When the plane was finally in the air, Mabel opened her murder mystery and started to read. She hoped the young man at the window seat would not try to talk to her. Mabel disliked young men.
The captain came over the PA with an announcement. Mabel couldn’t hear it well; he seemed to be mumbling, and she wished people would learn to speak more clearly. She glanced back at the flight attendants, but they didn’t seem alarmed, so the announcement no longer interested her.
The man in the next seat seemed to find the announcement meaningful, though. He fumbled at the black case at his feet, jostling Mabel’s sturdy shoes. Mabel sniffed and moved her feet away. The man sat up with some newfangled device in his hand. A computer, maybe, but smaller. Mabel glanced at it while the man pulled down the seat tray and adjusted the device. It had dozens of tiny square pictures lighting up, and Mabel felt indignant.
She returned to her book, but occasionally she glanced suspiciously at the man’s little machine. Who could read such tiny words? But then, as Mabel started to look away, something caught her eye.
There was a game of solitaire. Mabel watched in amazement as the man touched the screen and the cards flew, too fast for her to follow. They looked so real. Mabel wanted to touch the little computer, to see what made the cards move around the screen. When the man turned up the ace of hearts, Mabel said huh. He looked at her and smiled. Embarrassed, Mabel returned to her book.
But every page or so, she was drawn to watch the man’s solitaire game. She was beginning to understand the swift movement of the cards, and it seemed to her a marvel. She often played solitaire at home, but it hurt her hands to shuffle the deck. One time, she brushed a card off the table with the sleeve of her housedress, and it slid under the center pedestal. She couldn’t find it for a long time, and when she finally spied it there, it took her considerable oofing to coax it out.
If she had a little machine like this, to play solitaire on…she closed her book, holding her finger between the pages to keep her place, and watched some more.
The man turned up the seven of clubs. Mable scanned the array of cards and saw the eight of hearts, and she watched the man’s finger to see what gesture would send the seven to the right pile. Could she do this, even with her arthritis? But to her surprise, he flicked something and covered the seven with another set of three cards. He’d missed the play. Hmmmf, Mabel said, but when the man stopped and glanced her way, she opened up her book again.
It wasn’t a long flight. The man at the window seat played solitaire for about twenty minutes, and Mabel saw him miss a play nearly every game. Her head started to ache.
The flight attendants brought little packages of pretzels and plastic cups of sodas, and the man put the solitaire machine back in its case. And soon it was time to land; this had been a short flight.
Mabel had no baggage, just her big study handbag. Her daughter had everything she’d need at her house; Carrie even had Mabel keep a winter-in-Florida wardrobe there. Mabel sat on a bench outside the terminal and waited.
But Carrie was quite late—Mabel had been waiting for fifteen minutes when she heard a voice nearby. “Ma’am? Is someone picking you up?”
She looked up. It was the solitaire-playing fellow from the plane. “Yes,” she said. “My daughter will be here. She’s late.”
“Did you call her?”
Mabel leaned forward and scanned up and down the sidewalk. “There’s no pay phones anymore.”
“Oh,” he said. “Pay phones. Here, you can use my cell.” He held out another small black device, smaller than the solitaire machine.
Mabel looked at the thing as though it were covered in maggots.
He shrugged, pulled it back. “Could I…do you want me to call her for you?”
Mabel looked at the row of cars, hoping to see Carrie’s blue van, and considered the offer. No, she thought. She wouldn’t trust a man who didn’t know to play a black seven on a red eight. She shifted on the bench, turning her shoulder to the man. She wished she had a sweater.
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