Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Other People's Birthdays

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Other People's Birthdays

Article excerpt

Lawrence got on the plane in Charlottesville and flew to Dulles, a quick flight once airborne, but the reading light above the seat had only a slight inward glow, so no paperwork could be done. At Dulles, the electronic board of arrivals and departures gave her the bad news: The flight to Boston, instead of leaving at 8:50, was scheduled for 11:45, delayed awaiting crew. That almost certainly meant it wouldn't take off at all. The crew was probably trapped somewhere because of the side effects of the hurricane and general bad weather on the East Coast-but when were things much different? Whatever it took to make it an arduous trip, and of course you couldn't say the obvious, you had to smile and say there were worse problems blah blah blah. The mediocre glass of wine for thirteen dollars at the airport bar was one of them. The candy bar she ate on top of that, an hour later, made her sick. Lawry, she had always been called, though her father had insisted the second and last child be named for him. People pronounced it Laurie, though she thought of herself as Lawrence. Her older sister was called Bett, for Bettina. Their late grandmother's name.

Finally, finally they boarded, the man with the tall child-in a T-shirt, running shoes, and diapers-bemused by the boy's stomped excitement. "Yeah, we're going on a plane, that's what we're doing, buddy." Other children were crying or struggling, trying to break free of the hands of parents gripping their wrists. Lawrence knew about that, though she wasn't a mother. She could easily predict the tantrums about to erupt, as if she were mercury rising in a thermometer.

Which dated her. They were digital now.

She had her purse in one hand, a Tumi bag with ingenious inside compartments that meant she could never find anything she reached in for. Why were so many of them narrow? She didn't smoke cigars. She'd managed to fit her Mac into the bag, though that meant she had to leave it unzipped. In her other hand she carried a canvas L.L. Bean bag embossed with an old exboyfriend's name, Lincoln. She and Lincoln had once been on the verge of moving in together, though she'd refused to look at apartments with him, and when he found one he thought was perfect, she'd gotten cold feet and told him it would be better if he completed his first year of medical school before they lived together. Then she'd seen him talking to a pretty girl at a party-talking in a way that made her nervous. "Exactly what gesture did I make? What gesture?" he'd asked afterward as they got in the car. "Do you want to make me inhibited about using my hands in a particular way when I talk? Are you serious?" Maybe she was insecure, but she also trusted her instincts. Would she be in for a lifetime of watching him gesture in that way with pretty women, with nothing she could ever articulate any better than she'd been able to in the parked car? Now, waiting in the airport she saw that there was a missed call from John, her newer ex-boyfriend, which must have come in while she was drinking her sour Italian white wine. He was a lawyer who worked twelve hours a day, minimum, except for Saturdays shopping for groceries, then on to the racquetball court, followed by a massage and a quiet evening reading a mystery on his Kindle. It had been one, but only one, of the reasons they'd parted company a year and a half ago.

Which also dated her. They had not passively "parted company." He had screamed at her, standing by the Tidal Basin, "You think you have the hardest life, the worst luck, the only problems worth considering. I'm a so-called workaholic because I'm dedicated to something and I don't expect the world to wipe away my tears. It would be one thing if we were in our twenties, but we're in our forties. Are you ever going to be capable of understanding or even, God forbid, empathy? Or are you just going to protect every minute of your precious time and bounce back and forth from DC to Newton to remain the perfect daughter to people who will never thank you for it, who'll always think you're the unimportant one? …

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