By Kerri Dieffenwierth
“I got bit by a shark while snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef.”
That’s what she used to say, back when she started flying. Passengers gawk at flight attendants like owls, whiling away time waiting for wheels to tuck underneath.
Kate works in first class, where she opens champagne and hands out warm washcloths, hot fudge sundaes, and cheap footie covers. She wears a white jacket with her name embroidered in script. Usually she pretends she doesn’t see people staring, whispering, or pointing. Humans can be ugly.
When she was young, she spent summers at her grandparent’s yellow lake cottage in Indiana. Sometimes her mother came along and watched her try to water ski; sometimes her mother stayed back in Florida to try out new men in peace.
Kate adored the lake because she got to fly there. She asked the stewardess for playing cards, matchbooks, soap, anything with a logo. She practiced walking the aisle without touching a seat. She always received plastic wings from cockpit. Maybe she flirted a little.
Kate never planned on college. The summer after graduation, she interviewed with Eastern, Delta, and United. She didn’t know the rules then. No tattoos, nobody overweight, no bad skin, no visible scars.
Interviewer: “Do you have any scars?”
Interviewer: “Can I take a look?”
Kate: “Of course.”
Interviewer: “Oh my. I’m sorry, Miss, you cannot represent
…with that leg.”
Back in the car, she ran her hand over her half-calf and sobbed.
Her sister, a year younger but meaner at the world since she saw the accident, said if Kate didn’t try again, she would apply for the job herself. The sister vomited on airplanes. Once, she missed the paper bag and ruined a stranger’s coat.
“I’m going to live your dream.”
“You’d throw up on passengers,” Kate said.
“Still, I’d have those little wings pinned to my dress. I’d be a stewardess.”
God how Kate wanted those golden wings and it didn’t matter if they weren’t gold. They could take her far away.
“What should I do?” asked Kate.
“Wear an Ace bandage and dark panty hose and lie.”
“Lie?” said Kate.
“Okay, Miss, we’ve come to the part in the interview where I need to ask if you have any visible scars on your body.”
“All right,” said Kate.
“And what?” asked Kate.
“And do you?”
“No, I do not have any scars,” remarked Kate.
Twenty nine years. Three concussions. Mechanical delays. Swine Flu. Drunks. Celebrities. Passengers who’ve expired on board. Lavatory sex. Disabling of smoke detectors. De-icing. 911. One hip replacement. Two divorces.
Kate still glows as a flight attendant. She studies safety features on new aircraft, attends recurrent trainings, always in the front row. Watch her reach up to check her wings more often than she checks her makeup. Same set; she’s never lost them.
London, Paris, Rome, Beijing, Madrid, Tokyo, Athens, Switzerland, Dublin, Copenhagen – destinations, layovers, and dinners the sister has never seen.
“Excuse me, Miss, what happened to your leg?
“I was hit by a truck the first time I rode my bike to school. The chain guard shaved off my calf. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“My bag won’t fit in the overhead.”
Kerri Dieffenwierth’s work can be seen in Literary Mama, Mason’s Road, and Still, among others. She has an MFA from USM Stonecoast. She has a memoir-in-progress about growing up at the edge of the Everglades and lives in Venice, Florida. www.kerridieffenwierth.com