Just before he was supposed to leave Italy,
he woke in the night with a charley horse.
All the next day, he was in pain, limping.
After breakfast, he brought down his suitcase
and lingered in the lobby of the hotel,
talking to the man from Moldova
who’d drunk too much cognac the night before
and was nursing a hangover. They were still
talking when the car arrived to take him
to the airport; he said good-bye to the man
from Moldova and waved from the car window;
he was already at the airport when he realized
that he’d left his brown bag in the hotel lobby.
The laptop, all the notes for his next talk—
everything is a math problem now.
(If a driver travels at x kilometers per hour,
and the distance between the hotel and the airport
is y kilometers, how many minutes do you have
to get through security and limp all the way down
to the appropriate gate before ticketed passengers
must be on board the flight leaving for Germany?)
A very young woman with a stroller returns
to the service counter and elbows her way
in front of him, screaming at the desk clerks
in ragged Italian. She is wearing overalls, her blond
hair cut short, and the boy in the stroller
doesn’t look up. The Italian women
with their sleek black hair and painted nails
are accustomed to this sort of thing;
they go on typing even as they snap back at her.
Later, on a sort of bus out to the tarmac,
the young woman will have to relinquish
the stroller and hold the little boy on her lap.
You can see: the fight has gone out of her.
They have all been herded onto this shuttle,
exhausted, drained, submissive as lambs.
The party is only half over, but the champagne
tastes flat and the hors d’oeuvres have gone cold.
Two weeks later, a shipping service will return
the brown bag to his home for 150 euros.
Someday he will hold his own sons on his lap.
Now, he stares out the window and waits.
Leah Browning is the author of three short nonfiction books for teens and preteens. Her fifth chapbook, Out of Body, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Browning’s fiction and poetry have recently appeared in Santa Ana River Review, Coldnoon, Bellows American Review, Chagrin River Review, and the anthologies Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence, from White Pine Press, and The Doll Collection, from Terrapin Books. A handful of her poems have also appeared with audio and video recordings in The Poetry Storehouse. In addition to writing, Browning serves as editor of the Apple Valley Review.