The Princess Tree – a short story by Madelon Smid

The elegant blue spruce posed, draped in its snowy finery and glittering with a million jewels of ice, like a Princess on display. Could it be more perfect? No, Rose didn’t think so. This is a moment I will keep forever she thought, this moment of wonderment. The tree stood aloof in the centre of a small glade, receiving as its due the maximum of sun and moisture. Clustered around it, the other trees and bushes bowed forward under their weight of snow. Rose decided they, too, knew the Princess was special and kept their distance, while  standing vigil over her.

Rose loved the Princess tree; so perfectly formed, so simply joyous as it stretched higher each year celebrating sun and rain, and life itself. She came to the small clearing when things became just too much. Near the Princess, as if arranged by a giant with a purpose, stood a massive rock. Often she carried birdseed with her and sprinkled it across the flat rock for the wild birds. The cute chickadees and jaunty jays swooped down in greedy forays, company for the Princess. Rose wanted to join their impromptu picnic. She watched instead.

Three years back she had persuaded her new husband, Joshua, to walk to the tiny clearing with her. Like a proud mama she wanted to show off the Princess. Optimistically, she packed a lovers lunch, chilled wine and fresh baked bread, a wedge of Canadian cheddar and juicy peaches. She carried a blanket to spread on the ground, and dreamed of young love and joyful abandon expressed in the midst of such natural beauty.

Spring awoke in her some fecund yearning that hinted at beginnings – a time to grow a marriage, a child, a new tradition. She walked the wide path to the Princess with her heart singing. A teasing breeze wound its way past crisp white birch, and gnarled oak, wended through the straight poke of scarlet dogwood, and danced within the prickly boughs of wild plum. It flirted with the heavy bounty of leaves, until they fluttered like bashful schoolgirls. Flashes of blue, black and white signalled the darting play of the birds. Early flowers stretched to catch the sun flaunting their bonnets of yellow and purple, scarlet and blush pink. Rose absorbed it all, loved it all.

Josh didn’t. Rose heard him curse under his breath and swat at a mosquito. His toe hit a root and he grunted in disgust. His arms milled around him in a continual battle with dangling branches and inquisitive insects. He could not be still, absorb the peace let alone the beauty. He complained about the flies, the distance, the heat and the idiocy of not being at home. It was six o’clock. They should be sitting down to meat and potatoes. He was missing the news on CBC. He needed to hear the farm reports. She’d retreated back to the farmhouse, hiding her hurt, hiding the Princess from her husband’s insensitivity. She could not bear his disinterest, his inability to recognize the special quality of the tree. If he disparaged the Princess, something in Rose would break and never be mended.

The closest Josh had ever come to a picnic after that was eating the hot meals he insisted she bring out to the field twice a day. At harvest time, with seeds shrivelled on the stalks and dust hanging heavy in the air, he would fill his plate, climb into the cab of his truck and turn the air conditioning on full blast.
The contrast of sticky heat and iced conditioning always gave Rose a head cold. So, she sat in the front seat of her car, the door wide, and stared through the glass of the cab that separated her from Josh. At least she could still see him then; though the transparent wall between them clearly bared their different values, the contrasts in their character, and their inability to share their feelings with each other.

Three years of marriage hadn’t improved the situation. Feeling again the disillusionment of her first foray into romance, Rose came back to the reality of her cold nose and the brilliance of sunlight glancing off snow that bit tears from her eyes. Rose looked at the frost covered Princess and her throat tightened painfully. The tree, the whole scene, was so breathtaking, she told herself. It wasn’t that she felt so lonely, so empty. The farm had gone under the second year. Josh hated farming and had not been able to withstand the pressures of a recession. Inflated costs and poor prices made them just another statistic. They still owned the land, this land. But they rented it to farmers, who had kept their heads above water, by diversifying.

Rose loved the land. At the moment it was the only part of her life she could view without pain. Common sense kept them living in the old two-story house she continued to restore. It stood mortgage free, and that fact, not her need to live in the country, kept Josh from moving them into the city, where he worked as a computer analyst.

