The lady is the last to board the plane, and you see her heading your way.
There are several empty seats, but you see her looking at the window seat next to you. Damn. She looks way too perky. “Excuse me,” she says looking at her ticket, then stretching her head over your lap to look at the seat number. “That’s me.”
You realize she’s expecting you to stand up and help her.
“Here, will you put these up there for me?” she asks, handing you her heavy briefcase. You shove it in the overhead and return to your seat.
“I shouldn’t drink this coffee. I’m trying to give it up,” she says pointing to the super grande sized cup of coffee.
You just nod your head. You don’t have time to say anything.
“I try to drink half decaf in the afternoon, but I need to make my own then. Starbucks only sells it all decaf or all caffeine. You’d think there’d be plenty of people out there like me wanting half and half.”
“Can’t you just fill your cup halfway with each coffee?”
“I need a latte or mocha, not just coffee. At home, I drink just coffee, but not when I buy it.”
“I used to drink about eight cups a day, but some of the people at work complained I was getting too edgy, too nervous, and suggested I cut back.”
“I don’t eat meat. Read a book once. Changed my life. You probably don’t want to hear about that.”
You’re probably right, you think, but she carries on about the book in great detail. You’re on a small puddle jumper plane and the more she talks, the more claustrophobic you feel. Talk talk talk. “My ex-husband liked meat. Part of the reason we divorced. He’d fry bacon. Bacon of all things. He’d do this when I was waitressing. Never when I was home. But I could smell it. Bacon!”
“I like the smell of bacon.”
“You should read..”
For once, you cut her off. “I like the smell more than the taste. I get hungry whenever I smell my neighbors grilling meat. I love the smell of barbecued meat sizzling on the grill. I rarely light the grill. Rarely cook,” you admit.
“I love to bake. I love sweets. Guess it’s true about vegetarians replacing meat with sugar.”
You sigh heavily.
“I know. I talk too much. I need to stop. Guess I’ve had too much coffee. I made a pot before I left home. Then I stopped by this coffee shop for another cup on the road. It’s a long drive to the airport.
And I knew I shouldn’t buy this cup at the airport.”
You think of yourself as a pacifist, as mellow, but this woman is pushing you to the edge. You fantasize throwing her out the airplane window, imagining her floating through the clouds, rambling incessantly about her coffee, oblivious to the fact that no is listening.
“I’m really addicted to caffeine. And sugar. Really. I need to quit.
I can’t sleep at night.”
The stewardess frees you from listening to the woman’s chatter when she offers her coffee. You wonder if the stewardess has it out for you. Can’t she see this woman is flying high on caffeine? They wouldn’t offer a drunk a drink.
You breathe heavily again, trying to will away these thoughts. This woman is really getting to you. You wonder if you’ve ever been like her. No, no, no wine for me. Then started ranting about how you love wine. How you can’t stop at one glass. Rant, rant, rant, though you were only offered a drink.
Then it hits you. You know you’ve been like her. It’s the most troubling realization. You wonder how often you’ve been like her, why no one stopped you, pulled you aside and said just saying no was enough. You wonder if this is why you’re getting so few dinner invitations.
You look at the woman and hear yourself speaking. It’s like these words are coming out of her mouth, but it’s you doing the talking. I can’t drink wine. The people at work said I was getting too edgy. Said I had to cut back. Said I wasn’t being nice. Said I wasn’t being productive.
The woman keeps talking about when she gave up meat, and how she can’t understand why she can’t give up caffeine when she can give up flesh.
She makes your head spin.
You wave to the stewardess and ask for a Bloody Mary.
“That looks good,” the woman says. “I get too weird when I drink. I’d need celery,” she says when you just get the can of juice and tiny bottle of vodka.
You pour the vodka into the cup and can’t believe you’re doing this.
You haven’t had a drink in two years. You look at the woman, the drink, your hands, the window, imagine her body floating, then remember that prayer, that AA give-me-the-strength-prayer, those meetings, the people who talked all the time, the stories they told, how they made you feel more like drinking than before you arrived for the meeting.
You look at the woman, the drink in your hand, and wish there was some way you could speed ahead in time so you could figure out what will happen next, and then, what will happen after that.
You smell your drink. Really smell your drink. You put your nose above the plastic glass and inhale deeply. The woman looks at you with disgust. She, of all people, the woman who has gone on and on about loving coffee can’t stand to see you inhaling the vapors from your drink. You inhale again. And again.
The woman calls the stewardess over to take her coffee. Like you, she knows. She looks sickened.
You hand the stewardess your drink.
You take a deep breath. The woman takes a deep breath. Finally, there’s silence.
Diane Payne, her daughter, and several critters live in the humid, hot Delta region where everyone must be singing the blues. She recently published her first the novel Burning Tulips and has completed a short story collection still looking for a home.