Christine Waters had stood in a doorway and witnessed something life-altering. When her husband had stood in their kitchen doorway, she knew what that meant.
He seemed indifferent to not only the smells but also her exposed back. She became concerned about the payoff that would be for every stir and step of what she was cooking. The payoff was the list of indulgences that had become an expectation and that she alone chose from afterwards. She wasn’t so sure of such latitude this time around, this meal. That’d be a first.
His gaze was steadfast, and his usual calm coolness seemed to be vying for control.
Then there had been only four words. Not only did she hear them, but she also did believe that she knew what he would follow them up with, if she allowed him. So she proceeded to solve what she thought was not so much a mystery as an obscurity in about as few seconds as the number of words that she then spoke.
It was now the second week of August, a Friday evening, and Christine felt like a showpiece. Her car was amongst rows of many illuminated by the airport parking garage lighting. The light distributed evenly and made the vehicles look as if they were in a showroom. It also reminded her of her own light, though a flicker. It had emitted, just like these ceilinged ones, during the return leg of her flight, which marked not just the end of her flying, but the start of a new phase of her life as well. She would begin that phase with new employment now that the last eleven years of having worked with colleagues over the course of countless takeoffs and landings were over. But she did not feel celebratory. Having flown for a career should be a cause for a celebration, however, for flying had allowed her to have remained above things and kept the bad ones in the clouds.
Earlier today about midway through her flight, of which Lena (born Christine) had been a cabin services director for the final time, she had been alone in the forward galley. She was shelving empty meal trays when a young woman who looked about her age came out of the lavatory. She sniffled and passed a finger under her eyes quickly, hesitating momentarily next to the flight deck. They were puffy and red.
Lena cast her a reassuring glance, and the passenger looked away sheepishly. Then Lena offered her a couple of squares of serviette and said, “You can take some more time here if you need.”
As she took the white squares, she said, “I just don’t understand why anyone would do this to me.”
Lena laid her hand reassuringly on the passenger’s arm and negotiated her into the nook of the exit door. “I hope everything’ll be okay.”
The young woman dabbed her eyes. “Thank you.”
“Whatever it is, it’s not your fault. Keep reminding yourself of that, okay?”
As the passengers were deplaning, Lena made the usual eye contact, said the usual: Thanks for flying with us. It was a pleasure having you onboard. But when the young woman walked by, Lena also touched her on the shoulder. She slipped Lena a note then. Later while alone in the silence of the empty cabin, she had read the scribbled line aloud:
The flight was better after we met. Thank you. Traci.
The bright orange paper reminded Lena of something, but she could not remember what.
As soon as she had reached the parking lot, she started rummaging through her car for something to write on. A four-by-five-inch notepad in the glove compartment greeted her. A slither of bright orange lined the padding.
Memories recede, but eventually, they come forward. So Christine was no longer just familiar. She was known as Lena Brown. But she’s now a Waters.
In the silence of the vehicle, she felt as if her mother were here with her. Incidentally, she also felt ready for a conversation with her. Propped up by her thighs and supported by the chipboard back, the pad of twenty-five sheets rested against the steering wheel. The bottom of the barrel and the tip of a retractable pen stuck out from the side of her left fist like a dagger. Her thumb circled the clip. She gazed down at the ruled white spaces of a brand-new page and thought carefully about what to write—say, really.
Over all her visits with her mother, she had never opened her mouth and uttered a single word about what had happened on the day her mother had gotten sick. She had lost count of how many times she had been tempted to do so under an open sky, which always seemed to hang over her sombrely. She had been beholden to her pact with her secret and her name, even before her first visit.
As Lena contained thoughts about her father, so she also contained thoughts about her mother’s illness and death. Upon her next visit, if she so much as broke her silence out in the open, where all around was littered with the dead, her mother might just turn in her grave. It was a good thing that the dead could not speak. Certainly not the way Traci had just spoken to her. Their fortuitous meeting matched the gravity of her now sudden desire to say something, let loose her thoughts, write them down.
Yet she knew that any number of words she could write—well, they could barely fill in the space left cavernous by time. But that space, a breach, was deceptive. It resembled or seemed like only a crack. It was ugly. Silence had covered that ugliness over for nearly twenty-two years.
She leaned her head back against the headrest and click-clicked the pen. The sound punctuated rather than undermine how she felt. She looked over at the passenger seat forlornly. This overwhelming sense of her mother’s presence, having met Traci, and the desire to write had all come together to make for a day that was already a milestone.