Now he had a job he excelled at, with first class pay and benefits. Along with the rent from their land they were financially secure. But Rose’s unhappiness grew with each hour of overtime Josh chose to work, each day he left for the city in the morning and didn’t return until late at night. There were no picnics together–no meals together period. Josh became one with the computer programs he designed with an obsessive voracity, she guessed had something to do with his sense of failing on the farm.

Rose was happy for Josh. He needed work that made him feel good about himself again. But as Josh spent more and more hours glued to his keyboard, it became impossible to overlook her unhappiness. Every time she tried to talk to Josh he brushed her concerns aside. Everything was fine. They were out from under the financial pressures. He could give her security. They weren’t fighting? What more could she want? Each time he pushed aside Rose’s attempts to express her feeling of being unimportant to him, her insecurity multiplied. She felt depressed and defeated, and only the spiritual uplift she felt wandering the land, looking at the Princess, gave her a reason to get out of bed in the mornings.

Rose scooped up snow and ground it between her mittened hands. It fell away, too cold to form a snowball. She brushed her bright red mittens together sending a shower of the crystals into the air. They blew against her face, melting from the warmth of her skin and forming a film of moisture. Rose felt a girlish pleasure and wished she had a child there with her to share the moment. She had quit her teaching job when she married Josh, because they both agreed they wanted to start a family right away. But the children they had planned, three, had no chance for conception. Josh climbed into bed at night long after Rose had fallen asleep worn down by depression and the mad whirl of housework she used to fill her day.

Standing before the Princess she felt a rare sense of peace and openness. She spread her arms wide, eagerly soaking up the sense of well-being along with the warmth of the sun. “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.” The words leapt into her mind, and echoed in the still clearing as she offered them aloud to the tree. Bowed branches of white and frosted spears of grass whispered them back. Prisms, formed by sunshine, leapt from the ice crystals on the Princess. The very ground around the tree seemed to quiver beneath its blanket of diamante, imbuing Rose with a spirit of life and hope. She would try again to talk with Josh.

It was time to take action, make changes, tell Josh just how useless and rudderless she felt. Maybe she could go back to teaching. Maybe he would put her and a family first if she showed him how far apart they had grown; how “vacant” was their relationship. She had no other options. This perfect moment with the Princess, forced the realization life would not stand still, while she wasted more and more precious minutes. She wanted to grow straight, and tall and beautiful like the Princess, nourished by Josh’s love and understanding. She felt the chill of the air on her teeth as she smiled wide, soaking up a last bit of courage from the Princess, before starting back buoyant with hope. She would talk to Josh tonight, no matter how late he straggled in. She warned herself not to pour her troubles over him, while he was hungry and tired. She would just arrange a time when they could sit down together. She stuck her chin in the air and her hands in her pocket and as her steps accelerated, so did the squeak of the snow under her boots; the cheering on of nature. Christmas was coming. She refused to face another holiday without some resolution to their problems. Maybe she would ask for counselling sessions for the two of them for Christmas. That would get his attention. She tried to imagine which Josh would hate worse, baring his soul to a stranger, or paying a stranger to listen.

Rose did get Josh’s attention. All sorts of attention. First he patronized her, brushing her request for an appointment aside. When she insisted they sit down and talk, at a time when he was prepared, he grew impatient and arrogant. “Prepared for what?” he wanted to know. “Was she threatening him?” He grew angry and insisted they talk right now. Fully aware they were off to another bad start, Rose stuck to her guns and voiced her concerns. He scoffed at her suggestion for counselling, appeared shocked when she suggested a separation might be one of their options. After all, Josh didn’t appear to need her for anything. His face froze in confusion. “He didn’t understand! When had all this happened? Why was she saying all this now, for the first time?” He  accused, as again he tried to mount an offensive against words he didn’t want to hear.

But gently Rose persisted. It wasn’t for the first time. She had been expressing the same feelings aloud for three years. He had just never bothered to listen. Exhausted by the emotion of the scene, the intensity of their discussion, she held back a thousand tears. Josh hated crying. He called it an act women used to gain advantage, so they could win.

