March-April 2011 | Fiction

In Flight

A short story.

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When Marcus picks Mom and me up from the airport—we’ve flown in from Rochester for our annual cherry blossom visit—he does that thing where he looks at you and past you at the same time. He doesn’t think I notice because I’m his crazy big sister. I lost too much oxygen at birth. People always want to label me “tard” or PDD or high-functioning this or that, but I’m just Rosie. Rosie Gold.

“Can you give me some air back here?” I call out to Marcus from the second row of his minivan, where I’m holding the Cheerios I’ve picked out of my niece’s car seat.

“She’s going through the change,” Mom informs Marcus in a hushed voice. “Menopause.”

“That’s private, Mom.” Does she think I’m deaf?

“I’m sorry, Rosie.” She focuses her attention back on Marcus. “So did the kids go gaga over their new cousin?”

A couple of days ago, Marcus’ wife, Robin, took their kids to Memphis to see her sister’s new baby, but they were supposed to fly back this morning, and I assume they must be home waiting for us. I can’t wait; I haven’t seen them in 97 days.

Marcus turns onto his street, full of visitors gaping at the cherry blossom trees in full bloom.

“The Enchanted Kenwood Forest.” I remind everyone of Dad’s nickname for Marcus’ neighborhood.

“Gorgeous,” Mom agrees, and then pats her middle. “I didn’t eat a thing this morning. Travel nerves, you know.” She sighs. Dad used to hold Mom’s hand when we flew, but he died two years ago. “We’ll have a nosh with Robin and the kids.”

“Mom,” Marcus says, “I didn’t know how to tell you this, but Robin called. Justin has an ear infection. He’s fine, but he can’t fly until some of the fluid dries up.”

“But they’ll come home tomorrow, right, Marcus?”

Mom gives me the look to lower my voice, which she thinks gets loud when I’m upset, which I am. Everyone’s seen Sydney walk but me. I want to hold her hand while she wobbles across the rug. I want to watch SpongeBob with Justin—we like all the same parts. Marcus told me that Justin calls me his special Aunt Rosie. That made me feel good because I knew he meant special in a good way.

Marcus pulls into the driveway, takes the keys out of the ignition, and says over his shoulder, “You’ll see them tomorrow, Rosie. Promise.”

“God willing,” Mom adds.

God willing is right.

It’s warm outside, and the neighbors have pulled out their Adirondack chairs—blues and purples and greens—for the spring and summer. We all stand in Marcus’ driveway, and Mom closes her eyes and tilts her head toward the sun. She’s got liver spots on her cheeks. We have the same kind of skin, dark and dry around the nose, so I’ll probably get marks like those one day, too.

Mom smiles up at the bright blue sky. “You should never know from the winter we had.”

“Ordered the weather just for you two.” Marcus kisses her hair, so full of spray that it covers her head like a helmet.

We barely get a spring in Rochester. What’s that joke? We have two seasons, July and winter. I don’t get it, but it seems like it should be funny, so I always laugh when people tell it.

We walk around to the backyard, and Marcus shows us their new trampoline. Mom stares at it with this funny look in her eyes, which are hazel with dots of gold in them, just like Marcus’. I figure she’s going to tell us the story about Joey Hellman, our neighbor who broke his back doing a double flip on his trampoline, but she doesn’t.

Inside, the house doesn’t smell of its usual sugar and butter. Robin’s always baking something, which I think is weird because Marcus owns a bakery. “It’s not that kind of bakery,” he tells me. “We’re wholesalers. We only distribute bread.” What kind of bakery doesn’t bake cookies?

I follow Marcus to the basement. He puts my suitcase in the guest room and stands there for a few seconds, almost as if he’s waiting for Justin or Sydney to do something cute for us to laugh at, or for Robin to holler downstairs to remind him to put the clothes in the dryer, or for the bakery to call him on his cell phone.

He turns on Nickelodeon. Greg, Peter and Bobby Brady are kicking the girls out of their clubhouse. I haven’t watched this episode of The Brady Bunch since Justin was born, but I remember wishing that Marcus and I would fight, and then to make up with me he’d build a clubhouse for us to share. I sit on the edge of the sleeper sofa real straight so I won’t muss up my travel dress. After another episode, I go upstairs, where Marcus is setting the table.

“That Robin. Look.” Mom points to the counter and the frozen packages with “Cherry Blossom Visit” written on Post-it notes taped to the foil.

Mom heats the food in the microwave and then motions us to sit down. “I’ve been listening to the local news. They’re predicting a nor’easter,” Mom warns.

I don’t like this talk of snow.

“You Washingtonians make such a hullabaloo about a couple of inches of snow.” Mom waves her hand and chuckles. “You’ll close your schools for a good week, and the grocery stores will run out of toilet paper.”

“Does this mean that Justin won’t be able to show me the new slide at Norwood Park?” I ask. The snow will ruin everything. “We’ll all be stuck in the house forever,” I say.

“We’ve had so many false alarms this year,” Marcus reassures us, trying not to seem nervous, but he is, and it’s making me nervous, too, and I’m not sure what we’re so nervous about. “Spring is here to stay.” He nods to the kitchen window, and we all look out at the long rows of cherry blossoms against the blue and orange sky.

Mom raises her second glass of wine to her lips and points to the trampoline. “You know, that brings back a lot of memories.”

I’m still waiting for the Joey Hellman story, but she surprises me with a new one.

“When you were 3½, Rosie, and you were just 2 months old, Marcus, your father and I were invited to the Bloomsteins’ house on Canandaigua Lake for a barbecue.”

I butt in. “Did you bring us?” I hate it when people leave me out.

“God, no. This was an adult party. Quite wet, if you know what I mean.”

“Wet?” Marcus asks.

“We enjoyed our cocktails. I wore a lavender shirtwaist with yellow daisies embroidered on the collar.” She fingers her faded black sweater. “I climbed up on their trampoline and jumped like a little bird.” Mom closes her eyes and flutters her hands. “I bounced higher and higher until I was schvitzing.” And then she opens her eyes suddenly, as if she’s pulling herself out of a dream. “Your father shouted, ‘Essie,’ ”—Mom’s voice gets deep and loud like Dad’s—“ ‘you have a little girl and an infant at home to take care of. What are you thinking?’ ” She slaps her thigh, but she doesn’t laugh. “I looked over at him, and he was plenty scared, your father. He could barely change a diaper, so I got off and gave Lenore Rabin a turn.”

“You never told me that story,” Marcus says softly.

Later that night, right before I drift off to sleep, I remember the morning before Joey Hellman broke his back. I was too scared to jump on his trampoline, so I just sat on the black cross in the middle, and Marcus bounced me high into the air until we were both laughing our heads off. He looked like a bird, too. Maybe one day Marcus and I will laugh like that again.