by Soup Martinez
Forrest B. Speck boarded the Tuesday Evening Seven O’ Clock Flight from Dallas to Newark at precisely 6:43pm. The cabin was already half full with Customers. Customers, because, nit-minded as it may sound, the chief concern of the operating entity, with It’s Name pasted, infringing upon the ever-innocent gaze of Terminal 6 patrons, in Shiny Yellow on the starboard side of Airship B-12774, was the money and not the leg room of its everything-but-first-class Customers. 28 inches, to be exact.
Though Forrest had been at times known to occasionally play a humorous video from his full-volumed-phone sans earphones while using a public restroom, the general remark regarding Forrest, of those in his consistent and immediate presence, is that he was ‘perhaps forgettable’, and that ‘you almost wouldn’t notice him if you weren’t paying attention’. He liked it that way, to use a quite Frannyan term, being wholly a nobody. Because nobody bothered a nobody. And Forrest had much more pressing things to do than be bothered, most of the time.
Forrest, like any other red-blooded undergraduate, was only slightly insane in a few minor and irrational ways, but you couldn’t tell by just looking at him. Forrest’s latest insanity came in the form of a letter he was carrying in his sport coat pocket. It was his 28th consecutive hour of carrying and reading with near-religious fervent said letter. This letter signified the apparent end of the one-sided admiration that was his relationship with a girl he met at school, one Catherine Rider of Dallas. He had read the letter so many times that he could nearly recite it, though, to his judgement, it was nearly twice as long as it needed be relating what it will. 28 hours of unbroken, inanimate sadness thinking about things that never were, and probably never will be.
Forrest found his row already inhabited by one other individual. A thirteenish looking girl with straight brown hair, shoulder length. The girl appeared just old enough to board a flight by her lonesome, but not without her Polly Pocket doll, which now occupied all her attention, and covered any possible hint of unconfidence that would normally seize a girl of her disposition. Forrest did not greet her as he placed his bag in the overhead compartment and took his seat.
Forrest sat in 12D with the girl to his immediate right, 12E. The second Forrest sat down three things happened in such a remarkably short time frame that he almost literally jumped as if they had happened at the exact same time. The first two things involved Catherine. The third did not.
First, he retrieved the letter from his coat pocket and re-read it with the sincerity of a five year old.
I’ve been sick to stomach aches over you for the past 3 days, it’s not your fault but it is because of you. I am glad you told me how you feel. You have to know I care about you and appreciate you so much, but you’re my friend. I couldn’t go on a date with you, even if I tried. I want you to know it doesn’t make me feel good to say this, and I don’t want it to hurt.
The worst part about the letter is that it didn’t help change any of the ways he thought about her, and she really only needed to say ‘Stop talking to me’ to make her point. He wasn’t exactly in love or anything, but he definitely like-liked her. And to know that she still cared about him and appreciated him did nothing to quell that emotion in the least sense. He was going to like her no matter what she said, he already knew that. Exactly how she told him the feeling was not mutual was of little relevance. But there was little use in being pedantic at this stage. All the imaginary conversations he’d had with her in his head for the past 28 hours still went exactly the way he wanted them to, and he still thought about her in all the ways someone ought to think about someone with whom they are in deep, deep like. It’s too bad most things that go on inside people’s heads don’t happen. It probably wouldn’t fix everything, but certain people would be a lot more happy. Something about the letter made him feel like the only soul on the planet. All that remained for him was to read, continue to be lonesome, and read until he forgot what she looked like, sounded like, smelled like, or anything else about her. He was determined to read this letter until she became more like words on paper than a real person in his mind.
This thought was immediately complicated by the second of the three near simultaneous events, a slight buzzing sensation in his left pocket. It was a text message from the same girl.
Hi! Guess what song I have stuck in my head.
