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Thin Whine through Sober Eyes

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The lights flash on the other side of the room, red and white mixing in a dazzling blur you can't see and you don't understand. The room is busy with dull noise, people shifting in squeak ridden, plastic chairs, and a cleaner moving past with an overloaded trolley. Your father's watch tells you that it's four o'clock, and you add the AM by force of habit. You want to call your research assistant, because he's probably awake, and you think better when you have someone to rave at. But you have to travel on a plane with the other people in this room, and you don't want to wake them. You adjust your coat across your knees and wait for the snow to stop.

You are sitting in a secluded corner of the lounge, shaded by an overdone shrub. You are separate from the families, who have laid their children on the floor, with backpacks for pillows and jackets for blankets. You are away from the caffeine loaded business people, who complain, because the airport closed down the business lounge in the last downsize, and everyone has been thrown together. You sit next to the large expanse of window, that will serve to wake everyone if the sun breaks through. The glass is hard when you rest on it, and you imagine that your head has gone soft, like your eye sight and your infamous temper.

This airport looks like all the others and you're not even sure what state you're in. You know that you're heading home, your nephew's wedding is in three days. David asked you not to miss it, because you missed his bar mitzvah during the campaign, and you shouldn't disappoint the boy again. David's unspoken words warn that you shouldn't disappoint your younger brother either. You hope the snow stops soon.

Home has become an oblique notion in the last fourteen or so years. Before Bartlet, you lived in New York. You were born there, you went to school there, and you settled there after your marriage. During the Presidency, New York became more distant, home as Connecticut was to Josh, or Southern California to Sam. Now you keep a place in New York and one in DC, but you never spend more than a week in either one, because you are a traveler and you need to keep moving.

They tell you home is where your heart is, but that's a cliche, and a crappy one at that, and it makes your head hurt.

One of the lights above you is buzzing, a thin whine that invades and defeats the notion of sleep. You could read, your bag is heavy with your latest research, as well as the latest Bartlet biography. But your new glasses are too strong, and your eyes ache when you wear them for a long time. So you run your latest theories through your mind, because you'd rather find holes in them now, than later, when you put them on paper.

Her name was among the latest bunch of articles thrust at you by your assistant. It's always a surprise to see her by-line, even though you've read everything she's published. Princeton has treated her well, which is funny, because you always expected Sam to end up there, and not in Australia, or whatever god-forsaken place he's in now. You thought he would be the academic, and she would be doing something glamorous.

You wish you could say that you don't think about her, or that her memory is infrequent and fleeting. It seems pitiful for a man of your age and reputation to obsess over something more than ten years old. But you can't remove her from your mind.

You've missed her. There's been chances to see her, mini reunions with former White House staff, the last Democratic convention, at Josh's or Sam's weddings. But you were out of the country during the reunions, and you were busy at the last convention, giving lectures and attending book signings and being available for the latest Democratic nomination to talk to. And weddings are sentimental things, which you've never enjoyed attending.

So you've spent ten years understanding why you can't see her. Everything changed when Bartlet lost the election. She was in pain. A raw, burning agony, which everyone noticed and everyone talked about. They all expected you to help her, to be there for her. But you were drowning in scotch and bourbon, and she moved to Chicago before you even landed in the gutter.

You had been a jackass to her before that. You had treated her like crap many times. But you had always been able to apologise and your apology would help. This time she left, and you didn't know how to apologise anymore.

You suppose she's changed in ten years. You have with your soberness and your speckled grey beard. You look old in the mirror and you feel old in your bones, yet many regard you as young for your age. You've kept your mind sharp, to the relief of your publisher, and you're told your books are the new bibles of political students. Your advice is being read around the world.

She was in Sam's wedding photos, and her image danced in front of your eyes. There were streaks of grey in her hair, but you weren't sure if they were already there when the term finished. She was laughing, and her arms were wrapped around Josh and Leo, and her happiness was pleasing and painful. You imagine if you had been there, she would have thrown her arms around you as well, and you would have protested her exuberance, while welcoming her warmth.

You know you could write to her. Her address is in your contacts book, scrawled in during your last visit to Josh. A letter would be easier than a phone call, but you fear you would need to be sensitive, and your best writing is sharp and direct now. You fear you would not know what to say, and you would be awkward and uneasy. You fear she would see your handwriting and throw it away.

The red light stops flashing on the other side of the room and a child cries in her sleep. This is your life now, the rounds of endless airports and anonymous book stores. The visits to the highest corridors of governments in every corner of the world. The lonely nights awake in hotel rooms and public libraries, so you can just finish another chapter before you have to move on. The quest to go home, just so you can leave again.

You wonder where she is now. Does she sleep beside someone new? Does she sleep soundly? Does she still have the rubber ball that she stole from your desk, thinking that you wouldn't notice?

You rest your head against the frosty window and notice that the ground staff are moving around the tarmac. The snow fall has become soft and occasional and you know you will be flying soon. It's time to go home.