JOAN ELAINE MULLER
Betty Ann Dawson is shrinking with age, so she doesn’t have to bend very far see her purse and shoes disappearing through the flaps and into the black tunnel.
“Ma’am over here,” she hears a man yelling. He’s waving his hammy hand towards a glass booth that looks like those fancy showers everyone seems so excited about now. Why spend all that money on something just to wash off in?
She studies the man’s blue shirt; the stripe on those shoulder flaps would be difficult to sew on straight and flat, the material probably stubborn and unforgiving.
“Stand here,” he says, pointing at a dirty mat in front of the glass. She shouldn’t have worn new socks. Charlie was with her the last time she was in an airport. It was a year before he died. You could keep your shoes on back then. Her throat cinches up like a drawstring.
A young woman waves at her like she’s coaxing a child to come into the house. “Come on in.”
“The water’s fine,” Betty says, chuckling at her own joke. She imagines the surprise on her daughter’s face when she opens the door to see her own mother standing on the front porch. She hasn’t felt this giddy in years.
“Put your hands up like this,” the woman says, holding her arms in the air like a cheerleader. Easier said than done, Betty thinks, rubbing her right shoulder as she steps into the booth and then comes out on the other side.
“Ma’am, is this yours?” Another security man is holding a grey plastic tub. Her purse strap falls over the edge.
“Thank you young man,” she says, reaching for the tub. “I have to say the size of that tub would be perfect for storing scraps of fabric. Maybe I should buy it.” She chuckles again.
He scowls and pulls the tub away like a spoiled child who doesn’t want to share his toys.
“We need to check this bag.”
“What’s the problem?”
“The scanner picked up something.”
“What do you mean? Please hand me my purse, young man.”
She scans the area beyond the checkpoint. There has to be a police officer close by who could help her. Maybe this was a bad idea, flying all the way from Texas to Colorado. Betty had run the idea by Hildred one morning when she came over for coffee. Hildred said she was too old and it was too risky to go flying off like this. Then she had the nerve to say she would call Susan, her daughter. Betty hadn’t brought it up again.
“Please come with me,” he says.
She stands still and watches him carry the tub to a metal table a few feet away. Men are putting on their shoes and belts. Women are lacing their earrings back into their earlobes and slipping into their heels. Betty’s face grows hot. They look as if they just had quick sex. She should know; sometimes that’s all she and Charlie had time for.
A woman in patent pumps glances at her. Betty pictures what the woman is seeing; an old woman in her sock feet, getting in the way of people who have someplace important to go. Naked, without a purse on her arm or shoes on her feet, she watches the floor as she makes her way to the table.
“I need to take a look inside this bag,” he says, pointing to the purse she’d made out of scraps of her children’s clothes. The pieces fit together to make an exotic pattern of blues, oranges, yellows, and reds, accented with buttons from Charlie’s shirts and coats. She’d sewn the lining using an assortment of his old ties. Now this man wearing an ill-fitting shirt is pointing at the purse like it’s an old grocery bag.
His thumb presses against the blue and red print of her daughter’s first recital dress. She brushes her index finger across the side of her eye where tears are forming. I will not give him the pleasure of making an old woman cry, she thinks.
“Why must you go through my things?”
“I told you. The machine picked up something. I have to take a look before you can get on the aircraft.” He snaps on a pair of blue elastic gloves.
She tries to stand taller and feels unsteady. The table is cool against the hand she uses to brace herself. With the other hand, she cups the side of her hairdo, pushing in slightly to feel it spring back. It’s holding up well, even with all this mess happening. Her fingers curl into her palms. “Go ahead,” she says. She leans closer to her purse so she can watch.
His fingers are rubbing all over Charlie’s ties. Why would a grown man paw around in women’s purses for a living, she wonders. He pulls out a bottle of stool softeners. She looks away.
Pain is beginning to settle into her lower back and a familiar weakness crawls into her left hip.
He digs further down into the silk. “You’re planning to take these on the aircraft?” he says, pulling out her sewing shears. She admires them through the clear plastic envelope, the same package they were in when she bought them forty-two years ago at the C&S Hardware Store.
A few feet away, a baby cries. She can still hear Tony’s muffled cries in the garage. Charlie had to grab the shears to cut their son free from an old sleeping bag that was too small for him. That kid was always getting into something.
