Sweet as Pie
Missy never cared much for Marla. She only stayed in the group for her pies. Marla was an incredible baker, with recipes dating back four generations of southern women.
She would wear that hat, Missy thought while peering down into the bordeaux colored, velvet lined casket. Marla’s lifeless head was covered in purple floral and tulle bows, cascading around her dome. There were eight layers of pearls placed perfectly around her neck, careful not to be swallowed by the frills on her collared blouse. Missy looked down at her own pearls, her face reddening as she stared at the one singular strand laying on the sunset orange polyester fabric, clenching the curves of her chest.
“It’s a shame she insisted on being buried in all those pearls.” Mary said to Missy, next in line to view the corpse. Mary insisted on wearing her new cobalt tweed skirt, pleading her case to her doubtful husband; But when else will I have the chance to wear it Bill?
“Her daughter could have really used a touch of class” Mary continues.
Both women look back in unison at Marla’s daughter, sitting in the front row, biting her black painted fingernails, her purple streaked hair matching her dead mother’s hat ironically or purposely – no one knew which.
“Well she always wanted the attention,” Missy mocked in a teenage-like serenade.
“And we always wanted the pie!” Mary chimes, as Missy throws her head back in laughter.
They would have both continued to laugh obnoxiously together in an adolescent fashion, but Missy’s balance has been compromised and she has now fallen onto the top step below her. She reaches her left hand to stabilize her skinny, wrinkled body, but ends up missing. She rolls onto the bottom step, landing sprawled onto the floor like a widow spider who’s just been squashed.
Laughter trickles through the rows of seats behind her. Missy waits for Mary to offer a hand to help her up, but sees she has moved onto the “in memory of” table where she will offer a $5 donation to the baking charity of Marla’s choosing.
Suddenly the laughter stops. A bone chilling silence spreads throughout the room. Missy sits up abruptly to see what’s going on and this time, to her horror, see’s Marla’s chubby face peering down at her.
“I knew you bitches only came to bridge for my pie.” Marla’s voice sour with conviction. “Now get me out of here, Clark!”
Elders at the Airport
The airport is fevered with passengers awaiting their upcoming departures. The security line is short with only four people carefully preparing their tubs with shoes, jackets and jewelry.
Erin wanted to leave the apartment later that morning but Tom insisted they come early, eager to find the gate and ease his anxious brain. She steps up to the security checkpoint, smiles timidly, and offers her ID and boarding pass to the TSA guard sitting high on his stool. His face is friendlier than most, and his dark hair and beard remind Erin of her ski-bum brother living off the slopes in Utah. She wonders if he still has his man bun. The guard holds up his hand motioning her to stop and says, “Stand back a moment Miss. Please.” She mutters “sorry” under her breath, fearful that she has been flagged as someone who can’t be trusted, and takes two large steps back while lowering her chin to her chest.
The first elderly man Erin notices, is being wheeled through the roped off entrance to her left by a female airline worker; him wearing sweats, her wearing an outfit similar to a scrub. The man’s expression is confused, his eyes wandering as three screening lines of impatient travelers are buzzing around him with routine movement. Step-up, put your items on the belt, take off your shoes, remove anything from your pockets and place all electronics in a separate tub, the repetitive instructions staging the room with the whistle and demands of it’s background noise.
Another Elderly Man is now being ushered in front of Erin, his outfit peculiar for a morning flight. His white collared shirt is buttoned high and secured with a crookedly placed black cotton bow-tie. His stark white sneakers, never to have seen the city streets, sit high on the base of his tuxedo pants, tucked slightly into the top of each shoe’s tongue. He’s holding a large pink sign that reads “California loves Big Apples” and the words “WOW” written loudly, run vertically down the side. A disproportionate picture of a red apple is on the bottom right corner and the letters “B” and “A” are traced with silver and gold glitter, no better articulated than the works of a second grader’s art project.
He stands stiff as a bridge table, unaware of what the TSA guard wants from this unfamiliar encounter. “Your ID please, sir.” Elderly Man Two hands him his ID to which the guard quickly returns and pauses for the next approaching traveler. But Elderly Man Two does not move as expected, instead he continues to stand in front of the guard, perhaps waiting to be dismissed or directed to where to go next. The guard looks confused until realizing a prompt was in order, “That way sir.” Elderly Man Two graciously bows to the guard, placing his hands in a prayer-like motion, relieved at the access granted to continue his journey.
The TSA guard signals Erin forward. “Thank you, Ms. Geaux” he says handing her ID and two boarding passes stacked tidily on top of one another. She thanks him twice, avoiding eye contact, submitting herself to power as she always has.
Erin moves to the belt to discard her items, neatly placing each possession in the tub. Elderly Man Two hollers to Elderly Man One, “Lucky you, Bill!” as he sees Bill being rolled through the metal detector.
To which Bill replies, “WHAT?” his head swiveling like an owl to see where the muffled sounds are coming from, the noises of the airport interfering with the aids in his ears.
