Katya pressed her cheek against the cool metal of the
cubicle wall. The flight from Moscow to Chicago had made
her feel queasy. Now, in the airport restroom, she knelt
before the toilet in the cramped stall, wondering if she’d
find the strength, let alone the desire, to make the
connecting flight to Pittsburgh.
But she must. The man had come all the way from
America to meet her, the only one of the hundreds of men
she’d written to during the past four years who had. He
was convinced from the beginning that she was the one
he’d been looking for. When Katya didn’t answer his
letters at first, he simply sent her more, each describing
in great detail his life in America. Sometimes he wrote so
much about himself that she found his letters self-
centered, but he eventually asked about her life, too.
When he learned that she liked poetry, he sent her
poems, some of which he had written himself. He had
also enclosed pictures of his three children. Family, he
wrote, was important to him. In person, he had been
polite and respectful, and he had brought her a ring, one
that had surely cost more than the annual wages of Katya
and her mother combined. “On horoshiy chelovek,” her
mother proclaimed. He is a good man. Katya accepted her
Unfortunately, he was not the most handsome of the men
whose photos she had received, and certainly not the
youngest, either. Katya had hoped for someone who
looked more like the American men in films and
magazines. At twenty-four, however, she knew her
options were quickly diminishing. Despite her own beauty,
men in Russia just weren’t interested in a devushka like
her. Such an old maid would have to be content with
whoever would take her.
But now, finally in America, Katya did not feel content.
Was it her imagination, or had he really changed the
moment that the plane left the runway in Sheremetyevo?
He seemed more aggressive, more presumptuous
somehow, when they were alone. After eleven hours
beside him on the airplane, with his arm taking the entire
armrest, his clammy hand clutching hers like a greedy
child, and his thighs spilling over into her seat, Katya
craved to feel only her own skin, completely separate
from his. Vozdukh! she’d told him. Dyshat' nado! She
needed some air, some space around her. But he hadn’t
understood, and what she was feeling was too
complicated to express in her broken English. She wanted
to scream and run. There was a pressure inside her, like
she was being strangled from the inside out.
With his arm around her shoulder, he guided her through
the crowded airport to the restroom, despite her
insistence that she could make her own way. He had
seemed genuinely concerned for her well-being, but Katya
resented his help. Everything was overwhelming her right
now, and she couldn’t untangle her feelings.
“Katya? Katya!” She could hear him calling from the
hallway outside the restroom. She checked her watch.
With less than half an hour remaining before the flight to
his home, he must be frantic, she thought. But she wasn’t
ready to leave the restroom. Not yet. She pictured him
out there, pacing, running his fingers, thick as sausages,
through his thin hair, which he grew slightly longer on one
side to cover his balding head, a slight mist of sweat
covering his pallid, rubbery flesh—flesh she would
certainly be expected to touch tonight.
Her ribs ached as she retched again. There was nothing
inside her anymore. Stand up, she urged herself. Wash
your face. You’ll feel better. As she stood to reach her
handbag, dangling from the hook on the back of the
cubicle door, the toilet flushed automatically. At first,
Katya was startled, but soon felt amused. Were
Americans so lazy and irresponsible, she wondered, that
they couldn’t be trusted to flush their own toilets? She
smiled for the first time in hours.
Katya rummaged through her purse, looking for the moist
washcloth her mother had put into a plastic bag. As she
sat down on the edge of the toilet, pressing the
threadbare cloth to her forehead, she noticed the airplane
ticket he had bought for her—one way from Moscow to
Pittsburgh—on the restroom floor. It had fallen into a
small puddle. Hopefully only water, thought Katya.
Americans can be so dirty.
She picked it up, carefully tore away one wet corner of the
ticket, and threw the tiny scrap in the toilet. She stood up
slightly, and giggled as the toilet flushed again. She then
pulled away a long dampened edge of the ticket and
watched that disappear, too.
Suddenly, from the other side of the door, Katya heard a
woman’s voice. Although she couldn’t understand what
was being said, she knew from the intonation that the
woman was upset. From the edge of the seat she peered
through the crack between the cubicle door and the wall.
There was a man in the restroom. Him. She shuffled her
feet away from the door, but it was too late. He had
recognized her shoes.
He pounded on the door of the cubicle and said something
urgent, so quickly that Katya caught only her name.
Through the space between the door and the wall, she
could see one eye looking back at her—one insistent,
desperate eye. Her heart pounding in her ears, she looked
down to avoid his gaze, and noticed then that the
airplane ticket was no longer on her lap. It had somehow
slipped off and was now in the toilet.
Motionless, she sat and stared at the ticket. Making even
the slightest move to reach for it might cause the toilet
to flush. She did not need to look up to know that the
man was being escorted out of the restroom. She could
hear the scuffling. Katya, however, remained in the
cubicle, perfectly still, watching the ticket’s bright ink
bleed into the water.
Audrey Webb hails from
Canada, where she was an
actress and comedian. Since
coming to the United States,
she has focused her attention
on writing fiction. Now a
resident of Austin, Texas, she
has finished among the top 10
competitors for the past two
years in the NYC Midnight
Creative Writing Championships.