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cassie and marlo listen in: part 2
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)

“The old guy in the black leather jacket smelled of stale pot. The leather was cured with it.” “What does stale pot smell like?” “Like wet, musty leaves in back of your grandfather’s closet.” “I might find that comforting.” “Not so much when you sit next to it for six hours in row 34 of a plane.”

“No way! After the pantless Frenchmen, you rode home with the old man?” “Yes.” “Did he leave his sunglasses on the whole time?” “Yes.” “And the jacket?” “His costuming was exactly the same.” “Did he ever take the jacket off?” “No -- and I heard plastic rustling underneath it.” “Ooo, maybe he was a smuggler!” “Well, security was pretty lax then, especially in St. Barth’s.” “I bet that’s another reason he smelled like pot!” “I don’t know -- I just tried to ignore him.”

“Did you talk to him?” “Well, sorta, but it wasn’t what you’d call a normal conversation.” “Conversations on planes rarely are. I mean, it’s unlikely you’ll see the person again. Single-serving friends – Palahniuk said that, right?” “Yes. But the old guy didn’t appear to be talking to anyone directly -- in fact, I could swear he was dreaming and talking out loud.”

“He didn’t talk to you directly?” “Not exactly. But, from time to time, he would just start talking.” “Maybe if you hadn’t been staring at him over the top of your magazine --" “I wasn’t! I hate talking to people on planes, so I didn’t make eye contact.” “Did you even get his name?” “No. Again, not a big talker. I try to stay as low-key as possible.”

“So what did he say?” “Well, we’d barely made it off the island when we experienced some turbulence. Seems we’d hit a storm. The old guy is on my right by the window, arms crossed over his chest and his head tilted back. He says, ‘My great-uncle was struck by lightning and killed.’” “Oh, nice. I always like it when strangers tell me their personal stories for no apparent reason. What did you say?” “Well, I sat there for a minute, then said, ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ He didn’t say anything.” “What was his voice like? Was he French, too?” “You know, I’m not sure. He had an accent, though. He rolled his Rs a bit. And his voice was scratchy, like it hurt to talk.”

“Did he say anything else?” “Not a word. So I thought he fell asleep, and we landed in San Juan shortly thereafter, and he sat in his seat as everyone else got off. Imagine my delight when I boarded the plane to Dallas and there he was, in the window seat of my row.” “So then what happened?” “Nothing at first. We were in the air for quite a while before he picked up where he left off -- ‘We have a picture of my great-uncle, setting the blades of a windmill in place right before the lightning hit. The windmill was a giant lightning rod.’”

“You’re kidding me! Nasty! And just out of the blue like that?” “Yes! Like I was just, you know, waiting. Why do some people always do that -- think everyone is interested in what they have to say, regardless of the context?” “Why do some people pull a commando flash in an airport? People are weird. You haven’t grasped this concept yet?” “Well, it’s just something I wouldn’t do to someone.” “Maybe it’s you. Maybe people think you have a friendly face and are compelled to tell you things. Or, heh, show you things.” “Or maybe they’re narcissistic. I mean, who opens a conversation about death with a stranger? Since I didn’t answer him this time, I hoped he would shut up.”

“Maybe he was stoned, and it didn’t seem like a big deal to him. If it bothered you so much, why didn’t you just put in earbuds?” “I lost them on the island, and didn’t have time to buy new ones during the plane change.” “Ah, that sucks.” “Exactly. But it gets better. I don’t know how much time passed, but he hadn’t changed position at all. I think I started to nod off a bit when he says, ‘In my family, we always manage to take a picture of someone right before they die. I don’t know how this happens, but it always does.’” “Okay, that’s creepy.” “Isn’t it? I don’t know what’s worse: the fact itself, or that he told it to me. So even though I still really didn't want to talk to him, I said, ‘That’s unusual, but I’m sure it’s not with every family member. It’s probably a coincidence.’”

“And?” “He didn’t answer. Sure, fine, open your mouth and tell me these freaky stories, but don’t actually engage me in dialogue. Whatever.” “I would have repeated myself, thinking he didn’t hear me. Because now I want to know why he said that, or how many family members, or whatever. Did you press him for more details?” “No -- he never moved, and again, I swear he was asleep. And when we landed, he just sat there.” “Maybe you should have taken a picture of him!” “Oh, now, see, that’s just wrong.”

“You know what this reminds me of?” “What?” “That lady on the train from D.C. to Durham. You remember -- the one who seemed kind of psychic?” “Psychic? I don't think I remember hearing about that."

The Cassie and Marlo series is a serialized fiction experiment exploring social norms, class issues, and the ridiculous things you can overhear if you're listening at the right time. For more on the project, click here.

This installment is open to workshopping. In the comment box below, please provide some constructive critique as to whether the reformatting of the dialogue works for you, and if the storytelling is holding your interest.


Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

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