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. Discriminating reader, hm? I should be more impervious to flashy words and images, but I am not that cultured. But, I won’t berate myself too much. Another post. Today, it is just an observation about myself. I am an easy sell. Who could resist “Father Melancholy’s Daughter”? Not me.
So, this title, 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, sheepishly.
Later at home, my husband casually finds two boarding passes inside the pages of the book. 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, after all. But, I am not so peevish, hopefully, to hold a lasting grudge. After thirteen years of marriage, I am sure I have stolen his prizes a time or two. So I forgive him his unknowing trespass. I will pretend I found them, and that is that.
So, the passes, an old flight, from Houston to San Diego, for Billie and Elaine H. 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?
My imagination takes this book up into the air, a silent traveling companion, a witness to this moment in their life.
Does Elaine gaze out the window, as I would have, in amazement at man’s triumph over gravity? Or does she squeeze the arm of the chair, white-knuckled and scared? Does he laugh nervously at take-off? Or is he indifferent, well-traveled enough to recognize the usual clatterings of aircraft engines?
Do they share the hours in conversation, or in comfortable silence? Or are they disconnected from one another, strained, awkward? Do they stare at nothing in particular, so that they do not share the intimacy of being two people, two people connected even at thirty-two thousand feet? Does she read this book, while he watches the inflight movie, because nothing is 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, a glint in her eyes. Elaine slides their boarding passes in the pages to mark her place. “Father Melancholy’s Daughter” goes into her bag.
She lays her head on his shoulder, and he thinks, I’ve seen this movie a hundred times. He takes off the headphones, and turns to look at her, at his Elaine. They are two people, connected even at thirty-two thousand feet.
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, Billie and Elaine, and “Father Melancholy’s Daughter” is just an unlucky, unread book along for the ride.
Or, at least, so says my imagination.
I return the book, unfinished. It wasn’t much of a read, to be honest. I press the boarding passes carefully back in, hiding the edges so that a diligent librarian won’t discover and remove them. I leave the prize for another, because the best story wasn’t found within the author’s words. It was in the mystery of Elaine and Billie, who once upon a time, took a trip, in a plane.
And hopefully, lived happily ever after.