There’s a delay in the security line because someone at the front has lost something, and it takes us a moment to understand it’s their baby. Their baby is missing. They put it on the conveyor belt, for a moment, by accident, and when they looked up, it was gone. Their baby is gone, and no one can find it.
The security guards have stopped the line and search around the conveyor, peering and poking inside the x-ray machine. But nothing.
Some people ahead of us, other passengers, try to help in the search. The baby is nowhere to be found. The guards begin to disassemble the conveyor and shine flashlights through its insides, into slots we all know are too small to fit a child. One guard climbs inside the machine and disappears, but comes out a moment later. The parents shout the baby’s name, then start shouting at the guards who, they say, allowed this to happen.
We watch from the back of the line, helpless. We shake our heads and bite our lips and wonder what to do. But we’re shifting from foot to foot and looking at our watches. It’s sad, to be sure, and they should keep searching — but there’s no sense in us missing our flights, too.
The guards agree, because despite the wailing of the parents, they switch on the conveyor again, and we know it’s mainly because they’re frustrated and ashamed to keep failing to find the baby. The line moves forward. We take off our shoes and belts and, as each of us walks through the metal detector, we look around, hoping maybe we will somehow discover the vanished child, even though the others failed.
On the other side, we collect our bags, tie our shoes, reassemble, and look back one final time at the parents. From here, we can barely hear them. Then we’re swept into the rush, off to our gates, boarding our planes, stowing our bags, filing into our seats. Our planes speed up the runway and take off. The missing child is still on our minds, of course: How strange, we think. What a strange thing that happened. We know life is unpredictable and sometimes malignant — but those times are so rare; they don’t happen often and they don’t happen to us, and even when they do, not overly. We climb to cruising altitude and fly above a blanket of clouds, like a ship on a cotton sea.
Christopher DeWan is author of HOOPTY TIME MACHINES: fairy tales for grown ups, a collection of domestic fabulism from Atticus Books. He has published more than fifty stories in journals including Bodega, Gravel, Hobart, Passages North, and Wigleaf, and has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. His work is featured in The Best Small Fictions 2017, edited by Amy Hempel and published by Braddock Avenue Books. Learn more at http://christopherdewan.com/
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