IT WAS ON THE FLIGHT from Nebraska to Los Angeles that Florencia found herself contemplating her feet.
This was not a normal contemplation for her. She didn’t think much about her feet. They were feet: they got you places and hopefully didn’t hurt too much at the end of the day. But now, flying to Los Angeles to start a new life, she wondered. She had never lived someplace where it was warm most of the time, someplace one might go walking barefoot on the beach. Someplace one’s feet might be seen on a regular basis by people other than the people one happened to live with.
Florencia was hardly what anyone could call attractive. Her body was thick and practical. Her hair was thick and impractical, dark and stormy with a tendency to kinkiness that no amount of conditioner could tame. Her hands were farmer’s hands, rough and chapped and ready to work, and her eyes were deep-set and close together, too dark to be readable. The only thing about her which held even the slightest promise of beauty were her feet. Somehow, she had been given feet that belonged in feathery mule slippers, toes that begged for the reddest of red polish, delicate ankles that longed for platinum chains. It looked as though someone had sawed off her legs just above the ankle and grafted on the feet of the highest-paid foot model in history.
Florencia was not a vain woman. She was quite aware of what she was and what she wasn’t, and she had already apologized internally to her unborn child for not passing along better maternal physical genes. She knew beauty opened doors; everyone over the age of two knew that. In a place where people went shoeless on a regular basis, would feet make a difference?
Florencia started out of her foot reverie. She had been lucky enough to have an empty seat next to her seat by the window, and now the young man in the aisle was leaning into the open space, addressing her. He was nice-looking but young, maybe high school-ish, with bushy hair.
Florencia didn’t really want to encourage conversation, especially at the very beginning of a long flight, but he looked so sincere she raised her eyebrows in response.
“I was just wondering…are you from Los Angeles, or just going to visit?”
“Neither,” said Florencia. “I’m moving there.”
The young man’s face cracked into a grin. “How d’ya like that?” he said. “Me too! I’ve been once before, with my pops when I was little. He took me to that theater where they have all the handprints, you know the one? I knew right then I was gonna live there someday, sure as shit.”
Florencia smiled in what she hoped was a friendly but let’s-not-talk-anymore kind of way and turned back the window. This was her first time on a plane, and she didn’t want to miss the view. It was amazing how the entire state, the entire world, became something completely different from such a height. Nebraska lined up below her in squares of green and gold, far more orderly than she would ever have thought so many human lives could be.
“I know it’s not an easy place,” said her seatmate in a rush, as though her turning away showed disapproval for his decision. “I mean, everyone has all those Hollywood dreams, right? Not me, though. I don’t want to be an actor. I just want a regular old life, with a regular old job waiting tables or something. Maybe learn to surf. Do you surf?”
What a ridiculous question. Her eyes on Nebraska below, Florencia gave a slight shake of her head.
“Yeah, I guess not,” said the young man.
Florencia watched clouds wisp by. It was amazing how close they seemed, and how vast.
“It’s not like I have unreasonable expectations of what it’s going to be like.”
Florencia sighed and turned away from the window.
“I mean, it’s hard everywhere,” he said. “I know that. I don’t expect anything different.”
Although this sounded like a speech the young man had practiced often, perhaps to the very pops who had first taken him to LA, something about it struck Florencia. Here she was, about to move to a place she had never been, without a job or her own home, to stay in a friend’s apartment and give birth to a fatherless child.
Her stomach gave a sickening drop that had nothing to do with the airplane. She was the one with unreasonable expectations. What had she been thinking? She should go home, back to where she at least knew a few people. She could get her old job back, go to the show on the weekends, get an abortion…
Florencia started. It was as though the voice had answered her thoughts. “I’m sorry. What did you just say?”
The young man looked taken aback. Apparently he had been talking for some time. “I said, I told him no. My pops. About taking over his business. I know it’s a good job and all, but I just couldn’t do it. It’s not the life for me.”
Florencia sat back, content as the plane rose and the captain announced their speed and height. She didn’t necessarily believe in signs from above, but when one was so obviously sent to you there was no point in ignoring it. Go to Los Angeles she would, to give birth the child she carried, a child who would need the ocean and the salt air the way she needed to breathe.
Everything would work out.