The Vacationers - Emma Straub Page 0,1

taking her time,” Jim said. “We’ll be out in five.”

Sylvia clicked the phone off and scooched her way across the backseat of the taxi.

“They’re on their way,” she said. Sylvia leaned back and closed her eyes, feeling some of her hair catch on a piece of duct tape that was holding the seat together. It seemed like a genuine possibility that only one of her parents would come out of the house, and that would be it, the whole thing wrapped up like a shitty soap opera, with no satisfying resolution.

The meter ticked away, and they sat in silence, Sylvia and the taxi driver, for ten whole minutes. When Franny and Jim finally came bustling out of the house, the horns of all the cars now stalled behind the cab acted as a processional march, scolding and triumphant. Franny slid in next to her daughter, and Jim sat up front, the knees of his khakis pressing against the dashboard. Sylvia was neither happy nor unhappy to have both of her parents in the taxi, but she did experience a moment of relief, not that she would have admitted it out loud.

“On y va!” Franny said, pulling the door shut behind her.

“That’s French,” Sylvia said. “We’re going to Spain.”

“Andale!” Franny was already perspiring, and she fanned at her armpits with their passports. She was wearing her traveling outfit, carefully honed over flights and train rides in all corners of the world: a pair of black leggings, a black cotton tunic that reached her knees, and a gauzy scarf to keep her warm on the airplane. When Sylvia once asked her mother about her immutable travel habits, her mother spat back, “At least I don’t travel with a handle of whiskey like Joan Didion.” When people asked what kind of writer her mother was, Sylvia usually said that she was like Joan Didion, only with an appetite, or like Ruth Reichl, but with an attitude problem. She did not say this to her mother.

The taxi pulled forward.

“No, no, no,” Franny said, yanking her body toward the plexiglass divider. “Make a left here, then left again on Central Park West. We want to go to the airport, not New Jersey. Thank you.” She sank back against the seat. “Some people,” she said quietly, and stopped there. No one said anything for the rest of the ride, except to answer which airline they were flying to Madrid.

Sylvia always liked driving to the airport, because it meant traveling through a whole different part of the city, as separate from the corner she knew as Hawaii from the rest of the United States. There were detached houses and chain-link fences and abandoned lots, and kids riding their bikes in the street. It seemed like the kind of place people drove their cars to, which thrilled Sylvia to no end. Having a car sounded like something out of the movies. Her parents had had a car when she was little, but it grew creaky and expensive in the garage, and they’d finally sold it when she was still too young to appreciate what a luxury it was. Now whenever Franny or Jim spoke to someone who kept a car in Manhattan, they reacted with quiet horror, like people who’d been subjected to the rantings of a mentally ill person at a cocktail party.

Jim did his exercise walk around Terminal 7. He walked, or ran, for an hour every morning, and he didn’t see why today should be any exception. It was something he and his son had in common, the need to move their bodies, to feel strong. Franny and Sylvia were quite content to sloth themselves into oblivion, to ossify on the sofa with a book or the godforsaken television blasting away. He could hear their muscles beginning to atrophy, but then, miraculously, they could still walk, and did, when properly motivated. Jim’s usual route took him into Central Park, up to the reservoir, then across and back down the east side of the park, looping around the boathouse on his way home. The terminal had no such scenery to speak of, and no wildlife, save the few confused birds that had snuck their way in and were now trapped at JFK forever, chirping at one another about airplanes and misery. Jim kept his elbows high and his pace brisk. He was always astonished at how slowly people moved at airports—it was like being held captive in a shopping mall, all wide asses and deranged children.