NOTE: Kismet was taken from this story for a flash fiction project. I prefer this version, as it gives more information about the two women. Let me know which version you prefer.
Thirty seconds after the car started moving the screaming finally stopped. The young woman glanced in the rear-view mirror at the red-faced bundle of pandemonium sleeping in the back. She took a deep breath. Mothers are supposed to love their babies unconditionally, aren’t they? So what is wrong with me? Love is not what I feel when I look at that tiny person. She wasn’t sure exactly what she did feel, but she didn’t think you could call it love.
She pulled into traffic and drove, just enjoying the silence. She didn’t even turn on the radio. Rather than head directly for the bank, she drove around town for a while, left at the supermarket, right past the high school. While her body pressed the pedals and signaled her turns and checked her blind spot before switching lanes, her mind wandered. Soon I will be able to enjoy music again; I’ll be able to stay up all night partying and sleep til noon if I want. I could even go to college. Soon I’ll have my life back! Maybe I’ll even start writing again, once I can have more than one uninterrupted thought in a row. She sat up a little straighter and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. She was really doing this. Her palms were sweaty and her stomach coiled and flexed. What if they won’t let me take the money out? It is my money; it was a cash deposit. But, still…. She bit her lip. I will just have to keep the amount below $10, 000. That should avoid any special paperwork or flags on the account. I will leave the rest of the money behind, for the baby. Knowing Mr. Frugal, he’ll put the money in a college fund for him and never touch it. Maybe if he wasn’t so tight-fisted to begin with…… But no. This isn’t really about him. Her thoughts went back to last night. The fight had started because he was never home, but before long they had covered all the same old ground—she spent too much money, he didn’t pay attention to her, she was always too tired for him. Deep down she knew. It wasn’t really about him. It was her. I am the one with the problem, the one who is defective and incapable of loving even my own child. It would be easier to blame her husband, but she knew the truth.
She pulled into the drive-thru lane at the bank, hoping and praying they wouldn’t make her come inside. The minute she turned the car off, she knew the screaming would start up again. And while that was bad enough and had frayed her nerves to the breaking point, the stares were even worse. People acted like she was an ogre or something for letting him scream. Didn’t they understand there was nothing she could do? Nothing soothed him or made him happy. The constant barrage upon the ears was not her idea of a good time, either, but a moving vehicle was the only thing that ever mollified him. Oh, he would occasionally drop off for 5 minutes or so, out of sheer exhaustion, and of course he couldn’t scream while he was feeding, but outside of that all attempts to calm him usually failed.
The girl behind the glass was a former classmate. Yes! Hopefully she will just cash the check without paying too much attention. She pasted on a smile and struck up some inane chit-chat about what this classmate or that had been doing since high school, and didn’t we have fun and have you seen so-and-so lately. Blah, blah, blah. It was just a way to remind the girl of their “connection” and get through with this withdrawal as quickly as possible. Fortunately, it worked. She flipped through the cash, wondering if she should count it. She had never held that much money before. It made her a bit dizzy. Movement from the back seat made the decision for her. No time to count, it is time to move. Putting the car in gear, she pulled away from the bank and headed east, toward the airport. Toward freedom.
How long had she dreamed of doing this, of leaving this town and all its gossip and rules and disapproving frowns behind and flying away? How many times had she sat at the end of the runway, imagining all the exotic places the planes were headed to? Today is the day. I will finally board one of those big jets and head out for destinations unknown. By tomorrow I could be sipping a fancy drink on a sun-soaked beach somewhere, flirting with a foreign prince or a handsome, rich, executive from a Fortune 500 company. By tomorrow I could be somebody. Somebody besides Kevin Fuller’s daughter: the troublemaker, the strange one, the town freak; the only girl in town who took her father to the annual Mother-Daughter Tea.
She thought back to Monday, when she had received the phone call from the bank. At first, she had been sure it was some kind of prank or scam. Who gets $50,000 deposited anonymously into their bank account? That kind of thing may happen in movies, but it didn’t happen to unhappy girls living in small Midwestern towns. Nonetheless, it had been real. The bank manager had handled the transaction himself. He was an old friend of her father’s, so she knew she could trust him. But he absolutely refused to give her any information about the source of the funds. The donor wanted it that way, he said, and he agreed that the less she knew about it, the better. She sighed. Curiosity tugged at her mind, but she pushed it firmly away. Whoever you are, you may have just saved my life. She was finally going to be able to leave this town behind. Honestly, she never could have left while her father was still alive and she knew it. But now that he was gone, the last tie binding her to this place was severed. The baby in the back cooed in his sleep. She glanced over her shoulder. No. She turned back around and faced forward. There was nothing to keep her here.
Here it was. She pulled her car into the airport and headed for the long-term parking structure. She parked as close to the front as she could manage. Maybe that would make it a little easier for him to find the car later. She took a deep breath and laid her head against the headrest. Her mind wandered back to that morning. Had she remembered to grab the envelope? It was there, lying in her purse. Her final farewell. She flipped the visor down to check her face in the mirror. A small photograph of a bride and groom, smiling into one another’s eyes, fell into her lap. Her eyes welled. Tossing the picture on the dash, she stepped out of the car. She popped the car seat out of its base and snapped it onto the stroller frame. Without a single look back, she pushed the stroller toward the entrance of the terminal.
Her first stop was the flight boards. She gazed at them intently while gently pushing the stroller back and forth. Hopefully he would stay asleep. Where should I go first? Denver? Chicago? Montreal? Does it really matter? I’ve never been anywhere. Why not just buy a ticket on the first available flight out and start there? The baby started to whimper then unleashed a full-blown gale.
