The worst part of flying with a newly reconstructed foot is finding the right seat. I cross my fingers that the people on board since the last stop aren’t all in love with the right side aisle seats. I have it down to a science where to sit to protect the foot. Above all, I want to be left alone because all those months of living in a hospital bed have left me feeling as if people are so much traffic.
As I enter the cabin, I spot the aisle seat I want in the second row. Someone sits by the window, but I concentrate on hoisting my heavy carryon overhead without toppling over. I’m still recovering my balance. Just before I push up the tray and lock it so I can plop down in relief, an odd feeling floats through my body. Maybe I ought to reconsider sitting here. But it’s too late. The suitcase is above and I have no good reason not to sit there. I shove my purse under the seat ahead of me and relax into the seat.
“Hi how are you I’m Brianna and I’m from California you know southern California Fontana is where and I go to Fontana Middle School but I hate that school and my mom and I don’t get along cuz she makes me go to school where the teachers are mean and the kids all fight and the girls don’t like me. Are you from Phoenix?” Brianna doesn’t need school; she could make good money as an auctioneer.
I pull my novel out of my purse. I don’t take out my Sudoku because it’s too easy for strangers to keep chatting when you have a pen in your hand. But a novel I know will shut her out. A nice thick novel I’m smack in the middle of reading. As I open my book to the bookmark, I glance sideways at Brianna and say, “Yes, I am.” I smile and turn to the page I’ve marked.
“What are you reading I love to read I’m reading this book by James Patterson right now but my mom says his books are too old for me and the kids think I’m stuck up but I don’t care I hate my stepfather so much but my mom kicked him out of the house and I’m really hoping he doesn’t come around anymore he’s a truck driver my mom styles hair and we might move but I don’t know where yet. Do you have any kids?”
I peer at Brianna’s hair and then catch myself, looking away quickly. I can’t believe her mother’s a hair stylist because Brianna’s hair has been dyed an unnatural burnt apple color and cut by a bonobo with a withered hand.
“Yes, I have two. A son and a daughter, both in their twenties. I’m on my way to visit my daughter.” I inch my eyes back over to the open book on my lap.
“I knew you were a mom you have that mom vibe I have a teacher that reminds me of you her name is Mrs. Kellman and she’s the nicest teacher at our school she always helps me out when I have problems and always has time for everyone I can’t stand most of my other teachers they really don’t care about us and when I told my principal about my stepfather he called my mom and then he ignored me in the hall at school and there’s this boy in my class who pushed me last week and I had to go to detention and my principal didn’t even listen to me that time. Are you a teacher?”
A huge sigh goes through my body, and I struggle to leash it tight so it doesn’t show from the outside. I remind her of the nicest teacher at her school who always has time for everyone.
“Yes, I did used to be a teacher. I taught college students.” I look at Brianna, and she nods. Her face looks unfinished, sensitive, too small under that mop of straight chopped red stuff. And I mean mop, like a cartoon mop.
Our conversation lasts the full two hour flight to Houston. I keep the book open on my lap, ever hopeful. But Brianna’s vocal speed is unnatural. She never flags. With fifteen minutes left and nearing the end of my guilty patience, I pull my new camcorder and instructions out of my purse. “I need to learn to use this, so I can video my daughter’s show,” I say.
“Oh take my picture I love having my picture taken is that a video camera is that why it’s so big I would love to be a model Mrs. Kellman says I have nice bone structure but my mom tells me all the time I’m too ugly to be a model the only person who said I was beautiful was my stepfather and I don’t know if I can believe him because he’s pretty much the most horrible person in the world and that’s why my mom left him and is mad at me all the time. Are you making a movie of me?”
I have to explain to Brianna that I don’t really know how to use the camera yet, and it appears I’ve taken a still photo of her, rather than video. Just then we have to put away our belongings and fasten our seatbelts.
I busy myself organizing and before long the plane lands and comes to a stop. Since I'm up at the front of the plane, I limp hurriedly ahead of the rest of the flight with a backward glance at the girl. “Nice talking to you, Brianna,” I say. She nods and looks off at something else.
I never meet Brianna again, though I think about her more than I did when we sat next to each other. Her photo has somehow gotten deleted from my camcorder. I’d like to look at it again.
Luanne Castle taught at California State University, San Bernardino, before moving to Arizona, where she now lives with a herd of javelina. Her writing has been published in The Antigonish Review, The MacGuffin, Visions, Front Range, The Black Boot. and 13th Moon.