A young pregnant female stands in the security line at Birmingham International Airport. She works at a DC nonprofit but flies back to Alabama for ob-gyn appointments. The wedding ring is missing.
Subject is a naturalized citizen born in Ceausescu’s Romania. Subject's parents were defectors. But the loving arms of Reagan’s America embraced even the defected if communism was involved. Subject grew up in Alabama where evangelical Christians donated trash bags filled with frayed clothes because her family had picked the right side the war against evil. Subject resents the existence of the Patriot Act passed by Congress months before. Subject was seen talking with anarchists behind a lamp-post.
The war against evil had recently expanded to include security threats posed by female terrorist bombers. I put my luggage on the table and waited as uniformed persons plied open zippers and probed inner pockets. August stayed hot, restless. The baby in my belly played catch with the bladder.
An African-American security guard squinted and stared at me, her eyes flitting from the computer screen and back. “You pregnant?”
I laughed. “Isn’t it obvious?” Maybe she had children—maybe she knew August burned hot as hell. “Seriously, what else would I have under this dress? A bomb?” I laughed again—established eye contact. Give me some empathy, woman.
“That’s what we’re gonna find out,” the guard snapped. She picked up my bag and motioned towards a room behind the check-in counter. The airport was being renovated. This room was not the usual enhanced-security monitoring room.
“Any reason you’re wearing all black?” she asked.
“You mean apart from the slimming effect?” At that point, pregnancy was beautiful like a barge is beautiful—I loved it for what it carried.
I felt nervous in the small, windowless room. The guard set the clipboard aside while she unrolled a set of disposable gloves. Her fingernails, premium by nail salon standards, were painted in red and white stripes overlaid by with sparkling crystal stars. I wanted to compliment the design but she interrupted the nascent goodwill with a command: “Miss, I’m going to need you to remove your underwear and lift up your dress.”
As she reached over to frisk my belly, I wished we could be honest. Just call them granny panties, okay? I’m not scared.
“Are those gloves latex-based?” I asked.
“How the hell should I know?” she huffed.
“Well, I’m allergic to latex—seriously allergic. Rashes and stuff.”
The guard glared stopped frisking and glared at me. I was an obstruction in the vast, well-oiled machinery of the national security state. I tried to reminded myself the security checks were for my protection. She rolled her eyes like a guy playing “Hot Or Not”, removed the latex gloves and left them lying near the clipboard on a metal chair.
“You can put your underwear back on after I finish this exam.”
“Are there cameras in here?” I asked, thinking granny panties, granny panties. Maybe I was worried about my civil rights as well.
“Why?” she smirked. “You want someone to watch this?”
I didn’t tell her—but maybe she knew—one of the downsides to being a single expectant-mother was the complete absence of sex. The bouquet of sharpened nerve endings that stayed secret. How long it had been since a stranger last touched me. There.
“I’m checking for bombs and drugs,” she said. My knees quivered and trembled like granny panties on a laundry line because I’d never had long nails before and the angles made me sweat—the sensation of sharp swallowed by smooth and shiny. The edge of a blade and the balance. The lyric of some Concrete Blonde song I couldn’t quite place. Anything to pretend I wasn’t dripping onto her ungloved hand.
She looked up at me and smiled. “I’m not finding anything….”
I wanted her to keep looking. Because she was inches away and her arms smelled like cocoa butter and afternoon coffee. Because her voice was like an ear of corn, unhusked. Because her body was not curvy-when-pregnant but all-the-time curvy, 24-hour curvy, and her shadow could hold two of me in it. Because she knew exactly what she was doing and how hard I tried not to like it.
Maybe she’d seen me standing in line, and recognized single mom scrawled in restless twitches all over my face. Maybe she knew how it felt to wait for things. To be a woman in a line waiting for a sign from one of my kind.
Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by the ghost of Hannah Arendt. She lives in Tuscaloosa. A finalist in the Black Warrior Review’s annual poetry contest, Alina has work forthcoming in Mulberry Fork Review, Kindred, and Rivet Journal, among others.