
‘Here, let me take that,’ he said, taking the case. She looked at him suspiciously, she wasn’t hurt and she hadn’t been gone five minutes, so why was he acting like this? ‘I’ve put the kettle on,’ he said with a small smile, but he couldn’t look at her and she followed him up the path slowly, wondering if something else had happened in the short time she had been gone.
Anita shut the front door behind her and kicked off her high heels, taking off her coat and hanging it on the coat hook.
‘Sit down love, I’ll just get you a nice cuppa,’ Liam called, heading for the kitchen.
Yes, something was definitely up with him.
‘It’s okay, I’m fine honestly,’ she said cheerily, ‘I’ll just tidy up a bit first.’ She walked into the living room and started to pick up the rubbish from the table, at least she had the whole day off now to sort this all out, she thought, although she still had to figure out how she was going to do the standby they had reassigned her tomorrow without a car. It was times like this they could really do with both driving, but Liam was still banned for six more months… not that it had really been his fault, he’d only had a couple of cans that night, other people could get away with that but he always seemed to be unlucky.
The TV was on, but the volume was down, and she glanced at the screen for a second. Breaking News was written across the bottom, and she stopped to watch when she saw Heathrow Airport behind the reporter. Anita reached for the remote control from the arm of the chair and turned the volume up to see what she had missed.
‘…at this time we have no more information as to why the plane came down just a few miles from here, but it is presumed that sadly all on board flight OS811 have perished,’ he said gravely to the camera.
Anita felt the hairs stand up on her neck, and the room seemed to wobble. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Liam stood frozen in the doorway. OS811, the flight that she was supposed to have been on… For the second time that day her legs went weak.
Thursday November 27, 1998. 1000hrs
‘We should probably do Macy’s tonight, and then meet super early tomorrow for the others,’ Anita was speaking fast with excitement to Julia, the girl next to her on the jumpseat. ‘Target opens at six I think. Then we can do the mall, and we’ll definitely get candles last, they are too heavy to lug around…’
‘Sounds amaaazing,’ Julia said, her eyes wide as Anita told her all about the bargains she had bagged last year, and the year before. She would make sure that she showed this new girl how to do Black Friday in the states properly.
The plane pushed back from stand and they were soon moving slowly along the frosty taxiway. Anita looked out of the window and gazed along the huge wing that stretched out from where she was sitting halfway down the plane. Her mind was running over her ever-growing list but despite her preoccupation something caught her eye. In the distance she could make out an unevenness on the wing’s surface, something colourless seemed out of place on the part of the aircraft she had looked out at countless times before.
Anita reached above her left shoulder, hesitating for a moment before taking the phone from its stowage, she was probably wrong, but if that was ice on the wing then she couldn’t afford not to report it. Better safe than sorry, she thought, as her mum always said. Anita took a deep breath and dialed the Flight Manager, hoping that she wasn’t making a mistake and causing a big unnecessary fuss over nothing.
Forty-five minutes later the plane rumbled along the runway, gaining speed before lifting up and taking flight. Anita looked at her watch, sighing at the lost shopping time. She had done the right thing though; the captain had said it was a good job she had noticed the ice, and thankfully the deicer truck was still close by after already deicing them once that morning. Maybe they would make up some time en-route, she thought hopefully.
(20 Years Later)
‘Love you mum, I’ll see you at the airport,’ Anita said, hanging up the phone and smiling. She was looking forward to her mum coming over, the woman deserved a nice long break.
‘We’re off, Mum,’ Ellie said, walking towards her. Anita opened her arms up for a hug, looking around for the new boyfriend, Josh. He had gone out already.
‘Aim high, and never make do,’ Anita ruffled her daughter’s smooth, sun-bleached hair.
‘I know, I know,’ Ellie rolled her eyes. ‘I can have the world,’ she said, repeating what she had heard a million times before.
