Jacob said he wanted the seat by the window. He looked out the whole time, even when all Henry could see was clouds. Mother was on Henry’s other side where people walked. Mostly she knitted and smoked and drank something with ice, but it wasn’t water. After awhile, Henry asked her how high up the airplane was.
She said, “That’s a good question. Let’s ask the stewardess.” When Stewardess came, Mother said, “Henry, ask your question.”
Stewardess had a round blue and white hat on top of her head and a white shirt with a red eagle pin on her chest and a fist on her hip. Henry wanted Mother to ask his question, but now he had to do it, but he didn’t get far. “Hhhhh. Hhhhh.”
Mother said, “Take a deep breath, Henry, and let it out slowly with the “H” sound. Just let it come out. I know you can do it.”
Henry took a deep breath, but now even the ‘H-h-h’ wouldn’t come out. It was stuck in his throat. His head got hot and his chest hurt with all the air stuck inside. His head banged inside. Everything inside was stuck. Jacob tickled his ribs and the air came out. Jacob went back to staring down at the clouds.
“Try again,” Mother said.
“I have other passengers, madam,” Stewardess said.
“He wants to know our altitude,” Mother said. “And please refresh my drink. Tanqueray and tonic, in case you forgot.”
“No, madam, I didn’t forget. Our cruising altitude is 27,000 feet. Over five miles high. Nearly, anyway. Isn’t that amazing?”
Mother handed up her glass. “With two olives, please.”
“Of course, madam, I see the pits.”
“Maybe some day you’ll learn how to take out the pits before serving olives.”
Stewardess turned and walked away.
“That girl was quite rude,” Mother said. Henry shrugged. He was mad because she wanted him to ask the question, and mad because he didn’t get to try again. Some orange juice was left in his cup. He wanted to spill it but didn’t. Jacob might have, but his face was mashed against the window.
Mother reached into the pocket of the seat in front of her and pulled out a magazine. She put it in Henry’s lap and went back to knitting and started another cigarette. The magazine cover showed a big white airplane in the sky. Below the picture of the airplane on the left side was the blue ocean and on ithe right side was a yellow beach with palms trees and tall buildings. and tiny people on the sand. He worked out the first large word on the cover. He practiced it silently and got it right. It was ‘Eastern.’ The other two big words were easy, ‘Air Lines.’
He tried to say them, just moving his lips. ‘Eastern’ and ‘Air’ would give him trouble because they started with breath sounds, but if he ran them together, he could get past ‘Air’ before it had a chance to stop him. He didn’t have much trouble with ‘L’s, but if he thought about it, he would, so he turned the pages and looked at all the smiling people. He started at the front again to make sure. Yup, everyone was smiling great big smiles. He had never seen so many white teeth.
Stewardess came back and put the glass of fizzy water in front of Mother with the two olives on a stick in it, and took another little green bottle out of her pocket and put it on Mother’s table and started to walk away. Mother said, “Wait.”
“Do you have anymore questions, Henry?” she said. She was counting stitches on the purple thing she was knitting. Stewardess waited, but she wasn’t smiling, so he said, “Uh-uh,” and shook his head so they knew he meant it.
But he didn’t really mean it, because he wanted to know if Mother and Father were going to live together again. He knew he shouldn’t ask, but he really wanted to know, because Jacob didn’t like Hudson School, and if Mother and Father lived together again, maybe Jacob and he could live in a real home again.
Henry had also been thinking about what Elsa said, about being their other mother, but he should probably ask Jacob first if he thought it would be okay to ask Mother. He really wanted to know, and he didn’t see Mother very much anymore, so he asked it another way. “C-c-can a boy have a brother iiiif they don’t have the same mmmother?”
Mother put her knitting in her lap again and reached up and touched the button above her. She gulped the rest of her drink. Stewardess came by and put down another glass with fizzy water and olives and another green bottle. Mother watched her pick up the old stuff and take it away. She emptied the green bottle into the fizzy water and took out the stick of olives and drank half the drink and put the olive stick back in.
“So, it’s another boy,” she said. Jacob turned away from the window and stuck his hands between his knees. “I knew your father got that girl pregnant, and I assumed they had the child. But that child is not your brother, and she is not your mother. You have one mother, and that is me.” She drank the rest of the Tanqueray stuff and jammed the olive stick into the glass. The ice cubes jumped.
“Well, I suppose technically he is your half-brother, but I don’t want you to think of him that way. When you are with your father, I can’t keep you from doing as you wish. But while you boys are with me, please consider my feelings.”
Jacob stared at Mother. Maybe he was also wondering what she meant by her feelings. What were her feelings? That’s the kind of question Jacob would ask, but he wasn’t asking. He hadn’t said hardly anything. And Henry wanted to know what ‘technically’ meant. And was Sluggo their brother or not?
She picked up her knitting again. She said, “Ask an airplane question. Anything about that. You’d think this wasn’t an adventure for my boys.”
Jacob said, “How much longer?”
“Good question,” she said and pushed the button above her. When Stewardess came, Mother said, “My boys want to know how much longer to Palm Beach. And I’ll have another, no olives this time.”