BY THE RADAR room clock, Keith Bakersfeld could see that another half hour of his shift remained. He didn't care.
He pushed back his chair from the radar console, unplugged his headset, and stood up. He looked around him, knowing it was for the last time.
"Hey!" Wayne Tevis said. "What gives?"
"Here," Keith told him. "Take this. Somebody else may need it." He thrust the headset at Tevis, and went out.
Keith knew he should have done it years ago.
He felt a strange lightheadedness, almost a sense of relief. In the corridor outside he wondered why.
It was not because he had guided in Flight Two; he had no illusions about that. Keith had performed competently, but anyone else on duty could have done as well, or better. Nor---as he had known in advance---did anything done tonight wipe out, or counterbalance, what had gone before.
It didn't matter, either, that he had overcome his mental block of ten minutes ago. Keith hadn't cared at the time; he simply wanted out. Nothing that had happened since had changed his mind.
Perhaps, he thought, there had been a purging in his own sudden anger of a few minutes ago, in the admission, never faced before even in private thoughts, of how much he hated aviation, and always had. Now, fifteen years late, he wished he had faced the fact long ago.
He entered the controllers' locker room, with its wooden benches and cluttered notice board. Keith opened his locker and put on his outdoor clothes. There were a few personal things on the locker shelves; he ignored them. All he wanted was the color snapshot of Natalie; he peeled it carefully from the inside surface of the metal door... Natalie in a bikini; laughing; her impudent pixyish face, and freckles; her hair streaming... When he looked at it, he wanted to cry. Behind the photograph was her note he had treasured:
I'm glad we had our ration With love and passion.
Keith pocketed both. Someone else could clear the other things out. There was nothing he wanted to remind him of this place---ever.
He stood there, realizing that without intending to, he had come to a new decision. He wasn't sure of everything the decision involved, or how it might seem tomorrow, or even if he could live with it beyond then. If he couldn't live with it, there was still an escape clause; a way out---the drugstore pillbox in his pocket.
For tonight, the main thing was: he was not going to the O'Hagan Inn. He was going home.
But there was one thing he knew: If there was to be a future, it must be removed from aviation. As others who had quit air traffic control before him had discovered, that could prove the hardest thing of all.
And even if that much could be overcome---face it now, Keith told himself---there would be times when he would be reminded of the past. Reminded of Lincoln International; of Leesburg; of what had happened at both places. Whatever else you escaped, if you had a whole mind, there was no escaping memory. The memory of the Redfern family who had died... of little Valerie Redfern... would never leave him.
Yet memory could adapt---couldn't it?---to time, to circumstance, to the reality of living here and now. The Redferns were dead. The Bible said: Let the dead bury their dead. What had happened, was done.
Keith wondered if... from now on... he could remember the Redferns with sadness, but do his best to make the living---Natalie, his own children---his first concern.
He wasn't sure if it would work. He wasn't sure if he had the moral or the physical strength. It had been a long time since he was sure of anything. But he could try.
He took the tower elevator down.
Outside, on his way to the FAA parking lot, Keith stopped. On sudden impulse, knowing he might regret it later, he took the pillbox from his pocket and emptied its contents into the snow.