I’M MUNCHING A FIVE-DOLLAR SOFT PRETZEL at Gate A55 when a woman with shiny black hair and freckled skin asks me to watch her bag. Without waiting for an answer, she sets her designer carry-on next to my duffel and brings her knees together.
“Can’t hold it,” she says, and smiles the smile of women who are used to getting what they want.
She gets what she wants.
I watch her breeze away, focusing first on the fit of her designer jeans and then on the sway of her shiny black hair as she disappears into the parade of travelers. There’s a sign for a men’s restroom across the way, but nothing for women. I figure it must be farther down. I look down at the bag, red and black plaid, and wonder if I have just committed a crime. Or is it more a rule of thumb? The bag is stenciled with the initials AJR and smells of perfume. I wonder how many freckled terrorists are planting bombs in monogrammed bags these days. I decide on the spot that we have gone too far as a society and that I will apply a modicum of reason to the situation.
“You’re not supposed to watch other people’s bags.”
The speaker is a stick-limbed Asian boy sitting across from me. A handheld video game rests in his lap and his parents appear to be in the adjacent aisle, with their backs to us.
“She just has to pee,” I say.
“Doesn’t matter. You could go to jail.”
“I don’t think so. It’s more of a rule of thumb.”
The boy squints at me. “I’m not talking about your thumb, mister. There could be improvised explosive devices in that bag.”
“I doubt it. It smells nice. Do you want to smell it?”
“I’m telling the cops.”
With this, the boy’s mother turns, smiles and turns back around. I get the sense she does not speak English but perhaps did recognize the word “cops.”
The boy is still squinting at me. “No need for the police,” I tell him. “She’s my wife.”
“Is not. You don’t even know her.”
“Sometimes it feels that way,” I say, and wink.
“She wouldn’t marry a guy like you.”
I force a smile. “Sometimes we get lucky, kid.”
“Then where’s your wedding ring?”
“Not when I travel. Good way to lose it.”
“You’re lying,” says the boy.
“Pretzel?” I say, holding out the half-eaten snack.
“I’m telling the cops.” He stuffs the video game in a backpack and begins to rise from his seat.
“No no,” I say, unzipping the suitcase. I reach in and pull out a handful of undergarments. I can’t help but notice a black lacy thong, thin as a pencil.
“Uh, see? No bombs.”
The woman is back. “What the hell are you doing?” she says, and hits me in the face with her purse. It’s a large purse, with hard objects inside. She swipes at the undergarments while continuing her assault.
I bury my head in my arms. From this position I can see the boy’s mother nodding.
“Married for sure,” she says, in perfect English.
Suddenly an airport police officer is separating us and asking in authoritative tones as to what, exactly, is going on here.
“This man—” says the woman, then stops. I see the recognition in her lovely face that she may have violated the law, or at least a rule of thumb. I fold my arms and cock an eyebrow, waiting, as a husband would do, for an explanation.
“This man is incorrigible,” she says, throwing up her arms. “Absolutely incorrigible. How dare you say those things about my mother.”
“If the shoe fits,” I say, and the woman hurls a thong. A nice touch. I remove it from my face, recognizing the lavender scent.
The officer, an older man with stripes on his collar, jabs a finger at me.
“Make this right and get this mess cleaned up,” he says. “Unless you want your day to go from bad to worse.”
I nod and go to the woman, showing the officer that I can, in fact, be the bigger person.
“Baby,” I say, and take her by the shoulders. They are dainty shoulders, and within them I feel tension. “Baby, forgive my transgressions.” The woman is shaking her head ever so slightly, lips pursed in warning, but the truth is we have to sell this thing, whether she likes it or not. I lean in and bring my lips to hers. She pushes me away and swings the purse. I duck. She shrieks in anger and flails away, swinging, kicking and cursing as I dodge and weave.
“After all these years,” I say to the officer, huffing from exertion. “The passion is still there.”
He keys his mike and calls for backup.
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i'm not indebted to you:
by Robert Louis Henry
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