At the forty-five minute mark, hell broke loose in the form of a screaming girl. She drew every eye on the plane, and a flight attendant immediately rushed over. It was the little girl across the aisle from me. The mother was frantically trying to shush her, but she sobbed and wailed, holding most of a doll. The doll was missing her head. The head was in the possession of the boy, who bounced it like a ball from hand to hand until the mother snatched it away from him.
“Ma’am, is everything all right?” Amanda, the flight attendant I had seen when I boarded, asked. It was a question she was required to ask, bu tit was clear that there was very little a flight attendant could do.
The mother had stood up and physically separated the two kids by sitting between them. The boy protested to being manhandled by Mom, but she wasn’t having any of it. The girl’s wails became muffled as she climbed up her mother and buried her face in Mom’s blouse.
“Ma’am, is there anything I can do?” Amanda asked again.
The mother’s head whipped around, completely startled by Amanda’s presence. “What? Uh, I don’t know. God, I wish my husband was here to help. Tommy, don’t kick the seat!”
The boy stopped, but he had a look, a look I knew too well. This wasn’t over.
“And how do you know this?” Nikki interrupted. “I apologize, but you are not exactly up for parenting awards.”
“Hah! Well, you’re right on that. I know it because I was a boy who grew up and I had a brother who could be a real pain. We fought a lot. We had a flight once to a family reunion. On the flight out we sat as close together as possible to be a family. On the return flight, Paul sat with Dad ten rows away from Ma and I. You can’t lock a couple of boys in a tin can for hours without trouble.”
“I see.” She smiled into her coffee. “I did not appreciate your propensity for attracting trouble from even an early age. It does much to explain who you are now.”
“Yeah, well, I notice that my being a trouble magnet brings you by, too.”
“Oh, but I am not near you because I am trouble, far from it. I simply delight in the excitement generated by its attraction to you.”
Her smile had become sweet innocence, while my face had become annoyed because she had gotten the better out of that volley.
“Anyway, the kid was trouble. . . .”