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The Razor’s Edge
It was late in the evening when Jennifer Grady finally boarded the plane to head back to school. The two and a half hour layover in Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. was finally over, and she was glad to be on her way. It had been a long day – a long week – and although she was sad to leave her family, she was glad to be leaving all the pain involved with her recent, emergency trip home to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her 78-year old grandfather had fallen unexpectedly some time last week – she rehearsed the story she had told so many times to those who’d come to comfort her – and after a long week of surgeries and tests and bad news, he had passed away on Friday.
The small-framed girl with shoulder-length, brunette hair found her seat – 22A – on the aircraft and after a moment of struggling to put her duffel in the overhead, she dropped into the window seat and turned to watch the activity in the airport outside her window. Her attention was soon drawn back inside by the loud voice of a passenger standing in the aisle outside her row, a woman trying to rearrange her seat in order to sit next to both John, a business man she’d just met in the terminal, and Tamara Sanders, apparently a local one-hit-wonder singer whom nobody remembered but whom she seemed to regard as the next Jessica Simpson. The stewardess encouraged everyone to make their way to their assigned seats, and after a long wait, the pilot’s voice came on, welcoming the passengers aboard American Airlines flight 352 and announcing that the flight would last a total of 6 hours, 20 minutes.
Jennifer shook her head at the woman who continued to talk from her seat three rows in front. “She’s crazy,” a deep voice said from two seats to her left.
Jen chuckled and turning to the broad-shouldered young man, she muttered, “It’s gonna be a long flight if she keeps talking.” The two chuckled, and he extended his hand.
“I’m a writer,” she said, “or at least, that’s what I want to be. I want to write novels actually.”
“That’s awesome,” Donny nodded his head. The two were leaned forward in their seats as they spoke, looking past the Korean man who sat between them working on his laptop. They had sat this way for a good while now. “I had thought about pursuing writing – it was my major for a whole three weeks at VMI – but then I decided on history.”
“Yeah? I have to say I’m not too much a fan of history,” Jen confessed. “What have you done with your major?”
“Nothing actually, so far. I mean, I was technically a history major but in all honesty, all I ever wanted was to be in the military.” She nodded in understanding.
“I took a career test at school, and they said I should join the military or law enforcement.”
He laughed. “Yeah, well, if I’d followed my career test in college, I would have ended up a forest ranger.” They laughed. “So, what kind of novels do you want to write?”
“Modern realism,” she paused, expecting to have to explain the phrase she only partly understood herself. Instead, he just nodded and began naming a few books he liked that fit that genre. The conversation continued as they began discussing favorite literature – he had read a lot more than she had.
He knew so much. He had lived in three different countries as a high-ranking enlisted soldier in the Marine Core; and his military experience gave him an angle on life that she didn’t often hear. “Life as an officer is lonely. You can’t talk to your men. You have to be calm and strong and have it all under control. I remember my first tour I used to call my parents and vent on them, telling them all that I saw and felt until I realized what a burden that put on them. After a while, you learn how to deal with it all.” He sat back now, running his left hand over his blonde military-cropped hair and resting his arm behind his head for a moment before leaning forward again to return his elbows to his legs and his head to the back of the seat before him.
“So, as a soldier, how do you feel about military movies and novels? Do you appreciate them? Do you like them? Do they frustrate you? Do you want the story told?” Jennifer sat forward as she spoke, and despite the fact that she spoke quietly to avoid bothering the Korean man who was now slept between them, she was sure he could hear the eagerness in her voice. She was thankful that he was so open to discussing the unique combination of writing fiction and military experience. Both were her passions and somehow, she hoped to one day correctly capture that perfect combination in her own work.
“Honestly some of it I just laugh when I see. Others, like We Were Soldiers, I can see how they had to use a little creative license to make it film-compatible. For instance, when they have the soldiers storming the hill, we wouldn’t have been that close together. The way the movie has it, if they had taken one out, they would have taken out a couple at least ‘cause the soldiers are so close together. In reality, we wouldn’t be that close, but hey, for a film, they’ve got to put eight guys in the frame ‘cause one guy per frame just doesn’t work.”
He’d actually had some film experience. He had been an extra in The Pelican Brief, he said. He’d been scuba-diving too, and he even had his skydiving license – he wrote down the information for a place he frequented near her school in the suburbs of Los Angeles. “You might want to look into getting licensed if you decide you really like it,” He said. “Either you’ll do it once and be done; or you’ll land at the bottom and realize you’ve just inherited the most expensive hobby ever.” Jen laughed, pretty sure it would end up being the second. She took the paper from him, excited to give it a try.
The conversation swung back to literature and the written word. “My favorite book is The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. Have you read it?” Once again, she shook her head no. She’d never even heard of that book, let alone read it. He continued talking, “It’s the story of this guy Larry Darrell. Throughout the story, you get to know him a little; it seems everyone knows Larry, but no one knows him. The story is a search to know him and his search for meaning.” He continued to share the strong points of the novel, each of their heads resting on the passenger’s seat in front of them, their voices hardly above a whisper as the lights were dimmed and the minutes blended into hours. It was completely dark outside the plane now; and the view below offered little sign of light. It was late, and they were over the Midwest.
“It’s my favorite. I’ve read it six or so times. I took it with me on my tours overseas and you don’t even know how many nights I spent flipping through the pages. It looks all used – I marked it up and underlined and dog-eared pages. The book may be a novel, but it speaks so much about the human condition.” He paused. “You said you go to a Christian school, right? What kind?”
“Well, I think it’s technically non-denominational, but it’s Protestant if that’s what you mean. It’s just a small, Christian liberal arts.”
He nodded. “I’m Catholic, and I believe in Jesus and all that; but you know, it’s interesting to me how religions work. I mean, a landlocked country having a myth of a flood, so many different religions having a similar salvation story – a father sending his son to save a society that can’t help itself. It’s interesting.”
Jen’s mind was moving fast as he spoke. She was mentally and emotionally exhausted from the past week, but she knew she couldn’t miss the opportunity here…..
Tune in next Sunday for part 2!! Until then… let me know your feedback! Also, if you’d like to add your writing to our Serial Sundays segment, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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