Elderly Man Two is none-the-wiser, his eyes now fixed on the moving belt that is sucking luggage, computers and totes into the mysterious dark cave of no return. His expression puzzled, searching for an explanation as his belongings are disappearing out of sight.
He asks a TSA guard with crossed arms and a tapping foot standing close by, “where are they going?” Despite the odds, she suspects this man has not flown before but before she can ask, Elderly Man Two confirms with bewildered eyes, “This is my first flight!”
“You don’t say!” she responds offering a hand in preparing his tub. Her smile flattens as quickly as her tone, “Sir, you need to take your fanny pack off.”
“But I need it. I need my stuff!” He pleas through porcelain teeth.
“It’s okay, you’ll get it on the other side” the guard reassures him. She points through the metal detector to where the belt ends, where he sees passengers happily grabbing their things, pleased to have completed the first and often most painful leg of their journeys.
Erin watches as he unclips his fanny pack, removes the yellow and black smiley pin that reads “God loves you” from his front left pocket and unpins the “J O N” name-tag centered on his chest. He carefully places these treasures in a tub with the assistance of the TSA guard, clutching his hot pink sign in his hand while beginning to move toward the large rectangular beeping fixture that spins half moons as people enter and exit.
“Sir you’re going to have to put your sign here,” motioning to the space between his tub and Erin’s silver suitcase.
He hesitates then lays it down, carefully centering the sign on top of his other items for optimal security. He looks back at the belt once as he’s forced to walk away from his belongings, his crazy white hair sticking straight-up in back; the picture of a mad scientist cartoon perceived in educated youth.
After Erin’s items are prepared for screening, she glances back to find that her and Tom have been separated by three elders who have filled the space between them. The first was Elderly Man Three, who was ushered in directly behind her. His stature tall, his demeanor serious, and noticeably younger than the other two elderly men. Tom was ushered forward to join in the line behind him. Two elderly women immediately followed. The first, in bright shades of green, pushed her way up to the stack of tubs, closely nestling her body between Elderly Man Three and Tom.
The second woman approached the line wearing a grey cardigan and gold shiny loafers. She looked at Tom, then at the other two elders and said poignantly to him “I’m with them.”
Tom nods while taking a step back and motioning his right arm as to say after you . Erin catches Tom’s eye, chuckling in adornment at the dazed Elders growing space between them. He shakes his head and is no sooner greeted by the fourth elder, another woman, her lips pinked and hair permeated in a bleach blonde hue. She too alerts him that “this is her group” and stands closely behind Elderly Woman Two, elbows wide. Erin looks back a final time before being scanned, to see Tom’s shoulders shrug with equal parts humor and frustration at the elders who have surrounded him.
Jon is shooed through the metal detector and Erin follows obediently behind. On the other side, she is forced to step wide around Jon who is being patted down, questioning every touch. She watches him as she waits for her belongings to come to sight. He is obsessively looking back at the conveyor belt, despite being asked to “look forward” by the officers, desperate for a reunion with his possessions. Erin watches as he joyfully reunites with his tub, taking his time as he fastens his name tag, clips his fanny pack and takes a firm hold of his hot pink sign in his shaky hands. He lifts it proudly, standing right in the path of other patrons, awaiting his fellow elders arrival to the other side.
Bright shades of green woman exits first, proudly stating, “I didn’t make it beep!” as Jon high-fives her, both smiling for their achievements. The others follow as a number of “way to go” and “you did it” accolades echo through the group. Elderly Man Three, the most sprite of the men, keeps a stern, operational face while clipping his suspenders securely back into place. The woman in the cardigan has a pleasant yet blank expression, feeling blissful in this adventure but sure to keep close proximity to the others in her pack. The blonde woman pulls a cream colored mop jacket out of a tote, burying it securely under her arm (despite the external temperature of this 90 degree day).
Jon continues waving his sign to rally his troops until all six elders have regrouped before moseying down Terminal C as an unmethodical uniformed pack.
Erin steps aside to wait for Tom, double knotting her Adidas kicks on the silver slatted bench positioned conveniently at the edge of the beltway for redressing. Minutes pass until he finally emerges, letting out a long sigh. They both chuckle wryly in awe of today’s security experience.
They walk to their gate, hands loosely locked, observing the lack of food-to-traveler ratio that rests in this terminal. They decide to stop at the cafe, which is one of two deli-style options, and pick-up a turkey club and cheese box. She has to use the restroom so he waits outside with her silver compact suitcase. A flight attendant hustles past, her face disheveled, her uniform neat. Tom checks his phone, his fingers scrolling and flipping curiously through the screen with routine addiction. She waits patiently in line. An eight-year-old boy emerges from a stall, his glasses wrapping his head like swim goggles while his broad Midwest mother instructs him to wash his hands. The little boy obeys, glancing back at Erin, exchanging simultaneous looks of unease.
The couple resume to their gate, impossible to miss, the arms of a bright green cardigan waving the “Big Apple” sign in a car wash style motion as Jon’s group of elders gathers amenably around. The couple exchange a look silently communicating What are the chances that they’re on our flight? They sit down and within minutes are surrounded by Jon’s elders once again, watching the group in joyous amusement.
