About mid-point in the flight, after a luscious dinner of broiled salmon and endive-salad and steamed asparagus followed by kiwi-torte with fresh strawberries he set his seat back and pulled the blanket over his body. Krystal was already asleep, her head probably filled with dream, as he could hear her soft murmurs and see her eyelids flickering about. Across the wide-aisle, Andrea and Susie, spent from rounds of topical chatter, were too, asleep, both covered in a mauve airline-issued comforter.
He closed his eyes and tried to force sleep into his own realm but it became a futile attempt. Too much thought filled his head and as the plane flew over the coast these thoughts remained. He looked out the window and down and as the black met the glittering light of civilization he knew that it was either Los Angeles or San Francisco that was harboring his view.
With the bountiful Pacific now behind him he continued to gaze at the massive grid of illumination until it reached just a sporadic graze. Once the lights from below had faded, he instead focused on the stars that dotted the upper periphery and began to see a distant past emerge. He saw himself at the age of fifteen, sitting atop the roof of that old, decrepit garage, looking into the stars with his new telescope. He then looked down and saw leaning on the alley lamppost an old man with disheveled beard looking up at him. He could still hear his voice:
“Hey, what are you doing atop that roof? Don’t you know that roof needs fixin’? You’re gonna hurt yourself, kid!”
“But I’m looking into the future, mister.”
“On the roof?”
“Yeah, better view up here. I got myself a new telescope, you know. That’s right, I’m looking straight into the future with it.”
“There ain’t any future in the stars, kid. I’m tellin’ you, you can’t see no future in those damn stars. Don’t you know?”
“That what you see is the past. Don’t you get it?”
“What I see is the future. I don’t know where you’re coming from, mister, but you’re dead wrong.”
“Okay kid, play it your way. But you better get off that damn roof before you hurt yourself. Don’t you know that old roof is about to come tumblin’ down?”
“Hey, Jimmy’s gonna fix it up! He likes to do things around the house.”
“Now I know you’re crazy, kid. Yeah, Jimmy’s always in need of a quick fix all right. But too bad it’s with a needle.”
“Yeah, but I see a better future for him. Mister, you gotta believe in the future. And right in those stars I can see the future.”
“You’re a bit on the goofy side if you ask me. There ain’t no future in those damn stars. I’m tellin’ you, what you see is the past and nothing else.”
“But you’re wrong, mister. What I see is the beginning.”
“Ah, you’re a goof ball. I am sure glad you’re not my grandson. At least he has some sense.”
“And where is your grandson?”
“He’s in juvenile hall. But it was a bum rap.”
“Yeah, that’s what they all say. Mister, you gotta get real. Stop fooling yourself. Your grandson’s no better than anybody else around here. He played the game and got caught, that’s the difference. Mister, I’m telling you, you gotta open those eyes. This isn’t a picnic, that’s for sure.”
“What are you trying to say, kid?”
“Mister, things happen. May not always like it, but things happen. Can’t go around pretending they don’t. Because I’m telling you, you’ll fall right on your face and kiss the face of ‘good old reality.’ And it’s not gonna be a happy smooch either. Get with it, mister. Things happen, plain and simple. And when they do, prepare yourself for the ride. Better take the reins and travel hard. Because it isn’t going to be a walk in the park, that’s for sure.”
“I don’t know what’s up with you, kid, but you’re talking’ out of your head. And you better get off that roof.
“When I’m ready. I must take another look into the stars. The future awaits.”
“I said that there ain’t no future in those damn stars.”
“That’s what you think, mister. The bright lights of the future are reflected from the dimmer lights of the past.”
“Hey, what are you, kid – some kind of philosopher or something?”
“What I am, I will always be.”
“Oh, I get it. You’re one of those so-called poets.”
“Call me what you will, mister, but all I am is what I have always been . . .
. . .With the feeling of losing altitude imposing on him, he turned from looking out the window and concentrated on the cabin. He could see that the newly married couple were now awake as was the businessman who he chatted with for a bit when the plane was still docked in Honolulu.
A little queasiness set in as the 747 made another plunge, so as it was a natural thing to do, he reached for Krystal’s hand. She opened her eyes and looked at him in a way that made him feel that everything was all right, that they were just experiencing a little turbulence.
