Things to do in Airports

rob mclennan


for Saskatchewan to appear for me again over the edge

horses led to the huge sky the weight and colour of it

                        Fred Wah, Medallions of Belief



The mind seeks out patterns. The mind seeks out what is familiar.

The ice cube slid from her left hand to the floor. She blushed, and glanced around. An airport janitor, replacing the bags in the garbage container at Gate D 7 caught her eye, and smiled.

He offered: let it melt. It’s probably the cleanest thing on the floor today.

This is how she imagined it. In reality, no one had noticed, or commented. In the end, she realized it hadn’t really mattered. The ice had already begun to sink.

She suspected every airport its own bubble, displaced from the world. She suspected every one identical, in designs and shops, like so many suburban shopping malls. A long way to travel to end up in the same location.

An ice cube, melting on the carpet of the Washington airport. She was between flights, from Toronto to Houston. She didn’t know what was happening.



Emma was unused to flying, wasn’t used to airports at all. About to become a grandmother, and for the first time, lifted against the force of gravity. This was something unsettling, and deeply unnatural. When they first arrived in Canada, they’d come by steamer. Slow.

She feels displaced, as from the nineteenth century. A relic.

She coughs out recollections. Fills her aged lungs.

What was that poem she’d read? The women of my mother’s age, the ones who still survive beyond the burial of their husbands, and their babies. To see them now in singles, twos. She had long outlived her mother, far older than what she once considered ancient. Well after her mother had succumbed to dementia. Her whole self, folded in.

That this was where she lived, and had for some time: a woman of a certain age, no longer required to explain that her husband and son were dead. Only her daughter remained.

Emma envied her daughter. From a safe distance, of course. Sharp as a butcher’s blade.



Emma began to fidget, worse than a toddler. Delays. She had abandoned the distraction of glossy magazines. Patience was possible only had she known what she was waiting for, and for exactly how long. This unknown space of not knowing. An hour, or three.

In the airport, the security guards with assault rifles unsettled her. Back home, it was an announcement of families with small children who could board the planes first, and others who required assistance. Here, the offer includes military personnel. Emma wasn’t expecting such differences across borders, the shifting of values.

When her daughter was still home, they endlessly fought. Once her husband died, and later, their son, the two remaining bodies fell, and fell apart. Completely out of orbit. They fell so far and so fast it was years before they spoke again. Emma alone in her grief, losing the whole of her world in the space of months.

But her daughter was sixteen by then. There was little a mother could do.



People, endless people. Even with infinite variety, most of the crowd could be from anywhere, any city or country. She people watched, even as she ignored the endless shops and kiosks, lineups for trinkets, postcards, sweatshirts and glossy magazines.

Another hour, restless. The fleshy inside of her lungs, coated in a fine dust.

Before the plane scheduled to board. She coughs, and something catches, caught. Emma noticed the shift in the air, re-circulated. A dry, dull scent. Musty, slightly stale.

At the Washington airport, just across the state line, this airport on the wrong side of the Potomac. She was not in Washington at all. Through bay windows, she caught views of the White House, the Washington Monument. The closest she’d come.

From her daughter’s history courses, she was fully aware of why their Government House painted white, whitewashed to cover scorch marks, a northern response during the War of 1812, for the American invasion and burning of the City of York. She smiled, slightly. Coy.



She nodded off, quietly. Slept.

The mind seeks out patterns, even where none might exist. Emma, her head in the clouds. Lost. Was she safe in her seat on the plane, or somewhere below?


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. The author of more than thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles include the poetry collections Life Sentence (Flat Singles Press, 2018) and Household items (Salmon Poetry, 2018). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

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