I never liked the harbor. When my father said we were driving to the harbor, what he really meant was the airport. The two ran parallel to each other along the same highway exit. If you followed all the signs for the scenic route toward your left, you would eventually reach one of the parks that faced the harbor and the city skyline. But whenever we went, my father would always turn off of the exit even before the signs for the scenic route started. He would drive onto a side street instead, then onto another and another until we reached a stretch of chain link fence crowned with coils of barbed wire.
My father got out of the car and stood at the fence, his fingers woven tightly into the mesh of small, polygonal rungs. A cold breeze rippled his hair and the back of his shirt, but he didn’t seem to notice. Shivering, I shut the passenger-side door and joined him.
We looked out onto the wide lanes that cut through the airfield beyond. Planes taxied back and forth in front of the distant terminal. To pass the time, I tried to guess what my father was staring at. I knew by now not to disrupt his reverie with questions. The only signs of human life were the ground crews that, from here, were only slightly bigger than the specks emitted by their conical flashlights. The terminal’s exterior attempted to emulate the waves of the Pacific Ocean in concrete and glass, but at best it resembled the ragged blade of one of my father’s power tools. Then there were the planes themselves. Their bodies and tails were painted with airline logos and the colors of foreign flags. A woman wearing a garland of hibiscus smiled from one passing plane. Another displayed the top of a mountain misted by clouds. One plane was painted over with the black and white body of a killer whale, the mascot for the local water park. The foremost windows were the whale’s eyes and its mouth was skewed to one side in a toothy smirk. The plane was cruising to a stop when I felt a familiar tremor begin behind me.
I covered my ears and fixed my eyes to the ground. The tremor increased until I could feel it in my ankles, legs, and chest. I forced myself to keep looking down, but after a few moments, I felt the urge to look up. I knew what to expect and how it would make me feel, but the urge became irresistible. Finally, hands still at my ears, I raised my head.
Above us, the sluggish body of a jumbo jet maneuvered the last stages of its descent. Even with my ears covered, the roar was overwhelming. The plane seemed close enough to touch. I dared myself to raise an arm into the heavy blue sky, but I could already feel my fingers being torn off by the suction of the immense engines. As the jet touched down, the ground seemed to shift under my feet and thin lines of light edged my vision. I looked over at my father. His hands had never left the fence. He watched the jet grow smaller and smaller until it disappeared into the narrow glare of the terminal lights.
On the ride back, my father turned on the radio, but I could barely make out what was on. The noise of my own body grew louder in my ears. I listened for every pulse of blood as the silence between heartbeats seemed to lengthen. Sinking lower into my seat, I forced air and words out of my tightening chest.
What? my father asked. He seemed to strain to make himself heard.
Why do you go to the airport? I asked.
He turned a knob on the radio. After a while, he said, you can’t hear a damn thing.
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