The tall thin man with the wispy white beard proceeded his wife down the aisle. He was schlepping two black suitcases and a round black hatbox; she grasped a large Bloomingdale’s holiday shopping bag straining at the seams. The man and his wife checked their seat numbers. Assured they had the correct row, he wedged first one, then the other suitcase in the bin over my head.
The woman indicated she wanted to sit down. I got up. She plopped into the middle seat and lodged the shopping bag between her legs.
The man was having difficulty stowing the hatbox in the same compartment. “Oy,” he groaned.
“May I help you?” I offered.
“Sorry,” the man said in a soft voice.
“Not a problem.”
“Never mind,” the woman said sharply and, stepping over my feet, she seized the hatbox from her husband, and shoved it into another bin.
The couple settled in their seats whereupon the man removed his black vest and black jacket and hung them on a hook above the TV monitor where half-naked chorus girls danced to “All That Jazz.”
I resumed reading the novel I’d downloaded for our trip to Fort Lauderdale. The pilot announced there would be a delay in take-off. Five minutes later the man leaned over. “Please, I regret but one more time I must trouble you.”
“Not a problem.” I smiled graciously. My husband, who was sitting across the aisle, winked at me.
I stood in the aisle while the man retrieved the smaller of the two suitcases he’d brought on board.
“I am sorry to have troubled you,” he said, returning to his window seat and putting the suitcase on his lap. Before long he was tugging the zipper of his suitcase. It was clear that bits of tissue paper were caught in the teeth. Grimly, his wife took the suitcase. She yanked and yanked. The zipper yielded. I saw my seatmate extract a small worn book. Assuming the man would put the suitcase back in the bin, I got to my feet one more time.
“So much up and down,” rebuked the wife.
“Sit, sit,” the man said softly. Very carefully he placed the suitcase under his seat where it remained the duration of our flight to Fort Lauderdale.
While we waited on the tarmac for take-off, the woman made two calls on her mobile. I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation. The first was to someone named Goldie, and the other to a Mrs. Erichman. The content varied very little.
“Yes, darling, we just made it. We’re on the plane now waiting to take off. I’ll call you as soon as we get there, Ze gazent.”
I racked my brain for the translation of the yiddish expression I’d heard my grandmother use and drew a blank. The man opened his worn book. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him glide one arthritic finger from right to left over the rows of letters. Periodically, he lifted his face and stared out the porthole. Other times he took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, stroked his chin or forehead. Was he, I wondered, pondering the text? Gleaning mysteries from the heavens? But slouched in his seat, his pale cheek pressed against the glass with the book slightly raised to furrowed eyebrows, it surely was the sunlight he was after.
When the flight attendants served a snack, the woman reached into her shopping bag and retrieved a brown paper bag that advertised Moishe’s kosher delicatessen. Soundlessly, she handed her husband half an egg salad sandwich.
My husband must have been taking this all in. “Honey, you got those sandwiches left?” he asked.
I looked nervously at the rabbi who was mumbling a prayer before taking a bite. Red-faced and relieved to be rid of my burden, I passed the ham and swiss I’d packed that morning. It was January first. The New Year with all its good resolutions had begun rather auspiciously.
Marsha Temlock is the author of Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect ... What You Can Do (Impact, 2006), as well as a regular blogger for HuffPo. She has published poetry in The Write Room, and has had feature articles and fiction published in Chicago Suburban Women, “Weston Publishing Group,” and dozens of online sites dealing with family relationships. Temlock teaches English at Norwalk Community College.