The airport buzzes with the chirps and laughter of people waiting to board planes, and those exiting. They are like the waves of the sea, rushing in and out slowly, steadily. Alice hangs on to her mother’s hand as they stand in line to board their flight. Alice’s stuffed, patched up teddy bear—the one she always takes to bed with every night, hugs when thunderclaps bang against her eardrums—is pressed against her chest with her free arm. The fear of losing her teddy on the scuffed tiled floor scares her.
Slowly and slowly the line looms further and further into the plane, after a very pretty woman checks each person’s ticket with a toothy, lipsticked smile and an, “Enjoy your flight. You’re always welcome here at American Airlines.”
When the pair make their way inside the plane, trying to find their own royal blue cushioned seats, Alice snags her foot on the corner of the aisle, crashing to the ground. The teddy bear somersaults in the air, out of her reach.
“Patches!” Alice squeals among the hubbub that envelops her.
Her mother, always with grace, pulls Alice to her feet. “Oh, you’re alright, Alice,” she says with a mother’s reassurance, wiping off imaginary dirt off her daughter’s small shoulders. But a voice interrupts her.
He clears his throat. Alice stares up at him. He has black hair, black brows, and darkened skin. Alice imagines him as a character from Aladdin.
“Ma’am, I think your daughter dropped this,” he says in a thick accent, holding Patches in his hands.
“Thank you, you were very kind to do that,” Alice’s mother smiles graciously at the man. The man hands off the teddy to a speechless Alice. “Alice, say thank you to the nice man,” her mother urges her daughter.
“Thank you,” she squeaks. He leaves without a word, lacing up the aisle in between men and women shoving their suitcases in their compartments.
The waiting room was crowded, everybody slouched in their seats, either making small talk with the person next door or burying their head in one of the trashy tabloids lying about. The TVs were blackened, and the clacking of fingers on computer keys rang in with the beeping of distant machines. I didn’t see a clock, so the constant beeps ticked away the minutes until I’d be knocked out stone cold dead on one of those metal slabs.
“Dr. Harrison, please report to the nurses’ station. Dr. Harrison, please report to the nurses’ station,” came a cool female voice over the intercom.
All four of us walked up to the desk. I was lounging in my wheel chair, fidgeting my legs and arms so the blood could run its course. I hated sitting around for too long. An Asian lady greeted us with a smile, her hair draping over her taffy colored nurse’s scrubs.
“Hello; what’s going on here today?”
My mom piped up. “My daughter is having leg surgery. Kristen Schmid.”
I noticed the nurse’s eyes flit to me. A coarse noise of shuffling papers. “And who is her surgeon?”
“Okay. If you could just have a seat, we’ll be with you shortly.” Except it wouldn’t be shortly.
We sat in the coffee colored chairs directly in front of the row of televisions that saluted us. We waited. We waited, and beeping counted down the time, like a bomb.
Alice gazes out her window at the morning clouds, marveled at how tiny the houses of Massachusetts look like little toy dollhouses. She presses her button nose against the windowpane. It feels cold, and it numbs the flesh.
Two sharp screams join in a cacophonous chorus behind the navy curtain. It’s not like one of those scary movies Alice always spied her dad watching late in the dark of night. They’re shrill. Jarring. It sends chills to seep and cradle your bones.
“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!,” comes a high pitched shriek, rung with horror. With every breath, the faceless woman’s voice grew higher and higher until the only sounds that are heard are the wrenching sobs and two pairs of muffled, panicked footsteps.
The curtain rips open. A flight attendant, whose dirty blonde bun hangs in messy wisps, makeup melting down her pale face, and blood dripping scarlet from her hands and down her disheveled front, nearly runs up the aisle to the abandoned cart. The cart has towels, crisp and new and undefiled.
The man who had saved Patches appears. His face contorts into a demonic snarl, hungry for blood, for destruction. He charges after the flight attendant, who looks as struck as a deer about to be smashed to pieces by a semi-truck.
The man claws at her with his knife. “You shut up, you—” Alice hears something serpentine spat at the woman as he kicks her hard in the stomach. Alice knows the pure, undiluted loathing and filth the meaning of that foreign word possesses. It is acid to her ears.
People begin to screech and clutch each other out of fear. Alice and her mother are mute. Alice can feel the salty tears burn her eyes and scald her cheeks, and yet she cannot make a sound. She leans into her mother’s arm, the only safety she knows. Through the blur of her tears she gazes up at her mother in reverent idolatry. Her mother stares into nothingness, her face ashen, her breathing quiet, her heart jumping.
Go to Part IV.