I checked out a book from the library the other day. I’d like to say it was a choice based on the author’s reputation, or good reviews, or a sterling recommendation from a friend. But no, it was a random response solely to book cover and title. Tsk. Discreminating reader, hm? I should be more impervious to flashy words and images, but I am not that cultured. Oh, but I won’t berate myself too much. Who could resist “Father Melancholy’s Daughter”? Not me. It’s bold. Promising.
(Unfortunately, it is the books who brag the most, who deliver the least. Nothing quite so disappointing as an overly ambitious title…)
I tucked it into my pile quickly, as if someone would notice my impressionable tastes.
Later, at home, inside the pages of the book, my husband finds two boarding passes. I am a little put out. That was, to my way of thinking, a discovery intended for me. I was the one who succumbed to well designed graphics and a dramatically constructed title. But, I am not so peevish, hopefully, to hold any lasting grudge. After twelve years of marriage, I am sure I have stolen his delights a time or two. So I forgive him his unknowing trespass.
So, the passes, an old flight, from Houston to San Diego, for Billie and Elaine Hix. Bookmarks, now, I suppose. Tucked in a borrowed book, from a poky library in the middle of the nowhere I call home.
I find myself intrigued. Whenever I read this book (which turns out to be a slower, less captivating read than I had hoped for—sigh), I study the passes, and wonder about them, about this trip. Why were they traveling? A wedding? Graduation? Funeral?
Did Elaine gaze out the window, as I would have, in amazement at man’s triumph over gravity? Or did she squeeze the chair arm, white-knuckled and scared? Did he laugh nervously at take-off? Or was he indifferent, well-traveled enough to recognize the usual clatterings of aircraft engines?
Did they share the hours in conversation, or in comfortable silence? Or were they disconnected from one another, strained, awkward? Did they stare at nothing in particular, so that they did not share the intimacy of being two people, two people connected even at thirty-two thousand feet? Did she read this book, while he watched the inflight movie, because nothing was novel about this moment?
I don’t know. It makes me sad, somehow. You shouldn’t read mournful literature as you are soaring through the sky with your husband, with your wife. It’s not right, somehow.
So, in my mind, I see her, beginning this book, and glancing over at her husband. She notices that he got his hair cut for this trip. She smiles to see his mouth quirk up at the movie. Billie leans his seat back a bit, and she catches a brief hint of his cologne in the air. And then, I see a glint of resolution in her eyes, I see Elaine slide their boarding passes in the pages to mark her place. And then, “Father Melancholy’s Daughter” goes into her bag.
She lays her head on his shoulder, and he thinks, I’ve seen this movie a thousand times. He takes off the headphones.
Later, they take turns with the window seat. They share tiny foil packages of peanuts and clear glasses of ginger ale. They speak excitedly of their plans for San Diego, of the patchwork of towns and fields and lakes beneath them, of how they are so glad they are finally taking this trip they’d always talked about…
They fly together, at thirty-two thousand feet, and “Father Melancholy’s Daughter” is just an unlucky, unread book along for the ride.