Rose used all her strength to remain calm, in control, and still find a solution. She wanted to save her marriage, but she didn’t think Josh cared. She would not bind him if he wanted to be free. But when he realized she might not be waiting there forever, he crumbled. It was Josh that cried. And when he had given her the precious gift of his tears, he gave her his understanding. They talked for hours, purging themselves of old hurts and fears, laying new groundwork and goals. As the first blush of dawn tipped the barren, reaching branches outside their bedroom window with gold, Josh carried Rose to their bed. They affirmed their love, discovering it stronger, brighter, because of a new sense of security.

Over the next weeks, Josh limited his working hours. They ate dinner together and talked. They made love at night, entwined beneath a crimson quilt. Rose came alive again. Filled with peace, she prepared for Christmas, hoping for a child conceived at this special time of love. She took her dreams to the Princess and poured them out in the pristine beauty of those Advent days.

Josh seemed to be making some plans of his own. There was much tiptoeing and rushing past open doorways. On December 22 he stayed home from work. He made pancakes and bacon and carried it up to Rose on a tray. Chilled grapefruit, with cherry centres and a sprig of mistletoe, crowded alongside squat mugs and chequered napkins. The smell of coffee prickled her nose. The look in his eyes curled her toes. Rose felt delicious. When Josh handed her the book she had marked and suggested she stay in bed, she knew he was up to something. She teased him, enjoying his attempts to withstand her curiosity. He swept up the tray and left the room, whistling as only a happy man can. Rose hugged herself beneath the downy quilt and turned her face into the pillow. It smelled of Aramis and Josh.

She woke to the slamming of the back door. “Don’t come down yet,” Josh warned from the bottom of the stairs, “you’ll wreck your surprise.” Rose darted into the bathroom for a quick shower, brushed her hair into a high pony-tail and stepped into a snugly sweat suit in forest green and burgundy. She felt womanly, satiated. She walked with a new sway, smiled with a mysterious languor.

More minutes of scraping and banging ended in silence below. Josh called for her to come down. He waited at the bottom of the steps. The kiss he gave her was sweet, then steamy, the mistletoe nowhere in sight. Rose sighed with deep contentment as he curled one arm around her and clamped a hand over her eyes. Rose stumbled and Josh found a ticklish spot as he tried to support her. They laughed their way across the hall and into the living room. Tangled together he brought them to a halt in the centre of the room.

“I wanted to give you something to show you I really understand what you need from me. I wanted to give you my time, not money.” He whispered against her ear. She felt the dampness in the palm pressed across her eyes. His voice held the huskiness of strain and his lean body backing hers was rigid. Rose’s heart seemed to throw out a little extra heat. Josh really cared. He loved her enough to make changes and work hard to keep their marriage. She didn’t need anything else. “I remembered how you always said you wanted to have a real tree for Christmas and how I always insisted we put up that old fake one. Ta da!” He pulled his hand away. “Surprise! I thought we could finish it together.”

Rose stared a moment, then closed her eyes. The Princess tree stood, draped in lights and tinsel, in the corner of the room.

Paradise Lost – a short story by Madelon Smid

Barry had a big smile on his face as he boarded the DC8 that would fly him to Hawaii. He smiled because he knew with a certainty that he was going to get laid. Not just once, either, but over and over again. Ahead of him walked the source of his pleasure.

He’d met her on the famous beach of English Bay in Vancouver only days before. Gidget Bigelow “NO, I really am called that!” She’d wiggled with pleasure when a big wave drove them together. And a Big hello to you, too, Barry thought as her silky legs tangled with his. She’d gushed her enthusiasm for any stretch of sand. “The sun and water arouses me,” she’d breathed in her little girl voice, “doesn’t it make you just sooooo hot?” With her tanned belly and thighs and voluptuous breasts pressed against him, Barry felt all of that, and more. When he eagerly shared his experiences of swimming in Hawaii, she clung to him cooing enthusiastically.  Like a racer who hears the starting pistol Barry offered her a long weekend in Hawaii.