“You can’t take these on the aircraft,” he says.
“But I’m just going to use them to make some curtains for my daughter and some things for my grandchildren. I don’t plan to use them on the plane. Why would I do that?”
The shears sit alone and awkward in the man’s hands. If he were handling a fine piece of lace, he’d just as soon wipe a greasy counter with it as anything else. She can still feel the shears against the inside of her thumb, the flesh and steel sliding through sleek yards of satin for her Susan’s wedding dress and biting through the stubborn material of Tony’s Tin Man costume.
“It’s TSA regulation. You can’t take these with you. We’ll have to confiscate them.” He raises his eyebrows. Little punk, holding her shears like they’re a dirty diaper.
“But, you see, I’m not even going to use them on the plane. I won’t need them until I get to Colorado.” She holds out her palm, her arthritic thumb twisted and pointing out, and curls her lips into the smile of a doddering grandmother. This almost always gets her what she wants, a benefit of getting old, though it sickens her to portray herself this way.
He leans away from her and dangles the shears between his thumb and index finger, his pinkie sticking out. “Look, maybe you don’t understand the regulations. Scissors are not allowed. Everyone has to follow the same rules.”
“They’re shears, sewing shears,” she says. “There’s a difference.”
Betty leans her lower back against the table and props herself up with both hands on the cold metal. A man wearing a jacket and badge approaches.
“Oh, thank goodness. Officer, this young man insists on detaining me because of my sewing shears. I’m going to be late.”
The man turns away from Betty and glances at the shears. “He’s right,” he says, shaking his head. “We have to confiscate them. They’d be a danger to everyone onboard the aircraft.”
Her heart pounds as if her body is too small to contain it any longer. Sweet adrenaline forces out the pain and she stands, one hand on the table now, her feet strong and rooted to the floor. Heat pulses from her skin.
The two men move closer to her, speaking to each other with their eyes.
The shears dangle from the young man’s fingers. The officer reaches out to take them but they slip, landing on the table next to her hand. She remains still except for her fingers that slowly curl around the pouch that holds her shears, the movement barely discernable. She watches their faces. They gaze at her hand.
“You will give us the scissors now or you will be detained,” says the officer. She moves a few feet from the table. The officer slips behind her. The young man moves in front, suspending her between the two men.
She lifts the flap, torn slightly from years of opening and closing, and pulls the handle free, leaving the blades beneath the clear plastic. Her knobby thumb works its way through the round hole and she wriggles her four fingers into the oblong hole.
Holding the shears a little higher, she looks at the young man.
“These can even snip that thread hanging from your top button. Scissors are too bulky for that. Can you see the difference now?”
He touches the button and then places a finger on the hollow of his throat.
She turns around to face the officer. He jumps slightly at her sudden movement. Heat radiates from the young man’s body behind her. He’s that close. The purse gapes open in the tub, the fabric crumpled against the grey plastic. The man’s eyes move to another officer who is approaching.
“You can go on ahead and call more security people over here. It won’t make one bit of difference." She pushes the shears down into the pouch and closes the flap. “Put these back in my purse where they belong,” she says placing them in the man’s hand. “And see if you can do it without dropping them.”
He hesitates, gripping the shears until his knuckles turn pale. She points her chin towards the table. “Go on.” She stares into his eyes, a long penetrating gaze, until he looks away like a submissive dog. He drops the shears into the bag and looks back at her.
She steps to the table and reaches for her shoes. The pain has started again. She works her feet into the soft leather and hangs the purse over her forearm.
“Now show me the way out of here,” she says. The officer cups her elbow. She jerks away, listing to the side. “Let go of me. I simply asked you to show me the way out. Can you do that?” she says, her jaws clenched. He points to the exit sign. She breathes deeply until her back feels long and tall, her chin lifted. Turning away from him, she begins to walk slowly but steadily to the door that leads to the airport exit. He follows until she makes her way through the doors and into the unsecured lobby.
The bag is steady on her arm with the weight of the shears forming an edge across the bottom seam. She holds the purse close, her hands clasped in front of her chest, as the brilliant colors carry her through the crowd to a taxi waiting to take her home.
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