She looked out the plane window and sighed.
Below Halle stretched the patchwork of America’s plains, swaths of land in browns, yellows, and greens. She had yet to see any so-called amber waves of grain, but she didn’t know if that was due to the fact they never existed and an American poet simply employed some creative licensing, or it was just a matter of perspective.
Glancing towards her watch, Halle found the tiny gold hand had only advanced two minutes from when she last checked. She should’ve known better really, considering how often her mom had chided her and her brother, Brent, with the old adage “a watched pot never boils.” But how could she not watch when so much depended on those sixty-second increments and what happened in them? Was there an adage for that, she’d like to ask her mom. Then again, questions aren’t what she’d waste her breath on right now.
Three hundred and sixty-seven minutes earlier, Halle got the call, Brent’s voice trembling across the line at 25 like it had at five. She ran as quickly as she ever had—in stilettos, she would add—down seven stories, through busy sidewalks, to her car, across the airport parking lot, through flight check-in and into security.
Living more than 2,100 miles away from your childhood home made any trip back a journey, and while a Boeing 767 may have been the fastest way for Halle to get from Philadelphia to Salt Lake City, it felt as though she may as well have been driving or walking at a slug’s pace. It was like she was traversing a desolate ice-scape, endlessly progressing with no end in sight.
Ironic that the entire reason she was on this flight, crammed into a too-tight window seat, with people hacking and babies wailing around her, was because there was an end sight. Her mom’s.
For most of her life, mortality occurred to Halle in the same way that it does to many people: distantly, like a funnel cloud on the horizon, spinning, churning, preparing to manifest. Its destruction is imminent, close enough for you to observe, to know it’s real and it’s possible, but just far enough away that you believe it won’t reach you. Not just yet.
It wasn’t until a few years earlier, that Halle, reading obituaries for people a few years older and many younger than her parents, realized they too were mortal, and giving her life didn’t mean that they got to keep theirs indefinitely. She was lucky it never had to occur to her sooner, that she wasn’t robbed of her parents when she was 2 or 17 or 28 like so many had been, including a couple of her friends.
“I am no longer afraid of getting old. Indeed I can’t believe I ever said anything so stupid. So childish. So offensive and arrogant. But mainly, so very, very stupid. I desperately want to grow old,” the author Elizabeth Wein had written. Halle had underlined the quote in her copy of the book, believing if she could commit it to memory, it would help her to live a fuller, more appreciative life.
It didn’t. Good intentions be damned, she took things for granted anyways. So many things.
Her mom’s texts lighting up her phone each morning, wishing her a wonderful day. The sound of her mom’s laugh over FaceTime, when Halle bought something absolutely absurd for her apartment that she definitely didn’t need, and her mom’s roar confirmed it. Drives through the Wasatch Mountains around Salt Lake, singing to the songs of the Laurel Canyon artists. Compliments from strangers commenting on how similar she and her mom looked: their gently sloping noses, almond-shaped amber eyes, apple cheeks, and sandy brown hair. The smell of the kitchen when she came home on Christmas: cinnamon, roasting ham, rising rolls, and her mom’s perfume一dashes of vanilla and gardenia. The ability to have someone to turn to who knew her from the beginning, before she screamed her way into the world and she was no longer one of two hearts beating in a body, but her own singular form.
That one day, this would all still be waiting for her when she decided it was time to return home, when she would be able to understand and appreciate her parents一her mom一in all the ways youth didn’t allow.
Wasn’t this what we did as a species though? Believing that we could govern ourselves on the principles of time rather than of the fleeting presence we have in it, Halle reasoned, her eyes once again flicking to her watch and clocking the three minutes it had progressed. We think time is infinite, but forget we are not. We think we will always have more, but we won’t. We never know when it will run out, when that last grain of sand will slip silently through the narrow neck of the hourglass, or the glass will shatter, spilling hundreds, thousands of flecks suddenly, wasted.
Per Brent, the start of their mom’s ending was somewhere in the middle, the quiet cataclysm of a sudden brain bleed as she looked over finances and futures at her job. The chances of recovery fell under one percent, the chances she would make it to the next day were no higher.
How desperately Halle wanted her mom to grow old, even if that meant for one day, one more hour, just long enough for the wheels to touch the tarmac and for Halle to sprint to her bedside. But as she had learned, there was no guarantee. Already Halle felt the darkness of grief setting in with the extinguishing of the light that was her mom and hope in one.
After 14 more checks of her watch, the white-capped mountains appeared on the horizon and the plane began to descend. As soon as the pilot allowed, Halle switched off airplane mode on her phone, and it buzzed with messages, shaking as if it was enduring a bad bout of turbulence.
Hal, the latest from Brent started, give me a call when you land.
Her eyes wet. Her breath slipped. Her hands joined in the trembling. Halle had promised him over and over she would call when she got in, so this message was unnecessary. Yes, it could be to tell her good news, or where she could go, or if she was to meet anyone in Arrivals. But, the knowing feeling in her gut told her otherwise. Time had managed to go too fast and too slow all at once. The last grain of sand had fallen.
It was just as her mom had said to them, sharing another one of those adages she had loved, and Halle had branded trite: “Time waits for no one.”