7am; Billings, Montana

Because you and your luggage took separate flights, you are dressed in yesterday’s clothes—clingy purple top, black pencil skirt, stilettos. It’s an outfit you like—one that seems chic when surrounded by the steel and glass of your Chicago office tower. But now, in a hotel dining room with mounted animal heads and knotty pine tables, it appears farcical, even alien. Like you were trying for pastiche.

Plus, it smells.

Of day-old sweat. Of stale, re-circulated air. Of strangers.

You glance at the breakfast menu, sticky and laminated, while you wait for your colleague—your companion on this business misadventure. Around you, the air is so thick with the scent of syrup and sizzling fat that it’s almost viscous. You feel unpleasantly suspended in it, like the bit of honeycomb in the bear-shaped jar at your elbow.

A quick scan of the dining room. You are the only person not wearing denim. For a moment, you meet the glance of the man at the next table; he quickly looks away. You picture your curious combination of un-styled hair, naked face and snug-fitting clothes. Perhaps he takes you for a hooker on her way home.

Your colleague, Rich, appears. He looks as crisp as a clean sheet of paper in an oxford-cloth shirt and khaki pants. Meanwhile, your underwear is still damp from being washed in the sink.

“You ready?” he chirps. “We’re supposed to be there in 20 minutes.”

You are not ready. You’re tender, exposed. Literally stripped of your defenses.

On the trip home, after a long, unproductive day, you fold yourself into your scratchy airline seat and rail at your weakness, your ability to be so easily rattled. As the wheels leave the ground, you want only more Billings –– the chance to try again.

About the author

Irene's travel credits include the mountains of central Mexico, the red rocks of Arizona and airport bathrooms everywhere. Her work can be found in…

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Issue 02 · December 2008

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