It wasn’t unusual for Mia to be on a plane on the 14th of June. Still, she was finding it difficult to accept what was happening. She got lucky with a window seat and watched the billowing clouds roll underneath the extended wing. She imagined her own arm extending and being washed in their cool, damp vapor. Her skin would become clammy and cold, but it would be new and clean. Maybe, even her tattoos would be washed away.
That’s the magic of the clouds, she thought, they can wash away all of one’s regrets.
Her breath cut and she filled her chest with oxygen, then let out a sigh. As the plane hummed on, the cabin fell quiet in the morning and the smell of coffee and orange juice lingered in the stiff air. The silence opened a portal in her mind, through which she entered and accepted the invitation to ruminate on the past. The memories of last year filtered through her like an old toy viewfinder flipping through pictures. She went back to the same day, when she was on this same flight, but her circumstances were drastically different. How could so much change in such a short time? A tingling in her leg abruptly interrupted her thoughts and she shifted the weight of the toddler on her lap. Wisps of straw hair brushed under her chin and she looked down at a matted ball of tangled fuzz, comparable to an owl pellet. She clucked her tongue at the mess and began untangling, in an absent-minded sort of way. Her thoughts were elsewhere.
The toddler turned and landed a hand across Mia’s mouth, an exaggerated hit. Mia returned a blank stare and continued untangling.
“No, you’re not. We just ate.”
The toddler landed another hit. She sighed and pulled out her bag from under the seat. Fumbling around until finding a container, she opened it and the smell of Cheerios instantly released throughout the cabin. The toddler grinned.
“What do you say?”
“I say tanks”
Another sigh and she tenderly kissed the top of the toddler’s head.
Aware of the couple arguing next to her, she began listening to take her mind off herself and all that she wished she could change. They complained about the weather, the food, their jobs, their stress, their lives…each other.
He’s making her feel guilty. I know that feeling.
She sighed. If I could, would I tell her to leave him now? Or to ride the wave and see what life brings? She looked down at her toddler, trying to imagine what she would tell herself four years ago. Mia couldn’t answer such a question.
She looked past the arguing pair to the next row where another couple sat. They too had a toddler, only she had ribbons in her hair and aesthetic wooden toys and little books she pretended to read. Or was she actually reading? The mom was elegantly dressed and had a full face of make-up; the dad wore a tight sweater and clearly cared about his appearance. Still, he bent over and gently played with their child.
Mia just stared. She almost expected an infiltration of tears, but she just stared, not even feeling the pang of envy. At this point, she had grown desensitized to such scenes of seamless perfection.
She was squishing the toddler as she leaned. The couple arguing looked at her briefly and then carried on.
“Sorry” Mia mumbled and settled back into her seat.
“Why Grammy and Poppy don’t come?”
“Well, they had to stay at home.”
“Because…someone needs to feed Mojo and someone needs to keep all the walls and all the chairs and the tables company. The whole house would feel lonely if no one was there.”
“Lonely?” The child cocked her head to one side. “How does dat feel?”
“Well, it’s a little hard to explain. I suppose it’s like you believe that you’re the only one who can take care of yourself, like no one else in the world sees you or even wants to care for you, because…you’ve never let anyone know how, or even try.”
Her voice caught as she said this and her hand instantly tended to her watering eyes.
There was a long pause and Mia’s gaze found its way back to the clouds. She was thinking about how lying on their undulating surfaces might feel like being engulfed. Embraced. Yes, it would feel like whole acceptance.
“Do you feel lonely?”
Mia’s breathing became still and she whipped away another tear. She felt smaller than the toddler, this child who was exposing what she could not admit to herself.
“Sometimes, I guess. Everyone feels lonely sometimes. But we have each other, and that helps a great deal, right?”
“Is that why we go to Daddy? Does he help too?”
Mia gently stroked the toddler’s hair, but her eyes drifted to some distant place. A deep longing to float away on the fluff of a cloud took hold of her, almost so strong that she believed it was possible.
“Hey, let’s talk about something else. Do you think we can capture some clouds to take back to Grammy and Poppy?”
The toddler giggled, satisfied with the diversion.
“Haha Mommy, how do you capture clouds?
“I don’t know, but I think Grammy would love a bath, just in the clouds.”
“Woah!! Yeah she weally would!”
The toddler plastered her face to the window, digging her knees into Mia’s thigh. She winced. They stayed like this for a few minutes. Then the toddler sat back and laid her head against Mia’s chest. She lifted her arm and found the end of Mia’s braid to twirl as she drifted off to sleep. She didn’t wake up until the plane landed.
Mia returned to her memories, only they looked different this time; their hue had changed. Whether it was the toddler's inquiries or the reassuring comfort of the clouds, her perspective was shifting and she began to understand what needed to be done with all her regrets.
“Ladies and Gentleman, we hope you enjoyed your flight. The time is 1:45 and the temperature is 52 degrees. Welcome to Rhode Island. We hope you enjoy your stay.”
Mia was transported back in time to her honeymoon and the four anniversaries that had followed. All of them had officially commenced with those words over the intercom.
It was cruel of him to move to this place. How could he?
But then she found herself somewhat amused and was surprised when she chuckled softly. There's a small bit of humor in it after all, she supposed.
Just landed. She texted.
If you bring the papers to the airport, we can make this quick and I’ll get on the next flight back.
She waited for a response, but part of her wished that there wouldn’t be any, that nothing would change, that she and the toddler could just turn around and go back to Grammy and Poppy's. Then she could go back up to the cloud’s embrace and come back down a little more clean and a little more forgiven.