Friday, September 28, 2007
Alaskan Magic by Carol McPhee
"Excuse me; you're sitting in my seat!"
The voice, a rich baritone, carried a definite edge.
Amanda Bennington looked up into a stranger's dark, flashing eyes--eyes that snapped an order for her to move. "My ticket is clearly stamped row 8, seat B." She held her boarding pass in front of his face. "See for yourself."
"Ain't that the truth," the voice rumbled. "'A' is always a window seat on a plane. It's the one I booked and it's the one you're sitting in now."
Amanda's face heated and the fire surged down to her black Italian designer pumps.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'll move."
"Thank you. Wise decision."
The grouch's mouth reverted to a tight grim line beneath his Tom Selleck graying moustache. Amanda grabbed her purse from beneath the seat in front and switched to what she assumed was Seat B. She leaned back to avoid the silver-haired passenger's grizzly bulk as he squeezed past her scrunched knees. There wasn't much room in the big jet's economy class. She caught a drift of alcohol on his breath, but pain distracted her when one of his giant clodhoppers landed on her toes. "Ouch! That hurt!"
"Sorry, you shudda moved into the aisle and let me in first." The oaf maneuvered onto his throne by the window.
"Turkey, " Amanda muttered under her breath.
"Beg your pardon?"
"Er... I said I'm not perky. I've been up since dawn, and even at that I had to race across Seattle to get to the airport in time."
Amanda hoped no one would take the empty aisle seat beside her on the early morning flight. She might move there if he breathed on her again.
Obviously not interested in her plight, the hefty man stared at something outside the plane, slapped his knee and laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"A big suitcase fell off the luggage wagon and burst open. The tarmac guys are kinda making a big deal out of picking up some woman's underwear that's rolling along with the wind. Good thing it's not the sexy kind; they wouldn't get a lick of work done for a while."
"I admire a woman with modesty," she sputtered. "They are rare these days."
"Probably belongs to some little old grandmother," he said.
"Ah... what color is the suitcase?" Amanda thought of her relatively new, black two-piece Samsonite set marked with orange tape for easy identification on the carousel.
"If that doesn't beat all." His laugh at the expense of whoever owned the luggage annoyed her.
"The suitcase is decorated for Halloween."
"Never said a word." Amanda's fingernails dug into the seat's armrest. The thought of strangers ogling her lingerie made her cringe. When her seat partner turned to stare at her, she got another whiff of liquor, this time so strong she could taste it. Mixed with a spicy scent--likely a cologne he had bought at a dollar store--the unbearable smells overwhelmed her. She almost gagged. The aisle seat looked better all the time.
The passenger shook his head and turned back to watching the tarmac.
Amanda studied him out of the corner of her eye. I can't imagine a man traveling without shaving first. This guy's scruffy leather jacket has seen better days. I suppose it serves the purpose of covering most of his wrinkled plaid shirt. She turned her head away and inhaled a big breath of non-alcohol-infused air, then surveyed him again. His new jeans stand in his favor, fitting as snug as they do. God, I hate sagging crotches. Why am I bothering with someone I don't know? I've got more important things to consider.
She looked up the aisle and watched other passengers boarding for a while, then shifted in her seat. Was there something to see beyond the other Boeing 737 emblazoned with Alaska Airlines, parked next to hers? Not a damn thing! She was too far from the small window.
"Are you nervous about flying, ma'am? I'm sure they'll let you off." Her seatmate's deep voice resonated like gravel hitting pavement.
"Am I bothering you?" she asked politely.
"Ah... no, but the way you're squirming and sighing, I don't want you croaking when we take off."
"Oh, for Pete's sake! If I drop dead from fright, call the stewardess. They'll dispose of me with little trouble to you."
His forehead grew numerous lines. Amanda imagined they appeared often; they went so well with his scowl. Many passengers now flooded the aisle, each trying to find their assigned seat and stash their carry-on luggage. A baby, snuggled in a carrier against the breasts of the young woman sitting down ahead of her, would be a noise problem Amanda would have to endure. Whether she could tolerate the boozed up occupant beside her was another question.
The passenger in the seat behind had a bad cough. Amanda envisioned millions of germs forming a canopy over her head. Maybe the illusion was an omen to get off the plane. She watched the stewardess shove a passenger's overnight bag into the compartment opposite her, pushing at it three times before the door latched. To take her mind off the unpleasantness of her surroundings, Amanda decided she would adapt like the stewardess, forget about present annoyances and mull over her yesterday's disaster, instead.
