The fiction editors, Rappahannock Review: We noticed a sub-theme with the color pink and its connection to Carl’s image and perceptions of Lucy. What is the significance of this color? Is there a reason Carl so often notices it about Lucy?
Michael Chin: Yes, pink shows up a great deal in the story. A big part of Carl’s attraction to Lucy is what she represents as someone young and (in his view) girlish. She represents lost youth and missed opportunities, and is in many ways the antithesis of his more stolid ex-wife who drinks decaf herbal tea and doesn’t use condiments. In any event, the color pink has a connection to young girls for Carl, and thus intertwines with his whole conception of Lucy.
RR: Since the story was written in Carl Perkins’s point of view, as readers we felt very close with him and were very intrigued by his character. What was the motivation behind his character?
MC: The seeds for this story came to me when I was flying for business and thought I saw my ex-girlfriend’s father in the terminal–a totally reasonable notion because he traveled a lot for his job and we were in the airport he typically used. After I realized it was not him, I started to imagine what sort of interaction we might have. Would he be angry with me for breaking his daughter’s heart years before? Or would he recognize that his daughter and I were both young people and that break ups happen, and we always got along pretty well, and settle into an easy conversation. In the weeks to follow, I imagined how a father ex-girlfriend relationship might be even more complicated than a father and ex-boyfriend talking, and as I explored those ideas, I settled into Carl’s point of view. I’m a solid generation younger than someone like Carl, but there are aspects of the change from a paper-based world to an electronic one that I can relate to him on (I still lug hard copy books through airports when I travel, rather than e-reader). I’ve also always been predisposed toward nostalgia. These points were gateways for me to understand his character and what was driving him.
RR: “Waiting for Flight” seems to focus on Carl coming to terms with his age. How and why did you decide to use his relationship with Lucy as a tool to demonstrate this internal struggle?
MC: I think that the brief scene in which Carl interacts with the waiter at the airport diner sums up his dynamic with Lucy. He perceives her as a woman he’s attracted to, and particularly since his divorce might even have an inkling toward pursuing her. When people see them together, though, they more readily assume that they are a father-daughter pair. He has grown old, harmless, and ineffectual–a father whose son has grown up, a husband who divorced, a paper salesman in a post-paper era. Just the same, in reflecting on all of his moments as a father and in ultimately carrying the bag for Lucy when it looks like the weight will be too much, he gains a modicum of peace with his current place in the world, and the points where he still might help along younger folks.
RR: The ending of this story is ambiguous. What were your reasons for allowing the reader to interpret different endings? Is there a particular ending that you favor or envisioned while writing?
MC: I viewed this story as a reflection and meditation on being a father and on nostalgia, through the lens of a single, isolated interaction at an airport. It’s a quiet but important moment for Carl that helps him come to peace with his age; it’s likely a far less significant moment in Lucy’s life journey, and one that she won’t reflect on nearly as much. I tend to take the ending more or less at face value–that they had this impromptu meeting and that Carl’s helping her with her bag, but that after that flight they aren’t going to be in each other’s lives.
RR: How did you hope readers would respond to Carl’s attraction to Lucy?
MC: As I’ve progressed through the draft stages of this story, I’ve been interested to see the range of reactions from readers. Some of them thought Carl to be a creepy old man, particularly for the scene when he spies Lucy’s underwear under the table when she’s a teenager. Others were actively rooting for him have a relationship with Lucy, or to try and to get shot down. The hints at Carl’s attraction were far more understated in the initial drafts, and these strong reactions helped me realize just how key that dynamic was to the story and flesh it out all the more as I revised. In any event, it’s probably a cop out, but I think that it’s best readers draw their own conclusions about this attraction. In real life, you’ll rarely find a totally unanimous, homogeneous reaction to things like this, so if it draws a mixed reactions from readers, too, then I feel that I’ve done my job.