But the woman seems so nice. She reminds Jenny of her mother, and her mother always taught her to be polite to old people. Besides, it isn’t like she has anywhere to go, having arrived at the airport a good two hours before her plane is scheduled to leave. Jenny didn’t want to be snippy with the TSA agents because she was worried about missing her flight. God knows they have enough to worry about what with shoe-bombers and airport snipers and all.
People crowd through the lines, pushing the gray plastic bins and hurriedly taking off their jackets and jewelry only to put them back on haphazardly after complete strangers have looked at their x-rayed underwear. Bright lights reflect off the linoleum floored passageways, the moving sidewalks inching slowly like flattened escalators past long lines of travellers waiting impatiently for coffee and packaged sandwiches.
It was enough to make anyone anti-social, Jenny thinks, so when a little poodle-haired old lady approaches her with a wobbly rolling suitcase (blue, with a piece of red yarn tied to the handle) and asks cheerily, “Would you be a dear and watch my bag while I go to the Ladies?”
Jenny says yes immediately, even though the voice on the PA system is in the middle of her oft- repeated message, “For your safety, do not accept packages from unknown persons. . . ”
“My husband used to watch it for me,” her new companion says, but then the woman’s blue eyes begin to tear up and her voice trails off. Thinking about the missing husband—balding, wearing a short-sleeved Mexican wedding shirt (why?) in her mind, Jenny’s eyes water too. What would be the harm? she asks herself, wanting to comfort the woman somehow, but not knowing what to say.
The Mechanics of Reincarnation:
At that moment, Jenny almost feels like she knows this mild-mannered—dare she say meek?—woman, or women like her, from her aunts, some of them married to second husbands now, to her mother-in-law, widowed a year ago. According to the spirituality book tucked into Jenny’s carry-on bag, hasn’t everybody been reborn so many times that they all have been, not only mother and father, but sister, brother, daughter, son, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle and so on and so forth to everyone else ever born on the planet?
In a kind of kaleidoscopic, mind-bending, psychedelic, back-to-the-future scenario, this little old lady probably has been her mother, Jenny thinks—and vice versa; at least once, maybe multiple times. By that reasoning, wouldn’t she be taking care of the woman the way the woman has undoubtedly taken care of her in a past incarnation? And doesn’t Jenny want to honor this once-and-again-now-and-future bond?
After all, few decades from now, she might actually become this woman, Jenny muses. Female longevity being a scientifically established fact, in all likelihood her life will continue beyond that of her future adored, but gender-disadvantaged husband. And when that day sadly comes to pass, Jenny hopes someone will help her by doing such a small favor as safeguarding her carry-on bag, right? Of course she does.
Karma: Jenny imagines herself at 80 and recently widowed, on her first trip to see a new grandchild. “A little boy 6 pounds, 8 ounces, with wispy red hair, just like his mama when she was a baby,” the elderly woman exclaims proudly, showing her the tot’s picture on her phone.
Jenny’s smile lingers as she watches the old lady’s loving soul make her way to the restroom, her maternal bulk moving unsteadily through the school of harried travellers that dart about like erratic fish. Jenny gazes at the woman’s taupe orthopaedic shoes; they have little holes for ventilation that look like bandaids. Her permed hair matches the nubby gray of her cardigan and as she walks, the black rubber stopper of her aluminum cane accentuates the downbeat of each stolid footstep.
Jenny feels her smile melt into a sort of benevolent glow and she pictures her own mother’s closet, sees the rows of chic dresses, elegant blouses and tailored pantsuits. In contrast to the owner of the faded carry-on, her mother’s tresses are still deeply black, with a dyed blond streak that swoops elegantly over one eye.
And no canes for either of her parents yet. They go ballroom dancing three times a week even though her mother’s feet can hardly fit into her Capezios anymore. No one at the Social Club suspects that her mother has hammer toes; she is used to pain and hiding it.
A dark-haired woman walks by Jenny, peering at the foreign bag at her feet with heavily mascaraed eyes. “I can’t believe it,” She hears a voice in her head say, “You have fallen for the oldest trick in the book!”
Jenny knows her mother would never dream of asking a stranger to look after her belongings at an airport, and yet here Jenny is, suddenly surrounded by a torrent of little old ladies, a deluge of the elderly. She watches them tottering on their unsteady legs, dragging their tippy, overstuffed suitcases behind them, circling, circling, circling her with their massive, unmanageable bags; luggage filled with old sweaters and new baby blankets, sagging nylons and shapeless skirts; stacks of pictures, mementoes, memories and regrets, habits and complaints, neuroses and god only knows what else, all of them ready to blow at any minute.
Jenny feels her heart pulse with a panicky fever. Over the loudspeaker, the smooth, disembodied voice of the female gate agent announces that the flight is ready to board, and as other passengers gather up their suitcases, purses, and backpacks, Jenny looks wildly toward the ladies’ room, wondering when that sweet white-haired terrorist is going to detonate the love- bomb that she herself has so willingly accepted.
C.E. Shue holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of San Francisco. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Washington Square, Drunken Boat, sparkle + blink, Works & Days Quarterly, Versal, Flock, Storyspace, Paragraph and other journals. A Kundiman Fellow, she has received grants from the Provincetown Fine Arts Workshop and the Vermont Studio Center. Her photography and poetry were featured in the 92nd Street Y’s #wordswelivein project and she has read at LitCrawl, Quiet Lightning, Naropa, Under the Influence, Beast Crawl, and other venues, and has performed her poetry at Beyond Words: Jazz and Poetry.