BY PATRICIA HEGARTY
Patricia Hegarty was born and brought up in Ireland. Copyright is held by the author.
MARIE CAUGHT the telephone in a vise grip. Unable to cope with what she’d just heard, she held on, willing the voice to recant the horrific news. Her Justin was on the plane that crashed. That couldn’t be right. His flight wasn’t due to leave until 8.00 p.m. He couldn’t possibly have been on the earlier flight. With an effort, she replaced the phone on its cradle. She stood there looking at it, willing Justin to call. Justin, my love, call me! Call me! Tell me you’re still at the airport, please, please. Sobbing, she collapsed onto the carpet, the one they’d chosen together in that designer store. It was way beyond their means, but they loved it — the rich colours, the bizarre zigzags that demanded a tactile response, they had to have it. Grinning at each other, they nodded and extracted their credit cards and yelled, “fifty/fifty” as they ran their hands along their new acquisition. Later that evening they had christened their rug, not once but several times, their bodies gyrating in their mutual pleasure.
The phone rang again, she hesitated, I’m not going to answer it, she thought. Go away! Don’t you get it? Don’t tell me any more lies. I waited my whole life to meet my Justin. Too cruel, too cruel — this news is false. Go away people! Stop calling me!
The doorbell rang.
“Go away,” she yelled, “just go … go away.” Her voice quavered. She waited, hearing only her own breathing, laboured and painful. The footsteps receded taking the uninvited away from her isolation, misery and uncertainty.
She’d call his office, yes; she’d call his boss. He’d confirm that Justin was taking the later flight. She stared at his itinerary on the kitchen table right in front of her. Departure Toronto YYZ 17.35 p.m. Arr. Vancouver YVR 19.35. See, they were wrong, all of them, wrong!
Where was Mark’s number? On Justin’s iPhone, of course. She’d never had to call him before. Five thirty, the office was no longer open; the switchboard was closed. How could she bypass it? She’d call Jeannie, that’s what she’d do.
“Jeannie, Marie here. I need Mark’s number. I can’t explain now — it’s an emergency.”
“Marie, I’m so sorry, I just heard. Mark called me from his car. He’s on his way to your home right now. I thought he’d have arrived.”
“What are you saying? Why are you sorry? Why is Mark coming here?” Unable to accept the sympathetic note in her friend’s voice, she hung up and flopped into the nearest chair stunned.
That’s who was at the door — her husband’s boss and closest friend. She flicked on the TV and changed to the local news channel. Breaking news, a plane carrying passengers from Toronto to Vancouver had crashed over The Rockies. Search was now being carried out for any survivors, bodies and the black box.
Anyway, why were they saying that he was on the flight? She redialed Jeannie’s number. Mark picked up on the first ring, seeing her name on the call display.
“Marie, I’m desperately sorry, we both are…”
“Mark, don’t be ridiculous, Justin wasn’t even on that flight, you know, he was on the later one. I have his itinerary here in front of me.”
“Marie,” Mark answered, in as gentle a voice as he could muster, “you’re right, that was his original plan. However, he managed to set up an appointment with a valued client this morning so he left on the 15.00.”
See, there was no way they could be sure that Justin wasn’t alive.
“You’re wrong, Mark, you’re wrong. He would have contacted me if there were any changes. I know he would have,” the now distraught Marie said, willing it to be so.
“Check your computer, Marie. Perhaps he left you an email message.”
She ran to her computer and sure enough saw a message from Justin.
I’m taking the earlier flight. Things could really take off for us if I can clinch a deal with this client. He’s ready to move on the project, just wants to meet in person for the final details and to sign the papers.
I miss you already – I’ll be home on the first available flight.
My eternal love,
“Hello, hello, Marie, are you still there? Mark asked.
“Yes, he was on the flight it appears,” she said in a stony voice. “But Mark, that does not mean he is gone. I want to talk to the Aviation Authorities immediately. They’re looking for survivors, aren’t they?”
