Thursday, April 15, 2021

Layover by Rebecca Redshaw

The voice over the loudspeaker paged every thirty seconds announcing arrivals, departures, and delays.

 Kathleen sat amid the turmoil surrounded by luggage laden college students in jeans and businessmen in dark suits with leather briefcases in one hand and wardrobe bags flung over the opposite shoulder in the other.

“Why do women insist on mimicking men's drab attire in the workplace?” she wondered. Kathleen had fallen into the three-piece suit trap as well except she always added a dash of color, either in the form of a striped scarf or colorful silk blouse. Few of her colleagues would suspect her bikini panties. A slight smile crossed her lips. She always wore red ones whenever she addressed the board, especially for those unassuming tight asses who admired her total professionalism.

Kathleen shifted her body on the fake leather bench of the terminal. Usually Annette, her secretary, scheduled her flights with as little layover time as possible. And usually, Kathleen visited the executive club to return phone messages and have a complimentary vodka tonic. But this evening, nothing was usual.

The flight from Chicago had been late landing in Denver and it would be at least two hours before the runway was cleared of snow for the LA departure. Colorado often had freak spring storms. The irritation of the delay was complicated by the closure of the club because of a broken water pipe. Kathleen, was sitting with the general public, waiting.

"Oh, well," she sighed out loud as she surveyed the crowded terminal. There was no point getting irritated.

She considered working her way to the bar, but a football game on the large screen TV had drawn an enthusiastic crowd and even a drink was not worth the thick smoke and bumping elbows she would encounter.

“So,” Kathleen cajoled herself, “relax.”

Traveling for the company the last two years had eliminated all glamour from flying. 

To Kathleen boarding a 747 for New York was like a daily commute on the freeway for some; something she had to do to get to work. Of course, her family saw her travel as neither a burden nor a sacrifice. Aunt Sadie thought she was a stewardess. "After all, why else would Kathy fly so much?" 

Kathleen’s gaze focused on a tailored, tasteful woman in her 60's greeting a distinguished man with a discrete kiss on the cheek. As they passed, she noticed the woman properly take his elbow.

“If Daddy had lived, that's how Mother would have said 'Hello,'” Kathleen thought.

But her father had died when she was thirteen, leaving his wife an insurance policy that would allow her to live comfortably, but not extravagantly, without having to work.

“What would life have been like if Mother had to do what I do?” Kathleen wondered.

Their situations were hardly the same. Mike had walked out on Kathleen and in a very unceremonious manner.

“He should have had the courtesy to die like Daddy.”

No such luck. Mike left a note which Kathleen saved.

Kath, I don't love you anymore. I don't know why. Take care of yourself. Mike

Kathleen rested her head on her left hand stroking her forehead with her long fingers.

"Thanks, Mike," she said out loud.

She cleared her throat to cover the startledness of the young sailor seated beside her. He shifted in the chair, pretending to fall asleep.

Kathleen flashed back to the present, noticing an airport wheelchair at the end of the opposite row. She blinked sharply, focusing on the old woman's face.

“Silly how you think you know someone.” Kathleen studied the face. She shook her head. “I guess all Gramma's look the same.”

The old woman's body was stooped, her elbows on worn arm rests. Both hands clutched a gold trimmed, black pocketbook on her lap. The torn edges of her boarding pass were snapped, half inside, half outside the purse.

The woman slowly unbuttoned the top two buttons of her coat then looked up at 

Kathleen.

Embarrassed by her intrusion, Kathleen quickly looked away. “Probably waiting for her family. I hope they come soon.” She wondered why she cared. No one would be waiting for her in Los Angeles. 

Usually she justified her singleness as freedom. “Come and go as I please. Vacation when and where I want. No one to pick up after. Freedom.”

Of course, her mother redefined this freedom as loneliness. "You must feel so empty with no one in your life, dear?"

Kathleen never answered her mother. There was no point telling her that there had been other men since Michael. She didn't think her mother really wanted to hear that she was even occasionally sexually satisfied.

There hadn't been that many since Michael, but more than Kathleen like to admit. No one seemed to last more than six months or the mention of the word commitment, whichever came first. Her last breakup was particularly emotional. 

"You're going to be alone, Kathy," said Christopher through embittered tears. 

Maybe so, thought Kathleen, maybe so.

Maybe that's why she remained fascinated with the woman in the wheelchair.

“What if I'm not seeing Gramma but I'm seeing myself?” 

Kathleen closed her eyes slowly and remembered.

The three generations lived together briefly after her father died. Her mother, unable to be responsible for anyone other than herself, soon shuffled Kathy off to boarding school and placed her husband's mother in a nursing home.

The women seldom saw one another, usually at Christmas holidays and spring break. 

Kathleen and her grandmother wrote often.

Kathleen remembered the spring break Gramma had a stroke. She borrowed herroommate's car and drove 125 miles to the nursing home. As she walked the dimly lit corridor that smelled of urine and bleach, Kathleen saw the wheelchair facing away from her. As she walked silently toward the woman, she recognized the green cardigan she had given as a present.

The grey head was bowed, and the frailness of the body startled Kathleen as she turned and knelt, looking up into the eyes of the person who had always been her best friend.

"Gramma?"

The steel blue eyes clouded by cataracts, stared up until she recognized the girl.

"Kathy, Kathy." The crippled hands touched her granddaughter's tearstained cheeks and cried.

There was nothing Kathleen could do to change life for her grandmother. Her pleas fell on deaf ears when she begged her mother to help.

"They're taking care of her at the home. Now that I've married Richard, I can't think of a better place for her to be."

"Right, Mother," Kathleen said aloud shaking her head, bringing both herself and the sailor beside her back to reality. He got up and moved to another bench.

Kathleen looked across at the wheelchair. The woman had nodded off. Several minutes passed when an airline employee approached the chair.

"Mrs. Everett?" A little louder. "Mrs. Everett?"

The old woman jerked awake, startled by the attention. Leaning over, the attendant spoke slowly.

"Mrs. Everett, your family called. They're stuck in the blizzard. They didn't want you to worry. They'll be here soon."

"Thank you, dearie," she smiled. "I'll be fine."

Her tired eyes followed the messenger as she briskly walked away. Turning her head, she once again caught Kathleen's eye.

This time Kathleen didn't look away.

"Beautiful snowfall," she motioned to the windows speckled with flurries.

Kathleen looked outside for the first time, noticing the gentleness of the night.

Gathering her winter coat and briefcase, Kathleen moved to the empty bench beside the wheelchair.

"Yes, I suppose it is."


© Rebecca Redshaw

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