Invisible Place

Ronit Feinglass Plank

            The sticky June air hit Kim as soon as she entered the jet bridge in Newark. She crunched the last translucent sliver of the orange Lifesaver her mother had given her on the plane and swallowed its sharp edges down. The airport was brightly lit for midnight and it hurt Kim’s eyes. Her mother led them through the terminal to meet her father, Kim followed quietly behind and wondered if he would recognize her now that she was six.  
            Her mother was nervous and Ruth, always near, was nervous too. The two of them drifted around each other in their muted, viscous world, communicating wordlessly, like whales, only occasionally touching, never catching more than peripheral glimpses of each other. All morning Kim had tracked her mother as she darted around cleaning and packing up until finally, without eye contact, she shut up the house and hurried them both out. Then, at the airport, as if by magic, her mother smiled brightly and bought Kim a pack of Lifesavers for the trip. Kim never got candy, she should have known it was a trick. 
               
            Kim hadn’t seen her father since last fall when he’d come to their house to say goodbye. He’d stood on the front step, an October rain misting the open space behind him, a potted plant with brown curling edges next to him that he thought they might want to take care of. Rippling waves of heat swished around Kim’s stomach like they always did when her parents were together. Way up tall and far away from her, her parents faced each other. Their silence was an invisible balloon that grew larger and larger and pressed against them all, ready to pop at any moment.  Her father embraced her mother. As he clung to her he gasped for air and sobbed in his low register, like a large suffering animal. A smile of extreme discomfort twitched across Kim’s face. Her father put his arm around her. The next day he left for Newark.
            Now, finally, they were joining him. Her mother charged through the airport, her eyes straight ahead, her jaw set, pausing only to get Kim safely on the escalator. Stark light gave way to dim baggage claim brown. And then Kim saw him. Dark, curly hair, dark eyebrows, a smile. He picked her up and hugged her and while he swung her around she focused on the tan geometric shapes of his button down shirt, the pack of Camel Lights in his pocket, his familiar smell.
            He put Kim down and her mother kneeled in front of her. Something was wrong. She was up close, her eyes on Kim’s eyes, patting her hair down, holding her face. She told Kim her father was taking her, Kim would live with him now. Tears streamed down her cheeks and she fought for breath to speak. But her mother wasn’t listening anymore, she was crossing the terminal, and as Kim watched her get smaller, her father squeezed her hand.