I am at the airport, waiting to go home and find myself incapable of writing, either because I cannot focus or because it is so terrible here in the pre-Christmas pack-in that everyone’s existence imposes relentlessly. Two acquaintances who are not friends, on the left , sit and politely chat at each other about first avocados, and then decorating a Christmas tree. these topics sear through the earholes and laser out the other side. A Midwestern mother circles and circles round and round the island of my seat, desperate and wanton in her need to locate the Lego piece her three year old son dropped. She has already crawled under legs and makes it a point on her rounds to ask everyone in the vicinity if ” they heard the plastic drop ” and has now sentenced her chubby baby son to at least the next fifteen minutes slithering on the floor under the ancient plastic seats, as he says quietly,” Sorry, Mommy– Sorry,” .
Madame likes to keep busy, in any event. Before they piece of the toy was lost, she had paced, made her way in through the sea of strangers, pushing the stroller with a giant baby in it, and staring expectantly at everyone as she wound her way round bench after bench. With the advent of the Loosing, however, her mission has become clearer, and we are all subjected to the lesson that inevitably accompanies the cessation of her frenzy, as she settles into the chair with resignation, and crosses one short plump leg over the other. Her sons are named Matthew and Connor and her husband, Nate, is long-suffering, exhausted and 350 pounds. He picks up the baby and shuffles off down the terminal as she launches into a public recap of events as she knows them to be true:
She begins the articulation of the crime to the jury, our entire surrounding area, which includes one gang of maybe JV footballers and some 13 year olds playing Jim Rummy on a nearby bench.
This missing Lego is proclaimed as ” one of a kind” and I wonder if she ever knew youth, or a time when she might not set aside the fatigue of motherhood in order to regain even three minutes of her former liberty. ” it’s from an advent calendar that Lego does,” she says out loud, maybe to no-one. The under-formed football players are too nice to let fully-grown women talk to themselves, so the handsomest one ventures that ” she could probably buy a replacement,” and she shakes her head no and clasps her hands in front of her with finality. “he had a little train from the calendar and he dropped it and lost the smoke piece. That’s pretty irreplaceable, I think— right, CONNOR?” and Connor looks up from the flat section of floor he is currently inhabiting and says, again , ” Dorry , mommy, Thorry,” before heading back under the same bank of seats for another fruitless sweep of the same linoleum.
On she goes, and on he crawls, until the footballers cannot support this anymore, and one by one drop to their knees and suddenly the whole area is on the floor and she is sitting straighter in her seat, crowing now in triumph as the world finally retreats to under her thumb. “It’s white, and about half-an-inch long,” she says, and the football team move together, and lift the bench clear off the floor. Connor is put to work again, wriggling on the floor as two almost-edifices hold the bench above their heads. Nothing ensues from this, other than Connor earning himself a reprimand for having the black dirt of the floor matted onto the front of his orange shirt. The smoke remains in the wind, and so we set about mourning its loss once again as a community, for that is what we are now: the footballers who have sacrificed so much while waiting for their delayed flight, and Connor and the children playing Jim Rummy, and me, in the corner.
Nate, the tired and overweight rock of the family, returns with his enormous son in arms. Events are recounted to him, and he nods appropriately. He smiles at the young footballers and settles into place, putting his baby down on the seat divider next to him with a steady hand. He frowns.
“hold on– there’s something small here in the seat edge, ” he says, and Madame whips herself forward, and yanks her baby off the seat, shouldering him onto one side and darting a quick hand into the tight space of the seat joint. The baby is asleep but hanging diagonal from her shoulder, meaty little hands and head swinging loose five feet above the ground. ” CONNOR,” she crows, “—Daddy’s found the smoke!” and then with a wide sweep of the room, she enfolds us all into the moment. ” The smoke!” she says to the footballers, now hunched over and digging with frenzy into the seat. They cheer and high-five each other, the idiots.
“Maybe one of you could try and get it out,” she says, frowning, after a while, and the footballers trudge forward, but at age 16, their hands are already too gnarled and worn from the demands of Life, and after five minutes of them forcing their cudgels into the dark space, Madame remembers.
“CONNOR,” she bellows, and he pops up from the corner he has been standing in quietly as his mother moved heaven and earth. ” Yeth, Mommy?” he says.
He’s a cheerful little man, ruddy and enormously dirty from having been on the floor.
” They’ve found your smoke. Git your hand in there and try and fish it out.”
He waddles forward, and clambers up on the seat, his cheek pressed firmly into the seat, staring intently into the seat joint as his hand inches into the dark space. “Ife got it!” he crows, in a manner most familiar now, and the little hand comes out, and a flash of white is seen as she snatches it from his little hand, and hands her baby to Nate. “I’m goin’ to keep this now, Connor,” she says, and gets the Lego train out of her handbag, fitting the smoke stack back into the steam funnel with both hands, and holds the train up to the light.
“It’s complete now,” she says, and her eyes are bright.
The footballers crowd around Connor and kneel down on their knees to high-five the little man, and Connor blushes in acknowledgement, but his mother throws herself back in.
“Say thank you to these boys, Connor. They’ve had to spend their time making up for your mistake. You almost lost the smoke from the Lego Train.”
Connor opens his mouth, obedient till the last, but then the loudspeaker cuts through: ” Southwest Flight 1045 to Houston, now Boarding,” and the footballers push themselves off their knees and shoulder their bags with record speed. ” Later, Connor,” the second-most handsome says over his shoulder, as they move off into the terminal. The mother settles herself back into her seat, and puts the train inside her handbag, her motions small and slow. She looks up one more time: ” How crazy was it that they found it?” she says to Nate, and he says ” Pretty crazy, baby,” and she stares at him intently for a second.
“Give me Matthew,” she demands, and reaches her hands out. “–He needs to be walked around before the plane takes off.” Matthew is handed over, and he wakes up, upset, and is put into his bassinette for the final tour, in squalls, as she moves off into the terminal, her eyes bright, seeking.