Backpack by John Bruce


John Bruce

That fall, George was flying in and out of Hartford-Springfield. One of the irritations of flying for him—a very minor one in the scheme of things, but still an irritation—was the people who wear backpacks as carry-on baggage. They make 90 or 180 degree turns with the backpacks on in the middle of a crowd, and they always forget they’re wearing them, so that every time they turn, they hit people. Students, of course, wear backpacks a lot. There are lots of students who fly in and out of Hartford-Springfield.

He’d popped into a sundries shop near the departure gate to find a book to read on his flight home. There was a sign near the door that said PLEASE REMOVE BACKPACKS BEFORE ENTERING STORE. As he browsed for a book, he noticed a kid, pimply-faced and maybe 15, standing in the same aisle. He had a backpack on his back. George could see the problem plainly enough: the kid was going to make a 90 or 180 degree turn, and his backpack was going to hit a shelf, with the usual consequences. People who don’t read signs had always been irksome to George: he got the kid’s attention and pointed out the sign to him.

There was another guy in the next aisle. As soon as he heard George mention the sign to the kid, he rushed over. “That’s my son you’re talking to!” he said. At that point, the kid did the inevitable: he made a 180-degree turn, and his backpack swept a nearby shelf clear of little plastic souvenirs of Hartford-Springfield, which rattled all over the floor. The lady behind the cash register rushed over in consternation.

“It appears that your son is an oaf,” said George. He wasn’t sure why he said it. Maybe it was something to do with the father’s protective attitude, maybe a slight suggestion that the kid could do no wrong. But it came out, and there it was.

“You called my son an oaf?” replied the guy. “You’ve insulted my son!”

“Hmm,” said George. “He just gave us a demo, didn’t he?”

The guy drew himself up to his full height, which was maybe five-ten. He had a carefully trimmed beard, and he was dressed in an outfit that was clean and new and looked straight out of L.L.Bean. “Do you know who I am?” he asked, in a low growl. Well, of course George didn’t, but it was probably a good guess that the guy was an academic. A professor, maybe, or an associate dean. If George had a son or daughter at that particular institution, there could be problems, but as it happened, George was childless. “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” he asked again, almost shouting this time.

“I can surmise,” said George. “I can only surmise.” But then the PA announced his flight, and he headed over to the gate. As he left, the guy was still muttering, “If you only knew who I am.”

About the Author

John Bruce’s writing has appeared recently, or will appear, in 13th Warrior Review, decomP, Diddledog, DOGZPLOT, Greenbeard, Underground Voices, Why Vandalism?, Word Riot, Zygote In My Coffee, and Lowestoft Chronicle. He has degrees in English from Dartmouth College and the University of Southern California.