Walking down the aisle of the airplane he still couldn’t believe his luck.

Gidget wriggled herself into the centre seat of three. An elderly lady with a tight perm and bright pink cardigan already hugged the window. The last minute tickets meant Barry hadn’t been able to get good seats, but he didn’t mind, he was counting on the long flight to give him lots of snuggling time. He settled into his seat just as Gidget turned to say something to him. Her size 38 enhanced breast rubbed against his arm and Little Barry twitched to attention. Big Barry quickly accepted the pillow and blanket the Flight Attendant offered him for the overnight flight and dropped them over his lap. Phew!

Expo Vancouver 1986. Every Canadian wanted to be there. Planes were filled to capacity all gathering on the west coast. This was not a good time to fly to Maui for a holiday, but Barry didn’t care. Barry didn’t care about anything but the fabulous looking woman by his side. Even the snotty Flight attendant who had greeted them didn’t faze Barry. He figured the reason they’d been ordered to check their carryon luggage was to make room for the guy’s attitude.

“Barry Werry, can’t you make that person stop smoking.” Gidget’s breathy voice raised a notch in irritation as she wafted the air with fuchsia tipped fingers and wrinkled her nose in disgust.”

The nickname didn’t please him, but her helpless need did. Barry turned to the Flight attendant and inquired if they were indeed sitting in the “no smoking section”. The middle-aged male pursed his lips and explained in a condescending voice that they were in the no smoking and the smoking began the row ahead. “But, Barry, Werry, what is the point of getting a no smoking seat if you have to breathe it in anyway?” Gidget whimpered. Barry asked to change to a seat further away – this in a plane that didn’t have a whisker width of room left. Now, with a legitimate reason to dislike them, Mr. Snarky scowled and told them both to fasten their seatbelts. Barry made a great deal out of fishing around their hips for the belts and helping Gidget to fasten hers. Like a supervising teacher in a playground, the elderly woman at the window never took her eyes off them. But Barry didn’t mind – his thoughts leapt ahead till later …

Dinner service came and went, dark descended, the cabin lights were lowered in the hopes that passengers would fall asleep and give the flight attendants a break. Midnight found them over the Pacific Ocean.

With Gidget’s breast pressed against his right arm, her light breath fanning his cheek, Barry floated in a blissful daydream of the best way to cop a feel without the old gimlet-eyed lady seeing him. He’d already suggested that Gidget share his blanket hoping he could drape it over both of them and get down to business. “Oh Barry Werry, that would make me just too hot. It’s warm in here don’t you think? Maybe Barry Werry could adjust the air flow for me.” Wincing, Barry opened the vent and then settled back to enjoy the scent of baby talc as it wafted toward him along with the faint warmth radiating from her body. He spread his legs so his thigh rested against hers and sank back into his fantasy. Suddenly Gidget was pushing his arm and whimpering in earnest. “Barry, I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” she whispered in urgent tones. “Get up. Let me out. Something I ate …” The fact that she hadn’t taken the time to extend his name spoke volumes. Barry struggled out of his nest of blanket and pillows, fighting the seatbelt, stumbling over the shoes he’d shed earlier and helped her to rise. She pushed past him and fled toward the toilet in the rear of the plane. Oh, no, I sure hope this doesn’t wreck our weekend.

He settled back to wait, clutching his shoes, blanket and pillow and not bothering to do his seat belt up so when fire alarms shrieked from every direction, causing him to leap toward the nearest exit, he hit his head on the overhead baggage compartment. The crazed Flight attendant hammered on the lavatory door, yelling in his French Canadian accent, “Opennn these dor.” Then “Ouvrez la porte cet instant,” as if there would actually be a non English speaking passenger on the airplane. Ha! The hammering continued until finally the door open and Gidget pranced out looking harassed and huffy. As she headed toward him Barry had the ungentlemanly instinct to hide under his blanket and pretend he didn’t know her.