~ * ~
The previous day had not gone well. The sight beyond her living room window had dotted an exclamation point in Amanda's life. Finished, done, kaput--the end of a twenty-one-year marriage. She watched the two moving vans pull out of her circular drive, their tires stirring the early morning fog into haphazard swirls. The first time I've been up early in ages and the day has to start out gloomy. She ground her bare heels into the plush gray carpeting. I hope whoever buys my belongings at the auction house treats them well.
At fifty-two, used to luxurious vacations, the best restaurants, and invitations to the most sought after parties--along with top service from her household staff--she was at an unbelievable and unwelcome fork in the road.
Freshly divorced and bitter as hell, she could now add homeless to her life's description. She was entitled to half of her ex's pension but she suspected Harold would keep working until he was ninety-nine just to spite her. She clicked her tongue and with her finger wiped a spot of fly poop off the large windowpane. Harold will have to forgo retirement to maintain his current twit in the manner to which she's becoming accustomed. The slut's heavily painted lips were bad enough but her out-of-date Cleopatra eye makeup with fake eyelashes batting over cat-like eyes made Amanda want to puke. I can't understand why a man prefers flattering hogwash instead of the truth.
Obviously Harold wanted to try out a newer model so he chose one that boasted huge headlights and a tight chassis, noticeable three hundred feet from the source. His new woman was young and had cotton batting for brains, but when she strutted down the street every male eye within range popped out of its socket.
Poor Mr. Bentley. The rumor was that he had his heart attack gawking at her--the dose of lust too powerful for his feeble heart to stand the pleasure... er...pressure. If such a thing happened to Harold, it would serve him right. I wonder how that little bitch would make out handling funeral arrangements? Probably stuff him in a pine box and cruise on Holland America with the savings.
Amanda sipped a mouthful of coffee and swished the brew around in her mouth to savor the expensive, rich flavor before swallowing it. I wouldn't be surprised if that trollop made out with the funeral director on the embalming table first. She smiled. Yes, indeed, Harold will find life more difficult without my advice every step of the way.
Like it or not, Amanda was forced to concentrate on her own life's desires, or more to the point, her necessity to continue her status quo. What's an unskilled, stay-at-home wife supposed to do when the household provider coldly informs her that he's found someone more attentive to his needs?
Harold had never even mentioned to her what his needs were. Good thing she had figured out a pattern early on that didn't particularly stress her out. Sex wasn't as big a deal as magazines proclaimed. Same old routine worked well enough every Saturday night and she had faithfully kept to the schedule no matter how inconvenient. No, Harold had no reason for complaint, but he had reason for offering his thanks with a huge alimony. Her sophistication and social graces had won him numerous lucrative contracts in the airline industry and it wasn't for naught. She would be fairly well off when the final tally was made. Then, no way would she be caught under the financial screws of any man ever again. Amanda scoffed, but bit her lip to keep from blurting out: never under the physical ones either.
What hurts most is that I never saw the breakup coming. CEOs are normally close-mouthed, but not even hinting at trouble was downright obscene. No one else had seen it either, except for Dad, who made observations in his blunt way a time or two. I should have paid more attention even if Dad is a widower with a penchant for girlie magazines. He warned me that Harold's paunchy stomach and balding head wouldn't draw social butterflies, but his money certainly would be the nectar they craved.
Amanda felt like kicking herself. She should have suspected her ex had found a love interest when he started working out and underwent several hair transplants.
Dad warned me that Harold was a philanderer, but neither of them can crow about it when they find out how well I've come out of this sordid ordeal. Dad'll never see my heartache or hear my sobs at night. I'm jittery about the future, but a new life will be a challenge I'll face with my head held high.
She wiped a tear from her eye and recalled her first consultation with her lawyer, a long-time friend. He wasn't shocked by her request for a divorce. He said he dealt with that type of foolishness on a daily basis. In the words of Randolph Senior, of the law firm Randolph Outhouse & Sons, "CEOs have a high rate of marriage breakdown. It's the nature of the job, Amanda." She had always thought Randolf's last name was appropriate. He was full of it!
"You should have kept your eyes open, Amanda. I can't understand women who float through life on a goddamn pedestal, then act surprised when a sexy piece of work undermines the faulty craftsmanship."
Randy had some nerve, sitting behind his desk like a giant toad pontificating on my marriage as if he knew it all! Blinking back her fury, she had stormed out of his office.
Amanda twisted in her plane seat, noticed her seat partner was still engrossed with the view so she slipped back to that same fateful day.