‘Yes, my love, you can,’ Anita smiled. ‘Now go grab some bargains,’ she said, handing her sixteen-year-old the keys to her car.
‘Thanks Mum,’ Ellie hugged her tightly, before skipping through the door that led into the garage.
Anita sighed, remembering when she had been that excited. She walked to the window and watched her precious only child drive down the street, her boyfriend sat beside her. He was sweet, and very polite, but she wasn’t sure if he was quite good enough for her yet, only time would tell. A shiver went down her spine as she remembered this same day twenty years ago, how her friends had been so excited to go shopping but had never made it.
‘Honey,’ her husband always seemed to know when she needed to be snapped out of a moment.
‘Coming,’ she answered. Outside, Ben sat in the sunshine at the table by the pool, with a bottle of expensive champagne opened and two glasses poured. Despite the tragedy that had happened so long ago they marked it with champagne every year, because without it she wouldn’t be here now. What had happened that day had made her wake up from the bubble she had been in. It had given her the courage to leave Liam when he was so insistent that she left her job, the one pleasure she had, even when her own mother had sided with him. It had given her the courage to accept that invitation to dinner from a passenger six months later, and then move to America just to be with the same man who now sat in front of her as her husband. It had given her the courage to chase the dreams she dared to have, and now she lived in this beautiful house in Malibu, with the most wonderful husband and a child she had raised to believe that she could have the world, just like she did. She was sad for those who never realized this, people like her mum, who had been so sure that life was meant to be a little bit hard.
‘To us,’ Ben said, raising his glass.
‘To us,’ Anita raised hers and smiled. ‘And where we are now.’
Thursday November 29, 2018. 1700hrs
Anita looked up at the plane that flew overhead as she walked up the path with her arms full of balloons and felt the familiar twinge of longing she got every time she saw one. She still missed being crew so much, even after all these years.
‘Maybe it’s time for you to put your husband first,’ her mum had said kindly when she had gone round there in tears that day almost twenty years ago. Landing day was always hard at the best of times, but after you have done a Black Friday shopping marathon followed by a full flight, coming home to such a mess had led to a huge argument between her and Liam. ‘Perhaps it’s time to stop flying love? We all have to make sacrifices in marriage, and maybe it’s time to settle down now. Not many men would put up with their wife galivanting off like you do…’
She’d been right of course, as soon as she’d given in and stopped flying, started behaving like the devoted wife, Liam had really upped his game, and he was a good, hard-working husband and father. Anita smiled to herself and turned her key in the lock of her smart three-bed semi. She pushed the door open and immediately heard the thunder of footsteps from upstairs.
‘Mum, I love them,’ shouted Jacob, throwing his arms around her as soon as he was close enough. He was growing so fast, she thought, his arms around her at chest height now.
‘I’m sure you have grown since yesterday,’ Anita said, standing back and looking at him, her hands on his shoulders. ‘Look at my birthday boy, all grown up and in double digits now!’
Jacob laughed, looking at the giant 1 and 0 balloons behind her.
‘Right,’ Anita said briskly. ‘That is the last thing I needed to go out for, let’s get this party ready.’
‘Right-ho,’ Jacob marched behind her into the living room where Zoe and Emily were sprawled out on the floor playing computer games. Jacob dived in between them, making the girls groan at their sometimes-annoying younger brother.
‘You have to be nice to me today remember, it’s my birthday,’ he said smugly. Anita caught the look shared between the girls a moment before they both pinned him down and started to tickle him. She stood and watched them, her heart almost bursting.
‘Love, is that you?’ Liam called from the kitchen at the back of the house.
‘Coming,’ Anita called back and reluctantly left the happy scene.
In the kitchen Liam had poured her a glass of Prosecco and she kissed him as she took it. ‘What’s this in aid of?’ she asked.
‘Nothing, just to us and our wonderful family,’ Liam said, raising his glass.
‘To us,’ Anita raised hers back and smiled. ‘And to where we are now.’