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She looked out the plane window and sighed. Not a quiet sigh, but a sigh that was loud enough so that the passenger in the middle seat turned with a question mark written all over her face. The gray-haired, bespectacled woman seemed startled at the volume of the sigh, but then felt a maternal spark ignite, felt the sudden need to put her hand on top of the one that lay atop the arm rest. She felt the need to give her seatmate comfort, to let her know it was going to be alright.

But then she felt the words stick in her throat.

How did she know all would be right? She didn’t even know this woman, or her troubles, or even if the sigh indicated trouble, though, what else could it be?

The gray-haired woman’s mind flitted from this to that, tears welling up in her eyes. She hated being so emotional, now not only worrying about the woman’s audible sigh, but also what she needed to do about it. She unbuckled her seatbelt, and rummaged around her massive purse coming up with a tiny crumpled tissue and a wintergreen candy, broken into pieces, plastic barely intact. She daubed her eyes quickly, hoping not to be noticed, and clutched the Lifesaver in her hand, thinking it could possibly be of some use.

She pretended she was going for her purse again, but as she bent, let her eyes dart to the woman’s stomach, looking for signs of an unwanted pregnancy. Hard to tell, she thought, but she is probably still early enough to terminate, except if she lives in one of those Red States like Florida that makes it difficult. She believed it was a woman’s right to choose.

Stealthily, she took a glance. Her seatmate’s left hand wasn’t visible. Was there a ring, she wondered? Had she been scorned by a lover? Did he cheat, that scoundrel? Did he die? Oh Lord, of course he could have died leaving his young widow alone and helpless.

Her heart tightened.

She could offer some money. She had her secret stash in her wallet, a crisp $100 bill, “mad money,” in case she found that perfect something she hadn’t planned on while she was shopping. Why not give it to charity? Lord knows a pregnant widow with no money could use it. She bent to her purse a third time and then changed her mind.

What if the woman refused? What if she was one of those psychos who flew on planes and got agitated because the seats were so close together, or because the passenger in front of them rudely reclined their seat? What if the sigh was an indication that her seatmate was a ticking time bomb, and she would be called upon to help the flight attendant put the woman in a choke hold. She was thankful for the self-defense class she took at the Y, hoping she remembered the steps to sweep the unruly pregnant widow to the ground.

Just then, she heard the pilot’s voice over the intercom announcing they were landing.

She braced herself by clutching both armrests, including the one where her seatmate rested her right hand. Startled, the sighing woman looked over and smiled.

She stood, wrestled her carry-on from the overhead, and exited the plane.

The gray-haired, bespectacled woman sat alone. She opened the plastic wrapper and popped the broken pieces of the wintergreen candy into her mouth. It was she who had needed that Lifesaver after all.

Melanie Civin Kenion

Melanie Civin Kenion is spending her retirement writing poetry, traveling as much as possible, and playing Rummikub with her grandson.

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