Empty Threat

Contemporary Nonfiction

Seen through a bright window, a husband and wife ready themselves to fly. She curls her hair in a mirror while speaking. He stands at her side knotting his tie and speaks. Their bags are stacked in their doorway. Their cab idles out front, its taillights shining red, its exhaust pipe puttering. Beyond the house, silhouetted conifers mark a jagged line rising and falling as if through the sheen of stars, while a speck of light, a satellite, crosses the sky on a northward trajectory and the man and the woman’s gazes widen and narrow before each, their own reflection.

A conversation that started as a lament over the ethics of air travel in a time of changing weather patterns has morphed into a debate over the tragedy at North Sentinel Island. Seems the tribespeople there, a culture reaching back 30,000 years, thrashed a western proselytizer as he came ashore. They hanged him in the tropical air as a warning sign to future trespassers. They shot him full of arrows. One wonders, Can we expect to go where we want without impunity? “Absolutely we can,” she says. “Absolutely not,” he counters. “Are you kidding me?”

Inside the bright terminal at the municipal airport, the recorded voice of an English speaker warns all passengers: “Any unattended bags will be removed by the authorities and destroyed.” She asks, “Do they really destroy the luggage? Or do they just say they will and then store them somewhere as a kind of object lesson?” “How should I know?” he says. “Do I look like a screener?” “When I was a little girl,” she says, “my parents never followed through with their punishments. If they swore a spanking, no one laid a finger on me. If it was restriction, I gained my freedom by being extra conciliatory. If it was a month without television, I smiled and played docile, and we all watched something together later that evening.” “I assume they detonate them,” he says. “Blow them to smithereens.” “It doesn’t pertain to us though, does it?” she says.

The husband and wife agree that not only are they not terrorists, but they are not even lawbreakers. Their vigilance comes naturally to them. Watchers to their core, they are the Eyes of the Western World.

How ironic that, such as we are, we know no lasting disgruntlement.