The captain confirmed this with a straightforward announcement from the cockpit. He said that the aircraft was well above the Rockies, that there was nothing to get alarmed about, that this turbulence was normal. He also said that they’d be landing in Chicago as scheduled, at 6:15 a.m. Ricky looked across the aisle. He saw that Andrea and Susie were both awake, giggling. The harder the plane shook, the steeper it dropped, they laughed and carried on as if though they were at an amusement park.
Not long after the plane evened out, the flight attendant with the English accent came over and furnished them with gourmet coffee, juice, and a silver tray of assorted pastries. His stomach was now settled so he welcomed the treats with a renewed appetite. He lifted his cup and toasted Krystal and reminded her that the year and a half that had passed since first setting eyes on her was the best year and a half he had ever known.
It was a year of wondrous beginnings and time-honored justifications. It was a year filled with magic and hope and miracles. Not only did he meet Krystal during this last year but also he was brought Andrea — a little angel who made his life seem even more important than what it may have been otherwise. To finally become a godparent to a child wanting of love, understanding and kindness was enough in itself but made even more special since this provided him the chance to prove once and for all, that he was more than capable of such great a responsibility. And how he remembered watching seven nieces and nephews being brought into this world and not once did his two sisters or brother offer him the honor. Hell, what were they thinking anyhow? Did they somehow forget their roots?
After about an hour more had faded into the jet stream, Krystal snuggled up under the blanket with another week-old magazine and slowly turned the pages. She glanced at an article about breast cancer but that was as far as she got. A few frightening words inscribed within its content prompted her to skip it altogether and flip to a more benign and cheerful page.
Finally, she set her eyes upon a story about the Chicago Bulls, the most promising team of the decade, and seeing a picture of Michael Jordan in all his glory brought a smile to her face. How she loved the excitement that this man had brought to Chicago’s sports arena and now she could partake in the celebrations that would sweep across the city in a few weeks, as the Bulls were sure to win their third Championship. The first Championship, well, that was another story. She was not in the spirits to partake in much of anything. She had just lost her sister, Tanya, to ovarian cancer.
The Bulls second Championship was celebrated without her too. Not only was she still mourning the loss of her only sister but was recently told by her doctor that she should consider having a hysterectomy, that she, too, was a prime candidate for contracting the dreadful disease. “As a precautionary measure,” he said.
She fought with a decision for weeks. “To deny the chance of giving life by possibly saving my own,” was what she finally told herself. Her dreams of someday bearing children were surrendered as she stepped through those hospital doors. After surgery that was deemed successful and after a day of recuperation she stood and told the gathering of nurses and aides and orderlies that she had recently met someone. “His name is Ricky . . . And he told me that he loves children. What if?” But it was too early for that, she thought. Still, she would not tell him about her having a hysterectomy.
The days after, everything seemed to happen so fast. She introduced him to her best friend, Delia. Then there was that night under a quiet moon when Delia told them about Andrea’s upcoming baptismal, “I know, better late than never.” And when Andrea, seemingly so happy with the idea, looked up at them and smiled and then Delia added, “You know, Andrea loves you both and she has no other family here. Would you consider?”
She put down the magazine and let her head drop onto Ricky’s chest. She could feel his heart beating to the rhythm of her thoughts and in her thoughts there was now nothing but him. She thought of how much she loved him. And how, in so many ways, he was all that she had ever hoped for in a man. He was kind, generous, sympathetic, patient and unlike a few of the men that came before, unselfishly forgiving.
For a moment she looked up at him and admired his face. It was a ruggedly handsome face, highlighted by a sleek chin and strong jawbones that were only dimmed by the glow of his emerald eyes. What a wonderful man, she thought. She also thought how fortunate she was the night she met him.
Thank God, she had that headache. Thank God, she had no aspirin in the house and decided to run down to the convenient store to pick up a bottle. It was there where she met him. It was there, that some of the worst ills she had ever known would find reprieve at the over-the-counter medicine section. For it was there, that the heartache of previous broken and dismantled relationships and shattered engagements bore hopes of reparation.
