Ava opened her eyes and sighed. The room was already bright this morning. She always forgot to pull the shades down before climbing into bed, but so did her sister. They were sharing the same room during their stay at home. The same bed, too. Their parents had turned their mid-life projects towards renovating the space where their children used to have nightmares, last minute homework struggles, and Harry Potter reading marathons.
She rolled over to look at her phone and find nothing new of note on social media. Not that anything in anyone else’s life was of much importance to her these days.
It was fifteen before nine in morning. Woke up just in time to see her sister off back to her life in Vermont for a week or two before she returned here in Massachusetts for the holidays. Ava slid her legs over the side of the bed, wiping crusties from her eyes. With the other half of the bed empty and hurriedly made, Laura must already have been out in the living room.
Ava stood up, taking a moment to stand and stare out the window at her childhood backyard. A land filled with more memories than she’d ever comprehensively remember.
The bedroom door opened as Laura pushed in, looking a bit startled.
“Hi – “
“I think you’re going to have to move your flight to today.” Laura’s voice cracked in an unmistakably sad form.
Ava’s heart sank as she quickly processed what exactly Laura said to her. Her flight to Los Angeles was tomorrow. But she had to go back today. Come back tomorrow.
Tears filled both their eyes as they struggled to find a way to communicate something, anything to each other. Instead, they stood at opposite ends of the bed, looking just past each other.
Having successfully moved her flight out of JFK to later that night, Ava found herself being driven to the train station not long after she said goodbye to her sister. Her mother had been mostly silent on the drive, until:
“You and your sister have had the best father. He really was the greatest man.”
They spent the next hour sharing stories. Ava began to realize there were so many questions she hadn’t even thought to ask. She asked them. Where her parents met. Who pursued who. If their parents had liked them together. She felt power in the information, as if that power was an antibiotic to calm for the whirlwind journey she was putting herself through.
When finally parked at the station, Ava hugged her mom for several minutes until she knew she needed to get to the platform or her journey would be for naught.
“I love you, mom. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Ava closed the car door, weekend bag slung over her shoulder. As she walked away from her mother’s car and put her Bluetooth headphones in, she began to tremble. All the information in the world wouldn’t be able to cure it.
Ava opened her eyes and sighed. As the train pulled into Grand Central Terminal, she slowly tilted her head left and right to check her surroundings, realizing she was still living the unfortunate events she lived all of two hours prior.
Disembarking onto the platform, Ava adjusted her headphones to fit securely in her ear. A slow synthline began to pulse as a new song began to play from her phone. A vocoderized vocal gently hummed lyrics underneath the pulses, almost matching the steps Ava took towards the main hall of the terminal.
Stepping into the vastness of the hall, swarmed by travelers of local and foreign destinations, Ava found her feet holding their place on the floor. Her gaze traveled toward the mural of the celestial ceiling as the vocoder raised an octave. Though she knew she should’ve been starting her journey toward the subway to make it to the airport in time for departure, she found herself pausing to take in what was one of her first New York memories with her father as a little girl. Her father forever marveled at the wonders of the terminal. Its beauty within the architecture. The technological wonders of its many moving pieces, both human and railroad as one. She took a deep breath, vaguely comprehending the permanent fact that her father would never set foot in Grand Central ever again.
The synth dropped out behind the vocal in Ava’s ear, leaving an airy hum to accompany her as she left the terminal for the unknowing crowds of the sidewalk.
The sun was far past setting when Ava settled into her seat on the airplane. She was proud to beat her goal of traversing the city for the airport in just forty-seven minutes. A small victory in a period of life where she didn’t feel in control of anything.
After quietly popping two sleeping pills, Ava found herself asleep for the next six hours until landing in Los Angeles at the prime time of midnight. She slipped out the aircraft with nary a word to the smiling flight attendants who had not a clue her need for a lack of smiles.
One quick walk brought her to her car service at the airport drop off. Her driver may have introduced herself, but Ava resigned her human contact to just herself, staring out the window at the cold, brightly lit buildings that lined the 405. An melodic acoustic sound flowed from her headphones, a cover of a song she once heard in a television show. There was something in the strumming of the familiar song that Ava felt differently in her soul tonight than when she first heard it.
A warm tear quickly fell down her face as she set foot out of the vehicle at her apartment. From the outside, it almost looked like a foreign place. No longer home. Her heart was elsewhere.
Her phone buzzed as she unlocked the door. Settling down on her extraordinarily comfortable couch, she brought her phone in sight. Sighing that its clock read one in the morning. One eye open, she saw the vibration was for a dating app notification.
The last things ever to be currently on her mind were the flaky panderings of Angelino men. A need to know the unknown compelled, though, and she slid open the notification to see who had messaged her: a handsome guy, just a few years older, whom she had spoken with a couple weeks prior.
“Hey Ava. Location says you’re close. Back in town I assume?”
“I am. Just eight hours. Back to the airport in the morning.”
“It is the morning. Things good with you?”
“Don’t make me answer that question.”
“I don’t want to make you. But I’m a stranger with open ears if you need them.”
Perhaps it was her nocturnal delirium, but something about this digital chat in the online moonlight came across very intimately. Despite the intense pressure on her eyelids to slip closed, the idea of talking to someone not related to her own personal tragedy was highly tempting. She wanted to feel close to someone instead of feeling like floating matter in the empty universe of her apartment. She wanted anything to make her feel remotely at ease.
Ava was about to close out of the app, when she clicked back on her nighttime suitor.
“My dad is about to pass away, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
She closed the application, turned off her phone, and closed her eyes for an empty slumber. When she woke up, she was no longer on the couch but in her bed.
Moments after Ava’s mother picked her up from the train station, she found herself passed out in the passenger seat. The rumble of the car as it caressed the hospital’s driveway woke her, and she immediately felt guilty for not sharing conversation with more world-weary mother.
The two walked hand-in-hand into the building, up the elevator, down the hall toward her father’s room. Ava gently placed her bag of belongings on the floor and sat on the edge of her father’s bed.
Her father, at the slight movement of Ava’s body on the bed, opened his eyes. “Hi Dad. I’m finally back, don’t you worry. Laura will be here again soon, too. We’re all going to be here.”
“Hi ladybug.” He gave her a faint smile before surrendering to his slumber-inducing medication.
Ava, for the briefest of half-seconds, met her mother’s eyes before looking away, both at capacity. The weight of Ava’s journey descended upon her in a heavy haze. Her eyes burned as tears brimmed at the edge. She held them back, unsure how to keep her world spinning within the world at large.