The War on Terror
John Mullen
Break
Today Edith Bernhardt will climb into an airplane knowing that the slightest glitch of equipment or malice of intent, the latter now to include the evil ones, would condemn her to endless microseconds of horror and a quick fiery death. She had not flown since the evil ones wriggled from hibernation where they had pursued the most quotidian of lives, polishing floors and removing tonsils in busy medical centers, writing software code along urban beltways, all the while and silently cursing in their God's name all that Edith thanked her God for.
"The Vice-President says new terror attack 'inevitable'."
Edith's manufactured calm disintegrated as she reviewed the dark foreignness of those who shared her departure space. She wondered, "Where are the Americans?", recalling the baggage checkers, security officers and ticket takers who seemed to have arrived from strange, less reliable lands than hers, places where lives were ended without much attention being paid, as if there were an infinity of equally ready and identical souls to fill unnoticed voids formed by tragedy.
"Homeland Security Chief has 'gut feeling' of summer attack."
Edith studied the disturbing aggregation that surrounded her now, a rough looking black woman with greased-down flat hair that shone like an unwrapped bowling ball. "She's ready to die", Edith thought, and felt herself shackled to the time, place and manner of this black person's ending. She inspected a darkly exotic Indian woman, or was she Pakistan or Malaysian, it's all the same, concealed under layers of mysteriously wrapped fabric. Were her children already doctors and computer engineers? Was she, too, prepared? There was a stocky Latino man with flashing gold teeth under a thin line of mustache over his full higher lip. His expression was of a calm amusement that would accept mortal calamity without fear or regret.
Yet another of these strangers was far more worrisome. He was a young, dark-skinned, mustached man with a short-collared, yellowing white shirt, black shiny trousers and disheveled hair. Incongruously he carried an expensive, satin-finished aluminum case. He was alone against the building's outer wall, his eyes slowly sweeping the room. As Edith avoided the gaze of the man, the Arab, she noticed a newcomer. He was a tall, trim man with blue eyes, crew cut, fitted grey blazer over plaited jeans and shined western boots. His look was determined, concentrated, and his eyes were on the Arab. Edith imagined the western man, the Sky Marshall, casually approaching the Arab, "Come with me, sir," and binding the Arab to a chair in a brightly lit cell for the questioning.
But the surety of this capture failed to disperse the foggy lightness building around Edith's brain. Though her prodigious hips were wedged tightly between the metal arms of the seating, Edith had to grip those arms to remain upright. She could sense the muscles of her neck executing micro-corrections to keep her head from bobbing on its pedestal. A wetness formed between her breasts and under her arms.
"Twenty-four men detained in UK airliner plot."
The CNN News backdrop on the airport monitor read,
"Terror in the Skies"
as the anchorwoman, a runway model look-alike, recounted one more time what no one yet knew of the cruel scheme.
"Homeland Security to ban shampoo from carry-on luggage."
Edith's visual field was now shrunken to mouths: saddened mouths, laughing mouths, painted mouths, mouths with dark gums and others housing double rows of comically-whitened teeth. And there was the evil mouth next to the wall, serious, darkly mustached, a mouth that appeared frozen into solitary intent. These images whirled passed as if Edith was at the center of a grotesque carousel of gargoyles.
"Ladies and Gentlemen we are prepared to board flight 801 to Tampa."
Edith was already slipping when it happened. The Arab took firm hold of his expensive case and was walking toward her. Their eyes locked.
"Shoe bombing terrorist restrained in struggle on airliner."
Edith heard a terrible, "Noooo!" and looked to the others. But they looked only to her and she knew the sound, the cry, was her own. She pushed on her arms to stand but fell back into her seat.
"Are you ill, Madam?" It was the Arab over her, his breath spicy, his eyes blacker than his damp skin, his clothes smelling of tobacco. The Sky Marshal stared, began to move and then stopped. The Arab said, "Come with us, will you, we'll just..." He was grasping her hands, his fingers seeking to pry hers from the seat. Edith pleaded, "No! Please! I'll leave. I'll go home." Then, "Help me! Help!" The sky marshal frowned. Edith fixed upon his strong face, his white face. Her voice a whisper, "Help me, please, they're taking me away! Please! Please!"
"FBI uncovers terrorist plot to bomb the Sears building in Chicago."
Tears washed Edith's face, "Why won't you help me? I'm an Amer..." She choked, her nose ran water, "an Americ..." Edith's eyes rolled upwards and back, she slouched, deflated like a pricked beach ball and was silent.
"Edith?... Edith? Are you feeling better?" The Arab's accented voice penetrated her unconsciousness. "Edith?" The room was bright and sterile with tiled walls and metal counters. She was lying like an upended turtle on a hard mat far above the floor, a strap tight across her middle. The Arab said, "Edith? Do you remember me? I am the airport physician, Dr. Petrocelli, Antonio Petrocelli." Edith stared. "We've given you a little something this time, just to settle you. And, oh yes, your husband Howard is on his way."
John Mullen's Kierkegaard's Philosophy: Self-Deception and Cowardice in the Present Age is perhaps the best selling work in English on the Dane's writings. He has published two other books, numerous reviews and essays, and has lectured extensively. He lives and writes in Gloucester, Massachusetts.