Standing next to her, eyeing the cold formulas was he, a man she once saw before but had not the gumption to acquaint herself with. But now, it was of a different time, a more pressing hour. It was a time of loneliness and disillusionment. But it was also a time where serendipity, perhaps fate, proved a much stronger force on this night.
He was there, merely inches from herself, the waft of his Obsession flavoring the otherwise, musty air. But it was more than his scent that captivated her; it was his look, a look that pierced deep within her, a look that spoke of dreams that seemed as though, they included her. And then he said something, something she could not decipher, for his words were lost in the symphony of her thoughts. A moment to collect herself ensued. “I’m sorry . . . What was that?”
He slowly raised his hand. “Have you ever tried this?” he said, pointing to the box of cold formula he was clutching.
“No, but I wish I had . . . I mean, no, I haven’t . .. but I would guess that it’s pretty good stuff. It looks good to me.”
He chuckled, and then sniffled. “Well, if it looks good to you then it looks good to me. I’ll take it then.” Noticing that she was looking at the headache remedies he suggested the big white bottle with the blue label and she agreed. She removed the bottle from the shelf.
“Thanks,” she said. Although her headache now seemed relieved, she thought it wise to purchase the medicine anyway, not ever knowing when the next one would arrive. Small business aside, it was time to formally introduce herself: “Hi, I’m Krystal.”
“What a beautiful name! Please to meet you, I’m Ricky. . Ricky Ficino.”
“Is that an Italian name?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. My father is . . .was . . .eh, is Italian. One-hundred percent, actually. But my mother is of mixed heritage. A little bit of Irish, a little bit Cherokee, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, if you know what I mean . . .”
She smiled and then said that she knew exactly what he meant, that she, too, was of mixed extract. She had the blood of her father who hailed from Norway and her mother provided her the blood of Portugal, Ireland, and one of the third world countries whose name she could never remember.
Together, with medicinal purchases in hand and suspicions in mind that they stood on the threshold of romantic interlude, they ambled out the store and down to the corner where they shook each other’s hand and bade each other a good night. But before going separate ways she made damn sure that a future date would be secured by asking him for his phone number.
“Just in case I need advice on what headache medicine I should buy,” she teased. “You never know when the head may need soothing.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” he said. “So, how about your phone number too?” She smiled and then removed from her purse a pen and small piece of paper and scribbled her name and phone number. She handed it to him.
“Whenever your head needs soothing, call me,” she said.
What a night, she thought, and looked up into his eyes. They were now glowing a brighter green, perhaps reflecting the morning sun that had since broken the eastern horizon. She then looked across the aisle. Andrea and Susie, with headphones on, were dancing in their seats. And too, down the aisles, danced the flight attendants. Perhaps to a different tune. Their music was controlled not by dial but by rules. They needed to collect from the passengers their trays, cups, glasses and whatever else provided them during the flight. It wouldn’t be long now before the plane embarked on its final descent. But before the plane touched down she wanted to ask him something, something she never asked him before.
“Honey,” she whispered, “tell me something about your father. I never asked you this before but what happened to him?” She could now hear him fumbling with his thoughts. His breathing was getting heavy and the throbs against her cheek more rapid.
“Do you wanna know when he left?” Ricky said, his voice quivering. “Do you wanna know when the nightmare began? Perhaps nightmare isn’t quite the word. Maybe detour from life is a better way of putting it. Hell, before Father left, the road was straight and narrow and there seemed to be no bumps or cracks or potholes hampering this child’s life. No, everything seemed smooth. Everybody was together, loving each other, and acting like one of those real families you see on television. Then one Thanksgiving Day, it all changed.
Ricky closed his eyes. He knew he had a lot to tell Krystal. In time he would. He would eventually tell her that this trip to Hawaii wasn’t his first. Although it might have been. The last time he went there he stayed pretty much drunk the whole time. And one more thing he may need to tell her. That he had planned another trip to Kauai, not more than six months ago. It was going to be a one way, solo trip. A lapse of reason. He didn’t know then of the happiness that he would eventually have as he does now. And then, too, he didn’t think that he would ever have it in him to put down the booze. He took Krystal’s hand in his and held it so very tight. He looked at her and said, “It is so good to be alive.”