Randy had called later to inform her that important information had arrived. It was imperative she come to his office at four o'clock. She had scurried to the master bedroom's walk-in closet. At least her clothes were still intact and added stability to the room's unmade cot, set on a colorful Persian carpet purchased in Saudi Arabia. No way would I let the moving guys pull the rugs out from under me just yet.
"Okay, what to wear for my Independence Day?" Amanda felt her face heat, not from frustration but from the degradation of talking aloud to have some kind of sound in the house. She seldom played the radio--didn't have the time with her active social life--so she considered it no real loss when the entertainment center left with the other symbols of her high-scale life.
"The navy Donna Karan suit should do nicely; its understated style hides my middle-age spread and accents the blue of my eyes." She laid the outfit on her bed. "I should have made an earlier appointment at the salon. A manicure and trim would give zip to my step." She didn't like the way her words reverberated, sounding hollow in this room stripped of her gorgeous mahogany bedroom suite and original paintings by well-known artists.
Amanda blanked her mind and soaked in the shower's hot spray, clouds of steam billowing around her. She wrapped a towel around her shoulder length Ginger Zing colored hair, dried her body and wiped the fog from the gilded bathroom mirror. She didn't see much to admire in the form looking back at her--the naked image of her five-foot-eight frame slumped, instead of standing proud. Everything else on her body seemed to aim for the ground as well. She wondered why women showed the ravages of time more prominently than men of a similar age.
Still, aside from the crow's feet scratching vehemently from the corners of her eyes, she had few wrinkles. Her skin wasn't alligator shingled but a smooth peaches and cream. She could work on the spare tire clinging to her middle and hopefully shave off some of her rear excess in the process. She turned for a back view and moaned. She needed a roll of Duct tape to give her buttocks a lift. Oh well, the gym will get a new client in a day or two. First, I have to find a peaceful place to plan the rest of my life.
One thing Amanda knew... the only man in her life from now on would be her father. Her dad would be glad of her company if he could unglue himself from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition long enough to notice she was in his home.
She dressed quickly, called a taxi, and headed to her lawyer's office downtown. Randy met her at the door. His lackluster eyes should have warned her. "Come in, Amanda. I'm impressed you arrived on time."
"I didn't have Harold pacing the floor so there was no reason to tarry."
"Hmm. Sounds like you two were at odds for a long time but ignored the signs."
"Maybe we had sunk into a rut, but be that as it may, Randy, I need closure to the marriage so I can move on with my life."
"I'm afraid that will take some doing, Amanda." The lawyer's nod indicated she should sit in the burgundy leather chair in front of his grandiose oak desk
"What do you mean?"
"Please, sit. I don't want you to faint."
She sat but didn't lean back to enjoy the chair's soft comfort.
"The bastard has seen to it that you'll have a hard time keeping to your lifestyle." Randy stared her right in the eye without a smidgen of a grin.
"The decree orders that all assets be split evenly," Amanda said, keeping her tone level.
"That's true and applies when there are assets to split."
"Harold is a wealthy man. Of course there are assets."
She squeaked back in the chair and crossed one leg over the other. The rich smell of the luxurious leather permeated the office. She was glad she had friends in high places, even if they were expensive. This law firm was said to be one of the best.
"Are you braced for the news, Amanda?"
She pulled her skirt over her knee and flicked off a small white feather. "What news?"
"Your ex-husband has sent his money out of the country and moved to the Cayman Islands with his bit of fluff trailing behind him."
"But he owns an airline and is expanding the company."
"Haven't you been reading the local news at all?"
"I avoid that dreadful stuff; I stick to the society page and Dear Abby."
"Airlines crash, figuratively speaking, every year. Canfly Airlines found out they couldn't fly and just went into receivership. Harold had already mortgaged the house to the eyeballs. I'm sorry to say you are nearly penniless, except for what you get from the auction." He tightened his mouth in a long, weighty pause. "If I were you, and I'll deny I said this, I'd grab the money from the sales and run as far as I could. I'm only telling you this because we're friends. You'll probably have little more than enough to pay my bill."
Some friend. Amanda rose and strutted to the window. Through the rain-spattered plate glass, she watched cars ten floors below splash through puddles. A dreary day for damn dreary news. "There is nothing that can be done?"
"In time possibly, currently, no. You'll have to find work when your funds evaporate. Knowing you, that won't take long."
She thought of her home's walls, bare as a pauper's hovel. The tapestries she had picked up in Turkey, the artwork from Italy, even the Grecian vases from the fireplace mantel had left on the trucks. "That's hardly fair, Randy. I'm certainly mature enough to handle my affairs... er... my finances."
"You've been snookered on every front. Get real, Amanda. Come out of the clouds!"
Available from www.champagnebooks.com