“Yes, I’ll keep you up to date.”
“No, I need to talk to them directly, myself! What’s their direct line?”
“They said they’d call, their lines are going to be inundated by relatives and the media. Let me call you when I hear something,” he suggested, knowing his advice was futile.
“I have to go there. Where’s the nearest airport? Calgary?” There was no way they could be sure that Justin wasn’t alive.
“Marie, please don’t put yourself through that. They won’t allow you anywhere near the crash site — it’s all been cordoned off — no media, no one except the Aviation Authority, the police and the airline company. Family members have to remain in the nearby town. They won’t know anything more than we do here in Toronto.”
“Mark, perhaps you didn’t hear me, I’m going, with or without your help! Goddamn it, he’s been your best friend and business associate for all these years. Is this the best you can do — sit here and wait?”
Her distress overtook her and she gasped into the phone, realizing that she was being illogical but unable to stop herself. “Oh, God, I’m sorry Mark, I shouldn’t have said that, forgive me!”
Mark said, “we’re on our way over. We’ll talk it through together. We’re leaving now.”
Marie went into the bathroom and stared at her reflection, recollecting last night’s argument.
“You know, Justin, it’s about time you started pulling your weight around here. I’ve been pulling in double, yes double what you’ve contributed for the last year.”
“So you keep reminding me, Marie. Do you think I’m happy with the situation? I’m out of here by 6.30 a.m. and don’t get home until 7.00 or 7.30 p.m. each evening. Or haven’t you noticed?” he added sarcastically.
“Yeah, leaving your well-paid job at CorpTech to join Mark in his enterprise isn’t working out too well, is it?” she had said, curling her lip to indicate her displeasure. “What was it you told me? Six figure salary and our own dream home in next to no time. Well, it isn’t exactly happening, is it?”
“Hey, Marie, this isn’t how I figured it either. You agreed that it would be a good idea at the time, remember?”
“Yes, well, I’m just wondering if it isn’t time for you to get back into a more secure position working for someone else. The bills keep pouring in, you know,” she had said, getting up from her chair and heading towards the hall.
She had disappeared up the stairs to their modest bedroom, feeling guilty and sad.
God, why did she say those things? She knew he worked ridiculous hours and then some. She should have gone down and apologized.
But stupid pride didn’t let her and she had slept alone that night for the first time since they’d been together. Justin had crept out of the house early the following day just as the sun was beginning to rise. He too had been feeling lousy after what had transpired and a night spent tossing and turning on the narrow, uncomfortable sofa.
Unsure of how to deal with these increasing altercations about money and job opportunities, he knew that he would have to make something big happen soon or he stood to lose the woman more dear to him than anything else on God’s earth. How had they come to this?
Arriving in the office, he had sent Marie a message from his laptop:
We’ve got to figure things out for both our sakes. Let’s talk as soon as I get back from Vancouver. Something’s gone terribly wrong and we need to put it right.
I love you,
At her place of work by 8.00 a.m. she had responded instinctively,
I’m sorry; I don’t know what came over me. You are all that I really care about.
All my love,
Mark and Jeannie pulled into her driveway and quickly made their way to the door that they found slightly ajar. Knocking, they walked straight in.
Marie was in a mess, half-sitting, half-lying at the dining room table, tears streaming down her face, repeating over and over, “this is my fault, this is my fault.”
“Marie, honey, what are you talking about? What’s your fault?” Jeannie asked, concerned about her friend’s condition.
“I shouldn’t have let him go, I should have forced him to stay.”
“Marie, that was a business decision,” Mark said, jumping in. “It had nothing to do with you. We’ve arranged flights to Calgary for all three of us. You were right. We need to stick together now.”
Jeannie gathered Marie into her arms and held her, caressing her hair from time to time. Marie’s sobbing finally eased and she was able to drink a cup of tea.
Periodically, Mark received calls giving him updates — other bodies had been identified but so far there was no word of Justin.