“Barry Werry,” she panted as if she’d flown there under her own power, “do you know what happens when you light a match in an aircraft lavatory?”

“Yeah,” Barry said, for the first time not quite as enamoured with his potential sex kitten. “All hell breaks loose.”

“That awful man just kept yelling at me to open the door when I had my panties down around my ankles. I was terrified. I thought the plane was crashing. He yelled at me until I’d pulled up my jeans and opened the door. He was mean to me, Barry Werry,” her eyes narrowed menacingly, “I think you should talk to him about his manners.”

Barry who had already seen the fury on Monsieur Quebec’s face wasn’t going there for even the best piece of tail in Hawaii.

“He thought I was sneaking a smoke. He’s really stupid because he knows I don’t smoke. Her raised voice held the interest of the other 233 souls, who roused from their sleep by the shrilling alarm and loaded with adrenaline, smothered them in a miasma of loathing.

“You know there are other reasons to light a match in a bathroom,” Gidget waved her fist at the Flight Attendants. “Oh damn, now I’ve broken a nail, Barry Werry.”

If he could have gotten hold of it, Barry wanted to take the “Werry” off his name and wrap it tightly around her neck. He settled for sorting out his blanket, re-doing their seat belts and using her broken nail as an excuse to kiss her finger then up her arm and over her breast – she seemed oblivious to his poor aim, but the old lady sitting ramrod straight gave him a knowing look and shake of her head.

They arrived in Honolulu around 2:00 am and stepped off the plane to breathe in humid air heavy with the scent of blossoming Bougainvillea and ginger. Barry figured the pissed off passengers and Flight Attendant had formed a hate coalition to make sure he was the last off and therefore the last in the line for customs. He expected to find a big X gouged in the side of his suitcase so he’d be searched. The airport cleared. They stood there alone.

Barry had been told that there would be a commuter plane available to fly them over to Maui. However, when he inquired at Information where to board it, the woman never bothered to point out it would be seven more hours before it appeared and instead sent them on to an outdoor gate system where the planes drew up along a long cement tongue poking from the main airport. Carrying both their heavy bags and Gidget’s two carry ons he trudged about a half mile with Gidget dancing along behind him bemoaning the fact that her jeans felt too hot and she needed to change into shorts. The main terminal lights grew dimmer and they found themselves isolated in the dark. Everything was closed down and locked up tighter than a widow’s windows. As they stood there wondering what to do next a patrol car drew up and a policeman got out. “What are you doing out here at this time of night?” When Barry explained the situation, he said with some disgust, “They should have told you to wait at the main terminal. I am going to sit here while you go over to that pay phone and call a taxi to take you to a motel.” He named the closest motel then had to give Barry an American quarter to make the call. Barry squirmed, Gidget chattered and the policeman waited stalwartly in his cruiser never taking his eyes from them until ten minutes and thirty-seven seconds later a taxi drove up.

By the time Barry got Gidget into the motel room it was 3:30 am and although he could never, ever, be too exhausted for sex, Gidget apparently was. Barry turned on the TV while Gidget monopolized the bathroom.

“The suspect is armed and dangerous. Police found his vehicle abandoned inside the airport grounds just after midnight. The man is believed to have murdered two people earlier this evening.” Now Barry understood why the policeman had insisted on staying there to protect them until they were safely away. They must have looked like prime hostage material. “Take us we’re tourists.” He decided Gidget was better left in ignorance – which he concluded by now was her default position.

After this the morning flight in the Fockker aircraft to Maui seemed anti climactic. They arrived at Paradise. A deserted paradise! A lone taxi took them from the airport to the luxurious gated community where Barry’s friend owned a condo. The road and yards were empty. When they finally got to the condominium headquarters to check in, a breathless employee rushed to the main desk. Apparently a hurricane had passed near to the island and fearing a tsunami, officials had ordered everyone to the highest ground – the golf course. People were just now returning to their homes and businesses. Ah, and they’d missed all the fun!

“Oh Barry Werry Jerry, just think we could have been killed,” Gidget shrilled.

