Ever since you left West Virginia, Ellen’s been typing and searching through her cell phone. You’re about ten miles outside of Pittsburgh when she says, “Take that exit.”
The sign says it’s the exit for the airport. You take the exit, not saying anything for a while until you’re nearly there, and you ask her which terminal, and she tells you, and you say, “So this is the end of our trip together.”
“Yeah, you’re a good guy, which is why I’m leaving. I don’t want to hurt you more than I have to.”
“Look,” you say, and you point at a teal out the passenger window that is flying low and parallel with you as though it is in formation with you. It reminds you of a time as a child when you were with your grandfather on the banks of the Monongahela River, watching the teals, and one dove into the water, and you and your grandfather watched for it to surface, but you never saw it. You waited a long moment, but you never saw it come back up. Your grandfather said, “Poof,” as though this had been God’s terrible magic trick, one that dissolved a bird into nothingness, and that one word terrified you.
It’s a word he used a lot when things ended. You were in the backseat driving home from your grandmother’s funeral when you heard him whisper “poof” to himself. One day, when the cat hadn’t returned, and your family gave up hope for it, he said it again. Once, when you were a small child, you woke up to him watching you in the dark, and you think you woke up because he said, “poof.” The next day, you found out that your father had left your mother for his mistress.
The teal flying next to you finally peels away and disappears above you. You say, “Poof.”
Ellen turns back to you smiling a confused little smirk, but you don’t want to explain yourself, so you say, “A lot of the trip has been fun.”
“Yeah,” she says, “and I do like you a lot.”
“And I like you too.” As you pull up to the terminal, you say, “When I get back to town, we should have coffee or something.”
“Sure,” she says in a tone that means you’re both going to pretend that you forgot, and some day you will see each other again and still vaguely like each other and say that you still need to get that coffee and catch up, only neither of you will actually set a date, and you both will pray that you never run into each other again.
You help Ellen get her bag and give her a one-armed hug, and you get back into the car, and you watch her go through the sliding glass door and turn right and watch until you cannot see her anymore and just as your father did not give you one final look, she does not turn around, and you do not see her smile or that little mole under her mouth or her crooked nose, broken in those long ago years before you knew her, or her eyes. You try to imagine them, remember exactly their color, but you can’t.
You hear your grandfather say, “Poof.”