BY THE TIME I'VE BROKEN through the cellophane into lunch, Janice is tucking into my personal life. I'm Paulette, I say, although I’m not. I’ve borrowed the name from the woman at the check-in desk.
Janice. Middle seat. Middle aged. Middle class. She wants to know if I’m flying to New York on business. I glance out of the window before I reply. I think it’s fair to say that I am - life is one long tricky business after all. But I tell her no. Not business. Holiday? Not really. She continues with her questions, wanting to know if I’m travelling alone. If I say yes, she will want to know why. Yes. Now Janice is all ears. Unlike her husband, zoning out under headphones in the aisle seat. Visiting the land of hope and glory maybe, or down in Acapulco, either way, he’ll be no trouble.
Janice is looking concerned. Travelling alone… she says, leaving the sentence hanging mid-air. I grab the loose end and tell my tale about the husband who proved not to be the forever-after type. My sister. Double betrayal. I dish out bullet points between mouthfuls of overcooked carrot and chicken breast. Then I twiddle the nozzle overhead for cool air. Janice tidies up her tray and cleans her hands with the wet wipe before folding it neatly into the little rubbish bag. She leans over, pats the sleeve of my flatmate’s cardigan (borrowed yesterday while she was busy cooking tea) and offers to help. She smells like a mum. I like that. She says I should talk to someone and offers to listen. She’s lending me her ears. It must be awful for me, she says, especially as the people I would normally confide in, are the reason for my predicament. That’s true.
Our tones are hushed now as I confide that I have, in fact, spoken to a counsellor, and give a little shiver under the air conditioning. Janice is straight there, unfolding a pink cashmere shawl from her bag and tucking me in as I snuggle down. I’m sure it will fit nicely into my flight bag when she lends it to me later. You know that saying – neither a borrower nor a lender be? Well I don’t agree. Look at Janice and me. She likes to lend. I like to borrow. We are a perfect match. No harm done.
I did speak to a counsellor recently after I found a shopping list abandoned at the bottom of a wire trolley, including a scribbled telephone number. A fragment of a stranger’s life left behind for the borrowing. I shopped for the food (first time I’d eaten tofu, not bad, I might turn vegetarian) and then I dialled the number and got a counsellor on the other end. We had quite a chat as it turned out. He was less satisfied with bullet points than Janice, not a huge fan of insinuations and hints, more of a digger, which is how he found the bottom line. It wasn’t my sister who had the affair. It was me that had the affair. With my sister’s husband. Although, strictly speaking, it wasn’t an affair. I only borrowed him for a while. I was always going to return him. I did explain that to my sister.
The counsellor had been keen for me to book an appointment, to talk further. No can do, is what I had to tell him, because of the trip to New York. He wanted to know if I was going with friends. I told him Yes and No. Yes they will be friends, but no they are not friends yet. There was no point in explaining, he and I were not on the same wavelength. So I didn’t tell him about me standing at the brochure rack in the travel agency, eavesdropping on Janice and her husband making their six-month travel plans. How I watched Janice take a deep sigh when her husband realised he had left his reading glasses in the car. How her eyes had blinked for a second too long when he haggled over the price and how she had focused on a blob of blu tack on the wall when he fussed about needing an aisle seat so he could get to the toilet easily. How I booked myself onto the same flight and requested the window seat in the same row.
Not long now before we land, still enough time. We’ve made good headway. I’m now sitting in the middle seat (would you mind swapping Janice? I get nervous in the window seat when coming into land) and we’ve had quite the heart to heart. Her husband leans forward from his aisle seat to give Janice a smile she never receives. I am in-between them now and have her full attention. We don’t need him. Besides, we still have some ground to cover before we land.
Janice tells me that they have rented a house just outside New York, with three bedrooms. She likes a separate bedroom to get away from her husband’s snoring, and that leaves one spare. Just in case. I’m hoping I might be the case. And then we talk babies. Hers have flown the nest. Mine is due this summer. More of a long-term loan than I’m used to, but I’m hoping my brother-in-law will take it back at some stage. I don’t say this to Janice because she might like to borrow the baby for a bit, which would be handy, as I would like to borrow Janice and her motherly ways. As I say, a perfect match.
All in all, I’m feeling quite optimistic. Life is all swings and roundabouts, isn’t it? Not my swing or my roundabout you understand. Other people’s. I’m just happy to go along for the ride.
Sharon is a big fan of flash fiction & short stories. She has been shortlisted for Bridport Flash, Fish Flash and Flash 500 and achieved an award for @wordswithjam 'First Page of Novel’. She has been published by Paragraph Planet (@paragraphplanet) & FlashFlood NFFD
flashfloodjournal.blogspot.co.uk. Sharon is writing a novel and has been accepted on the Romantic Novelists' Association’s New Writers’ Scheme 2016. She lives in Guildford, Surrey.