“Did Jon get yogurt?” Bright shades of green elderly woman asks Elderly Man Three. His lack of response prompts her to answer her own question with, “Jon’s really healthy like that.”
“I ate yogurt last night.” The blonde elder chimes in, several seats away.
Bill sits in his wheelchair, closest to the gate. He’s looking out the window watching the men below load the bags into the carrier. He tries to remember the strength it would take to lift something of that weight.
“They call me Gabby but you won’t believe my real name” the woman in green continues, working hard to obtain Elderly Man Three’s interest. She sits facing him, inches away from petting his knees. He doesn’t guess, but Gabby doesn’t mind and continues talking anyway, describing her French/Swiss descent and father’s troubled alcoholic past. Elderly Man Three nods along, his dark hair groomed, his framed eyes scanning the gate as if he was on watch.
“Well alcohol is a serious addiction. My first husband suffered from it. It takes years off your life.” Gabby continues, giving extra emphasis to years and life.
The second woman, in silver loafers, sits quietly next to Jon who’s lightheartedly swaying from side-to-side. She studies a worn copy of Little Women, never turning a page. she has the posture of a debutante, but the style of a hip grandmother. Her grey cardigan was fitted to carefully match her pleated slacks, making it clear she had prepared diligently for the trip ahead.
The blonde elderly woman’s attention remained focused on eavesdropping, her rosy lips moving in fish-like motions, listening as intently as her aged ears will allow. She overhears Gabby discussing her distant family in Sweden and their love for Lindhurst chocolate. She rustles through her tote bag, pushing her cream mop jacket to the side retrieving a rectangular bar as if on cue. She shuffles over, her heels never leaving the floor, loudly asking “Chocolate anyone? Who wants a square?” Her outfit, her makeup heavy face, and her thin frame are valiant disguises, all telling of her desired youth.
“No, thank you Jean” Elderly Man Three replies, to her disappointment. Gabby barely flinches while waving Jean off, her red polished nails screaming for attention as she continues rattling her history into the man’s good ear. Jean returns to her seat and the rattling continues, only to be interrupted by the sounds of the gate agent announcing that it’s boarding time.
Tom and Erin wait patiently for their group to be called. The Elders stand clumped together towards the front of the line, Bill’s wheelchair qualifying the group for early access as those who need more time to board.
Twenty minutes of boarding and three winded minutes of safety instructions later, it was time to depart. The Steward can be heard over the loudspeaker advising all passengers to have their carry-on items safely stowed under the seat in front of them, their tray tables locked in their upright position and to ensure that their seat belts are fastened and tightly secured.
Before the plane can pull out of the gate, there is a buzz in the cabin that has two flight attendants in a tizzy as they walk with purpose toward each other from opposing sides of the aircraft. Erin, disturbed by the commotion, looks up from her gossip magazine to see who other than bow-tie Jon pacing the aisle in first class. The steward reaches him first, they exchange words as he points toward the rear of the plane. He and the steward have a concerned look in their eyes. The worry gains the attention of other nosy passengers who are following his fingertips with their gaze, as dozens of curious eyeballs shift to the back of the plane. The steward takes action to alleviate the stale air’s unanswered questions, asking over the loudspeaker “Is there a Caroline on the plane who is traveling with other passengers?”
Erin taps Tom’s legs as he peels his headphones one at a time from each ear to listen.
“I don’t know who Caroline is but I’m Carolyn.” Erin overhears the polished elderly woman in grey say to the lady next to her from across the aisle.
“Is there no Caroline on board who is traveling with a group today?” The steward repeats.
“Well I’m Carolyn but I’m not traveling with anyone,” The elderly woman says still talking to her neighbor while undoing the top gold button on her cardigan, Little Women resting on the tray table in front of her.
The stewardess is walking the aisle, “Caroline? Caroline?”
“Well, I’m Carolyn…” she speaks up this time, her voice cracking as it elevates. “But I’m not traveling with anyone.”
“You aren’t with Jon?” The stewardess asks pointing up at the charismatic troop leader, searching each side of the aisle diligently, until all elders in his group are accounted for. Carolyn locks eyes with Jon, his lost expression finding comfort in the grin crossing his friend’s recognizable face.
“Oh, yes!” She exclaims. “I’m with Jon.” The stewardess’s posture exhibited that of an eye roll, in a poor attempt to physically maintain her respected level of professionalism.
“Jon’s my dance teacher!” Carolyn shares boastfully.
The satin lines on Jon’s tuxedo pants illuminate as he began to dance, placing his hands on his hips, heel-touching each leg in-and-out in a boisterous two-step fashion. He then spins around, his right arm waving to the bystanders and finishes his jig moving rhythmically from side-to-side; some amused, some annoyed and some totally oblivious to the morning show. Carolyn’s eyes became bright and her cheeks dewy as she clapped along to his uneven beat.
The stewardess signals up front to the idle cabin crew members who proceed to report on the intercom one final time, “Everyone please have a seat. Flight deck prepare for take-off.”
Erin and Tom grip hands and share a smile.