His body jolted from sleep, fragments of dreams dissolving all around him. As his vision came into focus he could make out her arthritic hand reaching across him, pointing out the rectangular window. “Right down there,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” he said, clearing his throat.
She pointed out the window again, saying, “I was telling you that’s where I live. Right down there – little town called Clover. That’s where I live.”
He nodded his head, looking out the window through buttered popcorn clouds, gazing down at the brown and tan squares below, silent and still.
“Got a two and a half hour drive ahead of me tonight from the airport, can you believe that?” she continued, shifting in her seat, “Course I could have flown into Cincinnati – it’s much closer to Clover. But it’s so much cheaper to fly into Columbus.”
She reached into her floral print purse and pulled out a wallet-sized photo of a young girl with blonde pigtails and buckteeth.
“This is my Lizzy May. She’s my granddaughter. She Lives in Clover too. I picked up some souvenirs for her at the airport in Vegas. Nothing fancy – just a magnet with her name on it and some sunglasses, but I’ll have to wait to give them to her till tomorrow. Suppose by the time I get back tonight she’ll already be asleep. Oh well, price you pay by flying into Columbus, am I right?”
She chuckled to herself and sat back in her seat. He looked at the tray table in front of him, littered with tiny plastic bottles of Bombay.
For a few moments they sat in silence, the sound of recycled air swirling around them, occasionally interrupted by muffled coughs that ping-ponged around the cabin. He checked his phone, scrolling through a text conversation with his dad about his last AA meeting. Re-reading it, he felt ashamed that he wasn’t more honest.
“You know,” she whispered, as if to not disturb him, “Las Vegas sure ain’t the same without my Teddy. We use to go on this trip every year together. Teddy loved blackjack. He once won $2500 at The Bellagio – can you believe that? Course after he passed I had a hard time taking the trip on my own. But that was years and years ago – way before little Lizzy was born. I’m much better now. Hell, sometimes I go to Vegas two – three times a year!”
She smoothed out her tan slacks and smiled. “Sometimes I wish Lizzy could’ve met her grandpa. Teddy was such a wonderful man.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.
“Oh please, honey,” she exclaimed, “It was eons and eons ago…funny thing, getting old. You don’t start to realize it till you start realizing everything that you’ve let go. Letting go of things that use to be so important to you, people and places that you use to care about. You don’t even realize it, but you start letting them all go. But you have to I guess. If you held onto everything and everyone life would hurt too bad.”
The plane landed in Columbus fifteen minutes early. He followed the old lady out to the arrival gate, watching her wander around and squint at the signs and monitors around her. He felt like he should help her – to point her in the direction of Clover, Ohio, wherever that may be – but before he got to her she turned a corner and was swept away into a crowd of briefcases, screaming children, and bustling overcoats.
His sister picked him up from the airport. She looked much older than the last time her saw her, but he told her, “You look great.” She could smell the alcohol on his breath, but didn’t say anything.
“We’re only a few minutes from the hotel, and the funeral home is right next store,” she said, throwing his suitcase into the trunk. “Mom wants us to be ready to go in the lobby by 8am.”
A few minutes later they were in the Days Inn parking lot, and his sister was crying and saying she wished she could have done more. He told her that she did all she could and that everything was going to be okay, even though he knew that was a lie.
When he went to bed that night he thought of the little old lady from Clover. On the stained stucco ceiling of his hotel room, he envisioned a mosaic of her driving down a desolate highway in a rented sedan, all by herself. He hoped she got home okay. Nothing else in the world mattered more to him.