The message, more unexpected than Forrest would readily admit, excited his senses and made him feel immediately less lonesome. In a way it made him feel a sort of hope, accidentally of course, but a real hope altogether. He undid his lousy fold out table, placed the letter on it, and held his phone with both hands, taken by the fresh opportunity before him. He still had a few minutes before the flight attendant came through the intercom and asked all passengers to please turn off all electronic devices, and he could respond before then saying something like his flight was about to take off and he couldn’t wait to hear exactly what song was stuck in her head. Of course, that would require a few minutes of crafting a delicate message. One with not-too-much sincerity to seem as though he still was in deep like, but not too much insincerity as to seem like he was only going through the obligatory motions of feigned interest.
He also didn’t have to respond right then, but the remaining options if he took that route did not have quite the same luster to him. He could respond after the flight, some three plus hours later. Or not respond at all. But is anyone ever okay if you don’t respond to their text? or at least respond within a timely fashion? especially when the issue at hand is something a fleeting as a song rattling around somewhere in the Temporal Lobe?
This thought flood took about 3 seconds to pass through one ear, tickle his Prefrontal Cortex, and exit the other ear. In that time the third and final event of his almost immediate sequence of events happened.
The girl, seated to his right, had now replaced interest in her doll with interest in his letter, laying unguarded on the lame excuse for privacy attached to the seat back in front of Forrest. The worst part was that she was not the only one feasting their eyes on his now unprivate unlove letter. The doll had shifted in her hands, and it too was staring, with an oddly cubic gaze, at his letter. The girl was squinting, the way Forrest’s mother would, examining one of the many cuts he got on his limbs as a youth, apparently trying to make out exactly what was meant by the letter writer’s coupling of the two most puzzling phrases to a teenager. ‘I care about you and appreciate you’ and ‘I couldn’t go on a date with you’.
“Please turn off all electronic devices”.
Forrest snatched his letter, stuffed it in his pocket, grabbed his bag, and walked, phone in hand off the plane.
He was almost certain he did have that message posted somewhere near him, or at least he must’ve looked like it, because as soon as he read the text message he noticed the girl on his right, in the middle chair of his row, reading Caty’s letter that he had placed on the fold out table in front of him. The contraption was a lousy excuse for privacy. But Forrest was wrong for thinking he would have any privacy on an airplane in the first place. Especially if he was sitting next to a pre-teen girl.
Forrest, without attempt, had been noticed a few too many times on this flight for his fancy. (why had he been noticed?)
Forrest was travelling home, alone, after the spring semester of his second year at the esteemed Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
This was a fact that simultaneously relieved and distressed him.
He was being noticed, which meant in some way he was bothering the otherwise very Tuesday equilibrium of the surrounding passenger’s evening flight. Not to bother, and not to be bothered, was the guiding principal of Forrest’s life. And he was in fact breaking his own cardinal rule.
But his being a perceived bother came as a slight relief to Forrest. It relieved him because it quelled the ever hanging, like the smell of properly baked bread or well popped popcorn, fear of being absolutely and totally forgotten. But it distressed him because it reminded him, despite his years and years of trying, that he was still, indeed, to someone a bother. As his mother remarked semi-annually (OR ‘with a jello like consistency), “Forrest, if you would just quit bothering me about … (the bureaucracy of the College of Liberal Arts and your pedantic English professors, (something more daily, regular, odd ??) … I could get some things done around this home.” Of course it was a well-known fact that he couldn’t just quit, but clearly this bit of knowledge had not yet spread enough to reach the far side of the house. Such incidents occurred no more than once every quarter, and of the few prides left in Forrest’s life to be nearly wholly considered a person-who-is-not a bother was by far his crowning achievement.
People (the girl reading) can’t just know about this stuff without asking first. It’s bothersome.
And the worst part about it is, I didn’t even try to become like this, it just happened.
It’s hard to paint a convincing picture.
The less sideways thinking part of Forrest knew that his hope was tainted with spot and blemish. If Forest had a permanent market, and the urge to tell the entire world how he felt in this particular moment by writing a message on his forehead it might have read something like this:
I am an Idiot. Please take advantage of me.
Soup is a writer from Austin, Texas. Some of his favorite things are listening to Hamilton and avoiding direct sunlight. Some of his least favorite things are loud noises, and being noticed. His first book, a collection of essays titled ‘Dreams Like Air‘, will be out whenever he finishes it. Maybe this summer. Follow on Instagram, and you can send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org