Conversation at Schipol

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by Roland Howell

A pair of young Americans sat at a small Bistro table near a service bar in the Amsterdam airport. The young man watched the ethnic potpourri moving past. The girl stared out a large window at piles of big concrete boxes with portholes and some square openings. She did not know what they were. People could live in them, she thought, and maybe they would pile them together somehow and make an apartment building. But, they looked so cold and inhospitable. She could not imagine living intimately in concrete. In front of the concrete boxes there were three large dumpsters painted dark blue with BFI lettered on their sides.

“Look at that,” the girl said. “Those dumpsters belong to the same company that takes our trash at home.”

“I guess it’s an international company,” the man answered. “Trash is a big business all over the world. Everybody has something to throw away.”

“Not everybody has the same trash, though,” the girl replied. “What some people throw away other people would keep and cherish.”

The man sighed, stood up, and looked at his watch.

“Do you want another wine?” he asked. “We have close to a half hour before we need to be in the boarding area.”

“You decide,” the girl said.

“What the hell does that mean? I don’t know if you want it.”

“That’s true. Poor Bobby. I’m so inscrutable. I know what you want, though. You’re all glass.”

Bobby made no retort. He went to the bar and ordered two more Rieslings. When he returned, the girl looked up and smiled.

“I don’t mean to tell you what to do,” Bobby said. “It would be the practical thing, though. You could finish your degree. I’m set with the fellowship. We’d be able to stay on our timetable.”

“Oh, yes, that’s right. We’ve got a timetable. Tell me, do you think I changed the timetable, Bobby?”

“No, of course not. Sometimes even the best science throws us a curve.”


“Yes, nothing is perfect.”

“Really? Even for a perfectionist?”

“Like me, you mean.”


“Look Kate, things happen. Mostly you can’t change them. This we can. Science screwed up and science can fix it. When we get back to Detroit I’ll handle everything at the clinic. You’ll just need to go for an interview first.”

“Oh, I can just get interviewed back to how I was. How sweet.”

“Christ, Kate, things happen. I’m just trying to be practical and let you know I’ll be with you.”

“Will you be with me too, even if I don’t go through with it, Bobby?”

“Of course. Is that what you’re worrying about? You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. It’s your decision. It always was.”

“Good. I’ll probably do it. It’s not that I’m scared to do it.”

“I understand,” Bobby said.

“Now can you just shut up about it, Bobby? Please just shut the hell up.”

Bobby stayed silent. A couple with two children headed for a nearby table. Bobby had to get up and move the luggage cart so they could get through. Kate watched the man and the woman and the two children, about five and three.

The wife thanked Bobby. Bobby nodded and sat down. “I know I talked too much. I just want us to do the right thing and be happy,” he said. “To be practical, Katie, that’s all. But it’s really your decision.”

“If you say practical one more time I’m going to stand up and scream.”

Bobby stared down at the table for several moments and then began to gulp the rest of his wine. “I’m going to get another glass,” he said.

“Don’t. Drink the rest of mine. I’ve had enough.” Her glass was almost full.

They sat not talking. The little girl at the next table began to cry. Her older brother and her father sat indifferently while the mother picked her up and spoke softly into her ear.  Soon she stopped her tears. Kate watched without expression.

Bobby got up. “I’ve got to use the “john”, he said. You want to go first?”

“No, I’ll wait until just before boarding.”

He walked away and Kate looked out the window. An airport tractor had backed up to the first dumpster. She watched the driver walk back, attach it to the tractor, and drive away behind the concrete boxes.

Bobby returned and remained standing next to their luggage cart. “I think we’d better start for the boarding area,” he said.

“All right,” she replied.

“I’m sorry Katie. Will you be okay?”

Katie looked up and smiled. “I’m fine,” she answered.