They took the next available flight — the journey seemed endless. Jeannie had convinced Marie to take a sedative and she was dozing restlessly beside her. Mark had the aisle seat so he could get updates from the understanding cockpit staff. The captain himself had signaled for him to join him only a short time ago.
“So far only two survivors and both have been identified. There isn’t much hope. I pray you people know what you’re doing. It’s mayhem at the site right now.”
“Thank you, Captain. Justin has been part of our lives for many years — he’s like family. This is something we must do. His wife is very distressed — we couldn’t let her come alone.”
In due course a message came over the intercom: “Fasten your seatbelts please. We’ll be landing at Calgary Airport in 20 minutes.”
The flight attendants made their way through the plane checking that seats were upright and that all seatbelts were fastened and assisting Special Needs passengers. Marie started shaking and Jeannie grasped her hand to comfort her.
As soon as they were safely docked and the cabin doors opened, the captain ensured their swift passage through the airport and to the waiting Aviation Authority Vehicle that he had pulled strings to arrange.
It took about three quarters of an hour to get close to the crash site where the three got out to the flashing of cameras and media mikes being stuck in their faces. Mark guided them away from the crowds to the Information Centre. They were offered tea and snacks, which they declined and sat, prepared for a long wait. After about two hours and several false alarms, two bodies were recovered and taken to the nearest hospital; one with fatal wounds and the other critical. Jeannie noticed that Marie, weary from shock and lack of sleep, had started to shiver again.
“Let’s go check in at the hotel. They’ll call us if they hear anything,” proposed Mark.
“You guys go! I’m staying put. He’s out there somewhere, I know it,” said Marie, adamant that she would stay as close as possible to the scene of the accident.
They stayed in the Information Area — temperatures were dropping as night fell. Another night in these conditions of blowing snow and temperatures continuing to fall did not bode well for anyone still alive out there. The Emergency Crew sent up flares periodically and the snow ploughs blazed high up in the mountains.
Suddenly, there was excitement among the crew and several burly looking guys started to pull on their extreme weather gear, check their equipment and head towards the door.
“What’s going on?” yelled Marie, observing the change in mood among the staff.
“Ma’am, it may be nothing. We are obliged to investigate every lead. Please stay calm. We’ll remain in contact with the station.” With that, the group leader nodded to his team and headed out the door and into the space-type vehicles that could scale the mountains with high-powered lights trained on the terrain.
“Tell me what’s happening. I want to know what’s happening. Have you found my husband,” Marie cried.
Mark and Jeannie struggled to get Marie to remain where she was — there was nothing they could do.
“Ma’am,” a man in a uniform approached. “Ma’am, is your name Marie Hetherington?”
“Yes, yes, that’s me. Have you found my husband?”
“Ma’am, the team has just located three of the passengers, suffering from extreme hypothermia. They were thrown from the plane, tried to make their way to safety, but fell into a deep crevice — they’re in distress, we have no names as yet.”
“Where are they now? Can I see them? My husband must be one of them. I feel it.”
“They were airlifted to the nearest hospital. Ma’am, their condition is critical. Please don’t raise your hopes.”
“I’m not staying here. Take me there now.” Marie got up and made for the door. Mark and Jeannie followed her closely, knowing that they couldn’t hold her back. But what if Justin was not among the three?
“Marie, you must prepare yourself. Justin may not be among them. It was cruel of the official to tell you.”
“Mark, get me to that damn hospital. My Justin is there, I just feel it.”
It was already past 11 p.m. The snow crunched beneath their feet and they were ill prepared for the icy blast that hit them as they emerged from the Information Centre.
They were escorted to the Medical Centre and rode swiftly up the elevator in the eerily quiet, antiseptic smelling building. A stunned Marie was by now leaning on her friend’s arm.
“Oh God, please let it be Justin,” she said again and again.
Rounding the corridor, they heard a voice behind them calling,