Offcourse Literary Journal

Three Short Stories by Diane Payne.



"Why do these hairy Krishna's always hang out at airports? Isn't that vagrancy?"
"Maybe they're flying somewhere, Zack."
"That's why they're carrying those paper flowers instead of luggage."
"They travel light. Why do you care?"
"I care, Mary, because I care. Can't you walk faster?"
"I could if you carried your share of the luggage. I don't understand why we can't check our bags in."
"Because they'll be lost. We'll get to Tampa without our luggage. You want to live like the hairy Krishnas in Tampa? Just have a flower?"
"That sounds good to me," Mary says, setting her luggage down, then walking away.
"Mary, what's wrong with you? If security sees this, they'll take your bags apart. I just can't believe you. What if someone smuggled something in your bags just now?"
"Who Zack? Did you see someone suspicious pick up my bags, offer to carry them? Why can't we rent a cart?"
"Weaklings rent carts. Look at that line. Hurry up, Mary."
"We're on vacation, Zack. It's supposed to be fun. Relaxing."
"Then we should've stayed home in bed."
"You treat everything like a marathon."
"You need to get in better shape. You're wearing out."
"You're a pig, Zack."
"Come on, hurry." Zack looks at Mary's feet and scowls. "I told you to wear flip-flops. Now you have to take off your shoes, Mary."
"It's eighteen degrees outside. I'm not wearing flip-flops."
"Soon it'll be eighty degrees. Hurry up with the shoes, Mary."
"That won't get us to Tampa any quicker."
"Mary, don't be so pessimistic. Why can't you smile stupidly like your hairy Krishna pals? Think the eat Ecstasy for breakfast?"
"Ever consider the possibility that some people are naturally happy, Zack?
"No, not really. Highly unlikely. Hurry up, Mary."

Mary rolls her eyes, grabs her shoes, and gets in line.

"Ever notice how the skinheads never go through security? What do you think they carry beneath their robes, Mary?"
"Probably nothing, Zack. Absolutely nothing. Not even undergarments."
"Mary, lower your voice. People can hear you," he whispers before walking through security.

Mary considers turning around, joining the Hare Krishnas, simply leaving, but walks through the metal detectors. It is a vacation. It could be fun. Ten days away from Minnesota. Ten days with just Zack. She sighs considering this. She tried to convince Zack to invite another couple along, even his brother and wife, anyone, but Zack hates compromise, waiting for others. This is their first trip without any children. The last of their children has moved to the dorm. It's just the two of them now. Just the two of them.

Mary tries not to think about this, tries to be optimistic. Wonders if those guys do take Ecstasy. She remembers when it was called The Love Drug, remembers when Zack swallowed it on hikes with their college friends, back when he was sociable, back when he enjoyed giving everyone hugs and massages while high on Ecstasy. Now he prefers to shake their son's hand, and place awkwards pats to their daughters' shoulders. She wonders how she has changed, senses she's become someone else, someone less herself, someone she wouldn't want to spend a week with in Tampa.

She collects the luggage and puts her shoes back on. Though they have plenty of time, they speed walk through the airport for their gate. Once they find chairs, Mary heads to the bathroom.

"Hurry back, Mary. You never know when we'll board."
"Probably in another thirty minutes, Zack. Please relax."

He scowls and picks up a newspaper from the floor.

Mary walks down the hallway and finds a gate for a flight heading to Albuquerque. She asks if she can change her ticket. For a price, she could do just about anything. She reaches for her credit card, but decides against it. The airline agent seems familiar with these encounters, these requests, these close calls. She smiles sympathetically as Mary backs away from the counter. Mary wishes she'd see a pair of Hare Krishnas, even one Hare Krishna, but that'd be too rare. Instead she looks at the people waiting for their departures. One young couple is kissing passionately. Several mothers are with infants, probably heading off to visit the grandparents. Too early for spring break, so it's mostly older folks, people like Mary and Zack, people not really talking anymore, nor kissing, just waiting to leave. Mary leans over and kisses Zack. Shocked, he pulls away and scowls. Then he touches Mary's knee and whispers, "Not in public, Mary."
"Remember, we're on vacation."
"Mary," he says shaking his head. "Mary."


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Diane Payne teaches creative writing at the University of Arkansas-Monticello, where she is the faculty advisor of Foliate Oak, a literary magazine seeking submissions. She has published one novel, Burning Tulips.


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