And you don’t know the half of it, thought Barry.

The condominium was the height of luxury, with every amenity. An enclosed courtyard enticed him onto a private patio at the back and luxurious grounds spread down to a private pool and beach in front. They changed into summer wear and went on a tour. You’d think by this point Barry’s fantasies would begin to approach reality. But no, Gidget’s energy levels could have powered the island. She spent every minute in the condo with the phone affixed to her ear talking to her friends in Canada about the luxurious condo surroundings. At first he wallowed in his sense of pride that he had impressed her, but as the phone bill mounted along with his libido he started to get pissed off. He figured a beer would help and snagged one from his friend’s supply, while Gidget dialled yet another number. Finally, she ran out of chitchat or friends, and Barry, well into his fourth Coors was informed they should hit the beach. “After all that’s what we came for Barry Werry Jerry Cherry.”

Maybe that’s what you came for. He almost puked when she said his name. He blamed it on the beer, but the rhyming scheme was getting stale fast.

It took him two minutes tops to shuck his clothes and drag on his swim trunks. Gidget ‘I’ll just use the second bedroom. Then I’ll have a bath of my own and closet space’ Bigelow took a lot longer to change. She tried on three suits before they could go. After one look at his back and a giggle she’d taken to calling him Hairy Barry Werry, but Barry didn’t mind because each was a teeny bikini and Gidget had a body to die for, or at least toast with another beer. At last, they were settled on the private beach. Barry had every intention of using the ocean as a screen for some heavy foreplay, which would of course entice Gidget out of the water and back to the condo. But after frolicking along the edge of the waves Gidget decided that her suit wasn’t up to their power and she should change to another. Frustrated and drunker than a groomsman at a Bachelor party, Barry lay face down on his mat and waited. Little Barry poked the sand below. She returned in a suit that she informed him was better for the pool. With a sigh, he gathered their stuff and followed her swaying hips back up the beach to the crowded patio. There she ignored him while she cavorted with dozens of young people, mostly males who were stronger, faster and pushier than Barry. He lay on a lounge chair fuming, fortified by a couple more beer and the fact that she was going home with him. After dinner at the nearby 5 star hotel, Gidget suggested a late night swim and slipped into yet another bikini. Barry dragged off his jeans and ran after her in his skivvies. Water makes her sexy, he repeated like a mantra as he followed her into the ocean. “Oh Barry Werry,” she grabbed for him with enthusiasm. “Isn’t this roman …” she stopped abruptly as he started screaming like am arachnophobic confronted by a tarantula. “Don’t touch me. For Cripes sake don’t touch me,” he pushed her hands off his body. Her nails scraped across shoulders redder than hot peppers and Barry screamed again – because he’d just realized he was in too much pain to have sex.

He slept in the guest room that night, because, “Scary Barry Werry didn’t need a big old soaker tub and king size bed if he was just going to sleep. Hmph!”

“Barry, werry, jerry, terry, hairy, Gidget, fidget, widget, bitget,” he whispered to himself in a drunken voice that became louder as the hours passed and he descended into the hell of a hangover. His sunburn was so severe, he felt he was being roasted alive and prayed for a quick death—right after Gidget gave him mouth to mouth to revive him and then began stroking him all over, begging for him to take her and … He lost the fantasy as chills wracked his thin frame.

By day three Barry wanted only to plant himself in a shady spot in hopes that Gidget, sauntering by on her way to and from a change of clothes, would hand him a cool drink. He’d long since given up on asking her to put lotion on his burn, because her activities calendar had filled to capacity and she had no time for him. His single swimsuit status meant he had no reason to follow her about, but still hanging on to a thread of a hope that she would soon sit still long enough to come across, he continued to spring out of beach chairs, off blankets and beds like a crazed stalker trying to keep tabs on his obsession.

