I’m relieved when the guy takes his briefcase off of the seat beside him and looks at me. It’s pretty much the only seat left at my gate, except for ones next to families with kids, and since I want to finish my novel, those are out of the question. But no sooner have I gotten back into The DaVinci Code than his cell phone starts playing “Dixie.”
“What?” says the guy. I mean who answers like that unless they’re an asshole, right? I give him a look and he looks back at me and shakes his hand like don’t worry it’s nothing, so I try to read my book or at least pretend to and he says, “Why didn’t you tell me this yesterday. You could have saved us both some time.”
I figure I don’t need this, and I’m about to get up and go wait at another gate, but then I see my ex with this girl at the gate across the way. I don’t mean like a woman-girl, I mean like a girl-girl. She must still be in her teens. And as if that’s not enough, I’d swear she looks just like I did when I was that age. What the hell is he doing with her in the Denver airport. The last I heard he was supposed to be in Hawaii, married with kids.
At first I try to hide behind my book, but it’s hard to watch them that way, so I decide to pretend I’m with the guy next to me. He’s got this Italian look, a little like Al Pacino. Don never liked those types, so I figure if he sees me, he’ll be just as pissed as I am about my young clone.
About this time I tune back into the guy’s conversation.
“Of course I do,” he says. Then he takes a pen and pad out of his jacket, puts the pad on his lap, writes something on it then looks at me. I look down and it says “whats opras last name.” I mouth Winfrey and he shakes his head, so I whisper it so he can hear, then he says it into his cell.
“Winfrey,” he says. “Oprah Winfrey,” then he puts his hand on my coat sleeve and winks so I wink back.
“I don’t know where it comes from,” he says, “I guess it was the slave owner’s name.”
When I look back over at Don and Baby Me, they’re looking right back, so I put my hand on the guy’s hand where he still has it on my sleeve and smile at them.
“No,” he says, “I don’t find it ironic at all. Lots of black people have British names.” Then he says Charles Barkley with an English accent and Patrick Ewing with a Scottish accent.
Now Baby Cheryl is looking at me over her shoulder while she talks to Don. She’s probably saying I look like her mother or maybe something like I’m attractive for my age.
“They’re famous basketball players,” says the guy. Then he says, “Racist, what do you mean racist? I was just making a point about their names.”
Then I take his pen and pad and write Alex Haley and Toni Morrison—so Don will think that we’re intimate.
“I could just as well have said Alex Haley or Toni Morrison,” he says. “No, I’m not saying they’re all alike. You’re twisting everything around.”
The next time I look over at Don and Mini Me, she’s playing with his pony tail and this feeling goes right to the pit of my stomach so I almost lose my breath. It’s not that I’m jealous. It’s more like looking straight back more than a quarter century at me and him at Love Field in Dallas when we were returning from our honeymoon on Padre Island. He’d just started that pony tail and I kept kidding him about it, fiddling with it and wrapping it around my fingers. A couple of nights before, after we’d made love, I told him to watch out because I might cut it off in the night and deprive him of all of his powers so that he’d be mine forever. Then he laughed and said what made me think he wouldn’t be mine forever anyway, and then we made love again.
It’s hard to believe I used to talk like that—like in lines from movies, but I didn’t think of it that way. I just thought I was talking. So did he when he’d call me Lily Swan because he liked my long neck so much. When we were on the beach the next day, he kept running the back of his hand over it and said it’s no wonder swans mate for life. That night we went to a little seafood place near the beach where men’s ties were hanging all over the ceiling. A sign said they’d all been snipped off of guys who’d come dressed too formally, and I said I wondered if the same went for pony tails on guys who looked too pretty. And he was pretty. With his blond hair and blue eyes he looked more like his mother than his father. Once a construction worker got really mad because he looked so good from behind, then when he got up beside us and saw he was a guy, he wanted to beat him up, so I gave Don a kiss and said he’d have to come through me first. He didn’t know what to do then so he just said sorry lady, and Don said don’t mention it—which confused him even more.
I sometimes think Don’s mother loved me more than my own. She’d look at me in the same way he did. She’d even run the back of her hand over my neck and say she could hardly wait to see what kind of babies came out of her Lily Swan.
Babies. I never told her that he talked me into getting rid of the first one because he wanted me all to himself, at least for a couple of years, and then when we both were ready, I miscarried on the second, the last one. She was so sweet about it when I told her. She said that maybe some lives are too fragile to make more. When she died, Don clung to me like a little boy, which made it hard for me because I still a felt like a girl. He thought that I left him for someone else but I didn’t. It was just that everything I thought or said started to sound like it came from a book or a movie, like I was living a life that had been lived before.
Not long ago I realized that feeling had nothing to do with him. If anything, he was always fresh and original. He cried more than any man I’ve known before or since. He’d cry when he saw kids playing. He’d cry when he came. He’d cry at a song on the radio. He’d cry when I told him I loved him. He cried when I left him. It’s no wonder he’s with that girl now, and I’m really happy that he found someone who looks like I did—really.
So I’m getting my things together to go over and say something nice to both of them, but when I look up they’re gone.
“Let’s not argue,” says the guy into his cell. “We’ll have plenty of time for that when I get back. Yeah babe—yeah. Love you too babe—bye.” Then without even looking at me, he gets up and leaves.
Lillian Swanson-Day divides her time between New York and northern California, and is at work on a memoir about the unexamined downsides of being a trust fund baby.