“Pterodactyl in my Pocket” finds a moment of human connection in the impersonal zone of airport security.
This story was originally published on 21 July 2015: http://needleinthehay.net/story-childhood-memories-pterodactyl-pocket-lydia-trethewey/
A few paces away there is a woman in a grey uniform. Her expression is stern as she beckons me forward; a slight knitting of the brow, habitual rather than conscious, and the vague sense of a frown about her features. Magenta lipstick, unflattering on most people, betrays the vertical slits where her lips have cracked. She seems to barely register me as she calls me through the metal frame. I’m a man like any other.
Instead her eyes hover above my head. I can’t see whether the light has gone green or red, or whether it even is a light or some other kind of signal. Each airport seems to have a different system. For instance, when I went to put my bag in one of the small plastic trays to send through the x-ray, the disgruntled man handling that side of operations took it out again and put it straight onto the conveyer belt. Now it seems possible that I won’t know how to walk through the detector properly.
It must have been all clear, because the uniformed woman doesn’t look at me again. Sheepishly I wait for my things. An elderly man is trying to jerk his heavy bag from the conveyer. He catches my eye, looks quickly away. Am I threatening in his eyes? A stranger, tall and silent, in this strange conduit. My face in the metallic surface of the x-ray machine reflects back in warps and waves. Cold eyes, closed expression. Even my reflection is a stranger to me.
The elderly man has his bag on the ground, wheeling it away. He doesn’t look back. From behind, his head looks like a misshapen boiled egg. If I tilt my gaze just so he resembles my late grandfather.
“There’s something wrong with that boy,” grandfather used to say.
“He’s perfectly normal. You let him alone,” my mother, ardent and quick to fire up, some vague mental affliction far back in the family tree still raw in her heart.
“It’s your side that’s done it. I don’t know what Timothy was thinking.”
“Don’t you dare talk to me about Timothy! It’s your fault he went the way he did!”
Her shrieks cutting through me. They go on and on as if I weren’t even there.
My bag comes through. I grab keys, phone and coat, slide my arms in. Another uniformed woman a little way off is watching. She is smiling, kind-eyed.
“Excuse me sir. Could you…?”
She indicates her portable scanning equipment.
Before his heart attack grandfather would occasionally pick me up from school.
“Who did you play with today?”
That’s how the interrogation would begin. Nervously I would put my hand into my pocket, wrap my fingers reassuringly around Benjy.
I didn’t know what he wanted me to say.
“Did you ask any of them?”
Throwing my words back at me, making them accusations. Did he hear what I said?
“They don’t interest me.”
“They don’t interest you?”
“We don’t like the same things.”
He would sigh resignedly, gripping the steering wheel.
The woman is addressing me.
“Sorry,” I mumble.
“Sir if you could take your hand out of your pocket.”
I withdraw my arm slowly, ready for the scanner to outline me.
With a jolt I realise I’m still holding Benjy. The skin beneath my collar burns. The tattered little pterodactyl unfolds in my sweaty palm. One of his eyes is coming loose.
The security woman looks bemused, and then cracks a smile.
“No no,” she waves the apology away.
Slowly she reaches towards her belt, continues into her trouser pocket. Pulls out something small and orange. A bundle of cloth, old and lopsided. Four legs, a tail, black stripes. A worn out little tiger.
She sees my surprise, laughs.
For a glittering moment I’m not so alone.
This was one of my earliest flash fiction stories, after I had gotten back into fiction writing. I’ve since realised that I made the mistake of forgetting to name my main character.
This story won the “Porcupines Need Love Too” competition on Needle in the Hay. Follow the link to see the rest of the short list: http://needleinthehay.net/winner-announcement-porcupines-need-love-too-award/