To avoid the beach and bare skin (he’d have bet his Calgary Flames season tickets he’d never do that) Barry suggested a day in the port of Lahaina. Gidget shopped, while Barry darted from one spot of shade to another. She loitered a long time, looking at a pretty ring with a diamond star on one end of an open band, not quite meeting a crescent moon on the other. Thinking this might be the key to her affections, he bought it for her. Thrilled she slid it onto her pinkie finger and walked about admiring it, her arm half raised her hand tilted in a Queen Elizabeth wave, that caused people to stop and bob half bows and curtsies in her direction just in case she was a celebrity.

With their return to the mainland imminent, Barry was just beginning to recover. Gidget had spent the last evening with her new friends, while Barry lay in a tub of cool water moaning about his bad luck and thinking her truly evil. If she hadn’t changed so often he wouldn’t have been out in the sun waiting for her. Waiting to jump her bones. She didn’t have a thoughtful or giving bone in her luscious body.

When they boarded the commuter flight to Honolulu Gidget’s battery was fully charged, Barry’s all but drained. They had several hours to wait before their flight to Canada took off. After a visit to the rest room Gidget suggested they get lunch at the airport restaurant. Then they went and sat in the lounge while they waited for their flight to be called. Barry was still amazed that all the buildings in Hawaii were open to the outdoors, but now he got his look at the downside of that as some dried plant fragments swept by in a refreshing breeze and buried themselves in his eye. It felt like he’d been stabbed with a chopstick. In agony, he pushed his finger hard against the eyelid to hold his eyeball still. It soothed it a little. So there he sat his finger poking into his eye socket, his tongue poking out to catch his tears, and insensitive Gidget Widget thinking he was making sexual plays for her. She wiggled closer, he came to attention, his arm still in salute position. The moment, if there even was one, dissipated faster than a woodie in a cold shower when she looked down and discovered she’d lost her new ring. The ridiculous became ludicrous. Deciding it must have fallen off when she dried her hands, she returned to the restroom. Barry hovered outside anxious to support her. The door opened and he got a glimpse of a floor covered with crumpled paper towels and several irate women bombarding Gidget with soggy balls of paper they’d scooped up, before she made it out and clear.

“Terry, Hairy Werry,” I think I lost it at lunch. She’d also become lost in the mire of his many names. “We have to go back and check our table.” They reached the restaurant where, of course, their table had been cleared. Nothing on the floor or bench seat—into the kitchen she marched. Barry followed. Either Gidget’s lengthy explanation wore him down or Barry’s tear-soaked face struck a note of sympathy, because they gained permission to go through the food trays containing the unwashed dishes, cleared from the tables. Barry rooted with one arm, his middle finger pressed against his sodden eye. Gidget went through the bins like a high efficiency vacuum. They failed to find her ring.

As they hit the lounge, Gidget let loose with a long string of epithets that would have been censored on all but pornographic channels. A large black man sitting a few seats away, rose, came over and towering above Barry, said, “Mister. dis is not right to speak like dis in dis public place. Discipline your woooman.” Flabbergasted Barry flailed for words. The flight was called just as he was about to try castigating Gidget, who’d swelled to the size of a blowfish in her wrath. Finger in eye, he grabbed her arm and jerked her away from what surely was the biggest linebacker in the NFL and into the boarding line.

He literally swept her on board. As Barry sank into the aisle seat beside Gidget, another elderly lady eyed them dubiously from the window seat. Let her look, he thought, there won’t be anything to see. Gidget had long since figuratively castrated him, and bloodied and torn he’d retreated from the field; the victim of a gorilla war he hadn’t even known he was fighting. Fate had inflicted damage too great to overcome.

“Barry Werry Cherry I’m put out.”

“If only you had,” he sighed.

“You need to punch out that big oaf for being rude to me.” She glared past Barry to the large man seated across the aisle.

Barry scrunched a little lower in his seat. “No I don’t need to Gidget Widget Fidget, better you just sit still and read a magazine and pretend you don’t know me.”

She huffed into angry silence. The one good thing of having three sisters was he knew just how to make a woman shut up.

When the wheels hit the tarmac he couldn’t get down the ramp fast enough. He wasn’t sure if he was missing in action or had just missed the action, but never was there an MIA happier to get out of a war zone.