Arrivals and departures
“Please sit down,” Sheena mutters to herself. For the last half hour, the old woman in the church hat has been pacing unsteadily in front of the windows of the waiting area by Gate 63. Every now and then, she smiles to herself and nods. It’s a wonder she doesn’t crumble to the ground in her frail state. The woman looks uncannily like Sheena’s mother did in her last days, hat and all, determined to walk to church no matter what. “Please, just take a seat, take off your hat, stop fidgeting, stop almost falling. Just stop.”
Sheena is anxious enough about her own flight without having to deal with fidgeting from another passenger. She hates airplanes. She gets sick on them every single time. How could this woman, or anyone, for that matter, be looking forward to the flight they’re about to take? It’s going to be one of those tiny aircrafts with only one seat on each side of the aisle. Her sister, Tasha, had joked that she might like it because she would have both a window and an aisle seat. Tasha insisted that the flight would be worth it if she could make it to their mother’s funeral. As far as they knew, their mother had no other relatives except the two of them. Tasha had begged her not to leave their mother with only half her family on her funeral.
“What does it matter?” Sheena had asked. “She’s dead. She won’t know either way.”
“You don’t know that!” Tasha had yelled over the phone.
Sheena tracks the old woman’s movements with an increasing sense of agitation. Suddenly, she realizes what it is. The woman looks like she’s waiting for something undeniably good to happen, as if she’s waiting for a prize to arrive. With her palms, she flattens imaginary creases on the front of her skirt. She straightens her hat in anticipation and resumes her pacing.
Sheena can’t stand it anymore. She gets up and takes a seat along the row facing the windows.
“Ma’am?” Sheena says when the woman is close enough to hear her despite her low voice.
The woman does not respond.
“Ma’am, are you expecting someone?” Sheena tries again.
The woman smiles and nods, but not at Sheena. It is her usual smile and her usual nod, at something only she can picture.
“You know, the plane isn’t going to get her any faster whether you walk about like that or not. If you’re waiting for someone, they’ll get here when they get here.”
The woman smiles, nods, and fixes her hat. “I been waitin’ a long time,” she says, without making eye contact.
Relieved by her apparent breakthrough, Sheena asks, “Who are you expecting?”
No response. The woman carries on as before.
Sheena gets up to walk alongside her. “Is your person arriving on the flight that’s pulling in?”
“I been waitin’ a long time,” the woman speaks again. “Here she comes now, my sister. Here she comes. Never gonna lose her again.”
A small aircraft pulls up to the jetway. It’s the inbound flight that will be turned around for Sheena’s flight out.
Sheena abandons the muttering woman, and goes to stand at the very front of the boarding line. She hates walking by other seated passengers. She just wants to get into the plane and close her eyes until they’ve landed on the other side.
For a brief moment, she senses a change of light at the windows. But when she turns to look, everything is the same since the plane pulled in. Everything, except that the old woman has stopped pacing, and is facing the nose of the plane, her hat in her hand.
“Hey, girl,” says a familiar voice from behind her. At the feel of a hand on her shoulder, Sheena swerves around. It’s her sister.
“Tasha? What’s going on?”
“You didn’t want to fly to mother and me,” Tasha says. “So we flew out to you.”
“What do you mean? Where’s mother?”
“In the cargo hold,” Tasha says, with a grin.
“How can you talk like that about her?”
“What does it matter? She’s dead. She won’t know,” Tasha says.
“Not funny,” Sheena tells her. The boarding line behind her is already filling up, so she steps away.
Arriving passengers are still exiting Tasha’s plane. Sheena glances in the direction of the old woman to see if she’s found her sister. But the woman is gone.
“Bones, bones, bones,” she mutters. Her wrinkles are caked with ashes.
“Bones of what?” he says. He swishes his tail across her shoe. He has learned to ignore the ashes. Now he just grooms his silver fur out of habit. It helps him maintain his sanity, in both his heads.
She looks down for the source of the voice. She hasn’t heard a voice in twenty three days. She has been searching. Alone.
Perhaps I’ve gone mad, she thinks. But no matter. A companion, a hoary two-headed cat; yet, a companion. When she has been asked a question, she must respond. If she has no one else to respond to, she answers herself. But this is better.
“Bones of children. Bones of trees,” she says to him.
He blinks at her slowly. “But you said bones, bones, bones. What’s the third then?”
She looks around at her fallen world.
“Bones of homes,” she says, looking in wonder at the black leather of her shoe. “Twenty three days since I saw a shine on these… twenty three days since since I tore my shawl on that barbed wire fence… Twenty. Three. Years—they kept me out…”
“Home is but a state of mind,” he breaks into her eternal reverie. He crouches and stretches his forelegs, extending his claws further than usual. He is sensing potential. His thin pupils burn into her eyes. “Stop looking outside yourself.”
“A day for a year. A day for every year,” she mutters. She cannot break the eye contact. She bends down to run her hand across the warm body. She hasn’t felt body heat in twenty three days. She hasn’t felt body heat in twenty three years. “Today I will leave. Today…”
“You’re home,” he purrs. “Why would you leave home again?” He rolls onto his side and licks her hand with his sandpaper tongue.
“I am,” she says. She settles onto a heap of bones and brings him up to her lap. “Why would I?”
“Indeed, why would you?” he nuzzles into her chest.
Tina at the town opera
Tina tucks her slim bra strap into her sleeve for the hundredth time. She could swear his eye darts toward her fingers, her arm, also for the hundredth time. She can’t be sure of course. He is, after all, a good twenty years younger than her. But it would be expected. It could be nice. At sixty, she has learned to appreciate darting glances.
The orchestra seating door swings open and another young, cheaply bejeweled patron of the so-called town opera wobbles out on her high heels. Strained vocals escape the theater and dissipate in the small lobby.
She likes the look of this one. This one looks unsteady on her feet, but sure of her mind. Her gait is already swaying; perhaps her plans for intermission could be swayed too.
The patron makes her precarious way toward the bar. Her cleavage swings in synch with her unsteady hips.
“Another Prosecco?” Mark asks, before Tina can hang up the martini glass she is drying.
He’s been chattering all night. Every man and woman just past their prime seems to find his aimless drivel charming. Now this one—she may be closer to him in age, but he doesn’t have the wit to distract her from the seat she has paid for herself.
Tina slaps her wet towel in front of him and knocks down a floozy cocktail he’s been concocting for a pre-order before intermission.
“Oh, sorry Mark. That will need some clean up.”
As he bends down to pick up the shattered glass, Tina slides to his spot at the counter and asks the escapee if she left before intermission because she needed a breath of fresh air.
Her bra strap slips again. The young patron notices the slip and watches its slow correction with interest.
“A breath of fresh air is, exactly, what I was hoping for,” she says, resting her elbows on the bar and leaning in as if to watch the clean up of the spilled cocktail.
“This way,” Tina says, swinging the makeshift bar’s half-door open and stepping out.