by Alina Stefanescu
Jose read the story on the flight back from Nebraska. The return flight was packed. He was glad there were no layovers.
There was a mother with purple highlights sitting in the row ahead. She had a baby that traveled in a plaid sling close to her body. I heard her tell a person that it was the baby’s first flight.
It was a lap baby. The mother made funny noises at the baby and promised to feed it soon but the baby began to cry.
Passengers conspired against the mother with the crying lap baby. Children were much more obedient in my time, said the woman with glasses who knit through most of the flight. She said the problem was permissive parenting.
The man next to the knitter had restless leg syndrome. He said that being in a cabin with an unhappy baby was the equivalent of waterboarding. Terrorists should be waterboarded to save American lives and freedom but he was no terrorist.
The knitter clacked her needles.
The baby cried and cried.
I watched Jose read and tried not to worry about what he was thinking.
A flight attendant in a black nylon skirt asked passengers to remain in their seats for the duration of the flight. She was carrying napkins with logos inked on one corner. The pilot was monitoring cabin pressure. There were technical issues but nothing to worry about.
The mother began nursing the baby. For a few minutes, the baby did not cry.
A balding man with thick eyebrows asked the flight attendant if that mother knew what she was doing. He was recovering from an addiction to pornography and the sight of possible breast was unpleasant. If he happened to see the breast, it would be harmful. It would threaten his recovery.
The man had a wife and four children at home who depended on him.
He wanted to be a better man.
He could be a better man if it weren’t for certain things, including the woman nursing her baby.
The woman should stop nursing in public and find a decent location. The bathroom seemed private enough.
The flight attendant sighed and whispered something carefully to the mother. I couldn’t tell what she was saying because her face did not reflect the tenor of the words. A tiny whimpering sound came from the mother. I heard the baby unlatch and then the crying began again.
The knitter sighed and clacked faster.
The balding man leaned back into his chair and shut his eyes like he was beginning a nap.
The flight attendant said no one should stretch their legs or go to the restroom until the pilot cleared the technical issues. All passengers should remain in their seats.
The man with restless leg syndrome said he was a veteran of two foreign wars. The knitter made listening noises. The man said he was a patriot who did not deserve to be waterboarded. What he did in those wars was nothing like terrorism. What he did was so difficult that he had been diagnosed with PTSD afterwards. The crying was like a combat trigger.
The crying made him feel like he was in Guam all over again.
He asked the flight attendant for some whiskey and held up two horizontal fingers.
She said she wasn’t sure what drinks were available but she would let him know in a few minutes. Her lipstick was the color of a luau.
Jose looked up from the paper and said water would be fine. He asked if I could sense a difference in cabin pressure.
I wasn’t sure. It could be cabin pressure or lack of sleep.
There was no way to tell.
I asked if he had any thoughts on the story. He smiled and put his head on my shoulder. When his head was on my shoulder, I couldn’t see his face without removing his head from my shoulder.
He said it was a good story with an unexpected ending. He enjoyed the surprise at the end but the story itself lacked a certain force.
The baby hiccuped between wails. The mother made shushing sounds reminiscent of movie theatre popcorn machines.
Jose yawned and said that maybe my verbs weren’t muscular enough to carry such a strong story.
Alina Stefanescu is a poet who can’t keep her fingers out of fiction. She was born in Romania but lives in Tuscaloosa with four native mammal species. Her story, “White Tennis Shoes”, won the 2015 Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award, and her chapbook, “Objects In Vases”, is forthcoming from Anchor & Plume in March 2016. You can read her poetry and prose in current issues of PoemMemoirStory, Tinge Magazine, Jellyfish Review, New Delta Review, and others. More online at www.alinastefanescu.com