The muscles of her shoulders and neck clenched tightly, and her head throbbed. “What is wrong with you? Why don’t you ever stop crying?” She picked up the screaming mass and ran through the litany: check the diaper, is it time to eat, is he too hot, too cold, was anything pinching him? Checking her watch, she realized he was probably hungry. She pulled a bottle out of the diaper bag and headed for the nearest hot water tap. Warm formula in hand, she took a seat near the window, and stuck the bottle in the screaming mouth, waiting for the infant to notice the nipple. As he began to suck, she sat back in the chair, intending to enjoy the quiet and watch the planes coming and going. Instead, she found herself staring into little pools of blue. Her hand rubbed the soft head. He is so tiny. He reached up and grabbed one finger, then paused his feast to give her what appeared to be a smile. It’s just gas. That’s what all the doctors and nurses said. He probably doesn’t even know who I am. And now, he never will. She laid the baby back in the stroller and walked over to the window. She had to stay focused. This was her dream. It was her one opportunity. Fate had put the means into her hands, she couldn’t turn back now. The crying began again. She kept her gaze firmly on the planes outside and clenched her teeth. Her destiny was out there, in front of her. Only the past lay behind her.
One eyebrow delicately arched, the lady gazed around the airport, at the same black-and-white floor tiles, the same blue walls that had been there 20 years ago. Her chest grew tight for a moment. Thankfully, her business here was done. She had signed the final papers with the bank manager this morning. Today was the last time she would ever have to set foot in this town. Maybe I should have come back years ago. Maybe I could have seen him– seen them–one last time, told them how sorry I was. But it was too late for that now. A persistent noise lifted the edge of her thoughts and crawled in, demanding its share of attention. Somewhere nearby a baby was crying. It had been crying for some time now, in fact. She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead.
Looking around the room, she spotted the offender lying in its stroller, wailing like a tornado siren. It appeared to be alone, except for a young woman standing at the window about ten feet away, decidedly ignoring the child. Either that is its mother, or I am going to need to get Security, and I really do not want to deal with those Bozos today. Rising, she sighed and lifted her leather bag to her shoulder. Might as well try to talk to the girl first.
Setting her bag carefully on a chair, she took a seat beside the infant. She reached one hand into the stroller, feeling around for a bottle or a pacifier. As she cooed baby-nonsense and persuaded the squall-machine to take its pacifier, she kept one eye on the young woman at the window. As soon as the crying stopped, the woman at the window turned. She quickly crossed the distance and lifted the child from the stroller, holding him close to her body. The lady folded her hands and sat back in the chair.
“He seemed upset”
“uh.. Yeah, he gets really fussy. Colic.”
She continued to stand there, rocking gently. Her eyes, red and swollen, roved back and forth, unable to settle in any one place. With her thumb she spun her ring round and round her finger. Yet still she stood.
“Why don’t you have a seat?” said the lady, “I have some time to kill before my flight and you look like you could use someone to talk to.” The girl stood for a moment longer, then sat down. Eyes on the floor, she sat, not saying a word, just rocking the baby in her arms. A couple of minutes passed.
The lady swung her foot. She shifted in her chair, picked some lint off her silk blouse and smoothed her hair. She looked at the girl again, leaning forward to try and catch her eye. “So how old are you…18, maybe 20? Having a baby isn’t turning out to be as wonderful as you’d imagined, is it? He’s fussy and demanding and he’s ALWAYS there. You never get a break. You probably haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since he was born. And your husband is no help at all, right?” The young woman’s head snapped up, eyes wide. Then the words came, one on top of the other, half of them incoherent and smothered beneath her sobs. A tear dripped off the end of her nose, followed by two more. The lady reached into her bag and withdrew a linen handkerchief. She dabbed at the girl’s cheeks, then pressed the handkerchief into her hand. After a moment, the lady began to tell her her story. It was a tale of travel and adventure, of palaces and kings; of Spain and Morocco, India and Peru; of despots, movie stars and Nobel laureates. It’s everything I ever imagined! the girl thought.
But the dream had a dark side. The lady told her of things she had seen— a young man castrated and eviscerated for loving another man; a 10 year old girl held as a sex slave. She recalled a narrow escape and a horrifying night on the streets of Muzzafarrabad, hiding from a half-mad prince. She shared with her the lonely times and the holidays and birthdays spent alone in some strange hotel room. Her voice became husky and she gazed out the window, seeing something far beyond the tarmac and airplanes.
“You know….there are times now when I just sit and cry. I see a baby, like yours, and I think, what would my life be like with children? Would I be a different person?” Just then she heard the boarding call for her flight. “That’s me.” She stood and collected her bag. She patted the girl on the shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
As she reached the gate, the lady turned back for one final look. She saw the young woman take an envelope out of the stroller and throw it in a trash can. The girl paused for a moment, then squared her shoulders, and pushed the stroller out into the afternoon sun. The lady turned away and boarded the plane.
She settled herself into her seat, keeping her purse on her lap. The plane lifted off and quickly reached cruising altitude. The flight attendant brought the drink cart out and the lady accepted a double scotch. As she stared out the window, she sipped it thoughtfully. Once the glass was empty, she opened her purse. From inside she pulled a photograph and an old newspaper article. It was dated 19 years prior. She gazed for a long moment at the headline. It read “Baby Abandoned in Airport. Mother Vanishes With $50,000”. Carefully re-folding the article, she placed them both back inside the bag, and closed it with a snap.
Originally posted 2016-04-23 10:06:57.