Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport. 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, 1 February. Gate 14. No breakfast. Fast-food outlets open. Walked a gate or two down the concourse. Neon beer tubes in garish greens and reds, a bar — a sign advertising coffee. Walked in. Narrow and dark. Clumps of low tables and chairs, a row of bar stools. Cheery black bartender. Asked for coffee. Served in a sundae parfait glass, on a stem. Down three stools to the left, an attractive blonde girl, hunched over a coffee. Dressed in light-blue well-worn jeans, inexpensive cotton print blue sleeveless shirt.
“Hi,” she said when I was served my coffee, “want to talk to me? I’ll talk your ear off.”
Extended my hand, which she took: wide and muscular, rough hardworked palms, long fingers. No make-up, no lipstick, good skin. 35? 40?
”Reid Buckley,” I said.
“Hi,” said she again, volunteering no name.
“Where are you headed for?”
“Oakland. I missed my flight by three minutes yesterday evenin’, got lost in the airport. Believe it. Spent the night here, been here twelve hours. Do you know after 9 o’clock you can’t get so much as a cuppa coffee? Everything shuts down. Went out through a door, couldn’t get back in!”
Long darkening natural cornhusk hair, brushed back from temples and ears, gathered — tossed back — between her shoulder blades. Wholesome look about her.
“Where did you stay?”
“Didn’t. Dumb thing for me to do, get lost, miss my flight, wasn’t going to spend no more money on myself after a dumb thing like that.”
“Then you got no sleep at all?”
“I must of dozed I guess . . . No, I didn’t get any sleep.”
In the dim light, with the neon signs and the shadows and the glinting bottles behind the bar, no view of her eyes.
“Where do you come from?”
“Why are you going to Oakland?”
“Meet my husband.”
Melodious deep-South country accent. Attractive face, good brow, good chin; straight, well modeled, though slightly thickened nose. Even front teeth, the top two discolored. Though she wasn’t smoking.
“What does your husband do?”
“He’s a carpenter, got a job in Oakland.”
“Oh, no. Five, six weeks. He’s been there two weeks now. Thought I’d visit.”
“Where in Mississippi do you come from?”
“No work for your husband in Carthage?”
“Oh, sure, but this was special. I wish he’d get out of the construction business, though. Too hard on his body.”
“What do you do?”
“Work on a chicken farm. I’m fixin’ to be laid off too. They ain’t announced it yet, but they are selling it, waiting for the right offer. Worked there just two years, m’self, but it’s hard on people been there 20, 25 years.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Anything don’t have nothing to do with chickens. Faugh! Had enough of chickens.”
Long, shapely, useful arms, muscled at the forearms and biceps.
“What would you like to get into?”
“Dunno, something to do with computers. I done just about everything else.”
“Your husband, what does he want to do?”
“I wish he’d start his own construction company, five, six people, he seeing to it that they do the work — ”
“My youngest son is in construction.”
“He’s a big boy, arms like this . . . Do you know anything about computers?”
“Not a thing. My daughter does, though.”
“Then she can teach you.”
“Yeah, maybe, but she just moved out.”
“Moved out of the house, got a place of her own.”
“How old is she?”
“Seventeen, but it’s all right, she wanted to try it on her own, I think she’ll be all right.”
“Do you have any other children?” “Had. A son. He . . . died three years ago. I had a house fire. Christmas Eve. He’d be 20 this year . . . this week.”
“He’s in a better place than you and I are.”
“You don’t look old enough to have had children old as your son and daughter. When did you start, at 17 yourself?”
“Oh, no — 13. Real early. My Maw told me, but I wouldn’t listen. My daughter, she got her stubbornness from me. I’ve got two stepchildren older’n her, too, but I don’t see them. We been married a year.”
“To your second husband?”
“Your first husband?”
“In jail. He’ll get out in a year or two, ‘spect.”
“What’s he in for?”
“Killed someone. First-degree premeditated. Got into a quarrel with him, told everybody he was going to kill him.”
“You’ve had a hard, rich life, haven’t you?”
“How old are you?”
“What’s your name?”
“I’ve got to leave now for my plane, Sonya.”
“Well, get going, then! I wouldn’t want nobody else miss a plane on my account.”
“Yeah, you too.”
Left the bar — paying for her coffee as well as mine — and walked two gates down the concourse to my flight. Sat down in a row of aluminum and poured-plastic chairs, facing the concourse. Pulled out the laptop and started jotting down these notes. Sonya was suddenly standing in front of me, pushing my dark glasses into my face.
“These are yours,” she said. “You left them at the bar.”
“Oh, yes — thank you!”
She nodded, smiled shyly, turned, and walked across the concourse, heading out the sliding heavy plate-glass doors that opened on one of the huge round carousels of the baggage claim, with its shiny steel plates. I would have guessed she was taller.
— Reid Buckley is the author, most recently, of USA Today: The Stunning Incoherence of American Civilization.