March 26, 1963
Randall must think this is romantic. Francie catches sight of him, breathlessly rushing toward her through the well-dressed crowds in the concourse. She’s standing near the windows at her gate in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, ticket to New York City in hand, gussied up in uncomfortable hose and pumps and a pencil-skirted traveling suit from Goodwill, and she’s surprised to see him. She didn’t know that her boyfriend would be showing up here.
He looks frantic until he spots her. Then he slows down, straightens himself, and grins at her. Randall has a winning smile, and he cuts a fine figure in his tailored suit and shiny Brylcreemed hair, but Francie is not charmed. She turns away from him and sits down next to two nuns in full habit.
That doesn’t stop him. He strides up before her and taps his toe near hers.
Francie doesn’t look up from his patent leather wingtips. They’re a lazy man’s shoes.
Her own lime-green spike heel shoes have dangerous points at the tip.
When Francie woke up in Randall’s bed this morning, she’d been delighted to find that she was her supple, energetic, 19-year-old self. After falling asleep in a hospital bed, as a somewhat defeated 83-year-old crone, it was marvelous to stretch out her young body in a yawn, eager to start the day. However, finding Randall beside her had been disconcerting.
Francie knew she’d been seeing Randall at that age. He was no stranger, and she was no virgin, but she’d lived only a few days of their romance, so she didn’t know him well. Today, she found herself naked, uncovered, and chilly, lying next to a 30-year-old man who was wearing pin-striped gray flannel pajamas that were oddly unrumpled. Fortunately, he was sound asleep, so she was able to get up, find her underwear and handbag, and scoot into the bathroom, all without making conversation.
In the bejeweled handbag, she’d found a pocket calendar marked off until Tuesday, March 26, 1963, a dainty Timex watch that said 6:05am, and the mother-of-pearl compact that Mom had given her for graduation. In its small mirror, she saw her unlined, unwhiskered, but always a bit too angular, young face, with her agelessly knowing eyes, framed by a brunette flip hairstyle that was still brittle to the touch from yesterday’s hairspray.
She looked in the medicine cabinet and under the sink. There were no women’s things in this bathroom, except an orange waitress uniform on a hook on the back of the door. That must be hers. She sat down to think.
Rummaging through her handbag, she found a paystub from Wendell’s Diner. On the back, someone had written down her schedule. She was due at work at 11am today. In a zippered compartment, she found a savings passbook, with weekly entries since June 1962, and a grand total of $342.63, a small fortune for a diner waitress in 1963. She was relieved when she found her address in the passbook, and she remembered the room she was renting in those days under the ‘L’ on Wells.
Then she glanced at some newspapers. Three days ago, JFK was here in Chicago with Mayor Daley, dedicating a plaque at O’Hare. It seemed the world was as young as she was today. They just opened the new rotunda at the airport, and a picture showed international jet-setters eating lobster in a fancy restaurant there.
When Randall’s alarm rang, Francie jumped up to dress. As she slipped the uniform over her head, she noticed fresh bruises on her upper arms. She stared at them a moment, until she heard Randall bark from the hallway, “Francie? Coffee!” She smoothed the dress over her hips. He barked again, “Francie? I’d kill for coffee!” She tugged the hem of her dress, wishing it were not so short. Then she stepped out into the hallway to face him.
She didn’t speak. She didn’t smile. She didn’t look him in the eye.
He stopped her as she tried to brush past him to leave. He craned his neck and reached a hand behind her head to pull her face close enough to kiss her. Then, he turned her toward the kitchen, swatted her fanny, and said, “Coffee, Kitten! You forget how to find the kitchen again?”
That’s when she knew this was the day she’d be leaving Randall. She’d go home, pack a bag, call work to quit, and fly out of O’Hare International Airport. Maybe she’d eat a lobster dinner first.
In this plan, she’d never see Randall again.
Yet here he stands, tapping his toe.
There is no security in airports in 1963. Anyone can go to a gate. In fact, anyone can use a plane ticket to board a plane. No one checks ID. Randall could fly to New York with her, if he wanted to be a jerk.
Francie focuses on the tip of her own scuffed shoe. It would do some damage, if she kicked him hard enough.
Then Randall drops to one knee. This is very unexpected.
Francie raises her face to simply say, “No,” before he has a chance to speak.
Then she laughs, because this whole thing is preposterous. The nuns are watching Randall, and Francie thinks she must look like the shy love interest in a triumphant movie starring him.
Randall must also be conscious of his audience, because he speaks to the nuns, not Francie, when he says, “I’m going to marry her.”
It’s a novel thought to see that she had a chance to marry this man. She knows she will never marry, but she didn’t know she’d ever been asked. For a scary second, she imagines the calamity her life would be if she changed the future by saying yes.
She addresses the nuns to say, “I’d sooner marry Lucifer.”
That brings the man to his feet.
“Francie Phipps, do you know what I’ve been through to find you?” It’s not a question. It’s an accusation. “I went to the diner for lunch. Wendell told me you quit. I went to your place on Wells. God, it’s awful. The super told me you turned in your key. I called your Mom. She had no idea you were moving. I went back to the diner, and I finally got Anita to tell me that you had this cockamamie plan. What do you think you’re going to do in New York? They’ll eat you alive in that city.”
Of course, Francie knows exactly what she will do in New York City. By this time next year, she’ll be a stringer doing crime photographs for the New York Daily News.
When she doesn’t immediately answer him, Randall loses patience. There’s anger in his voice when he says, “Doesn’t it mean anything to you that I’m willing to marry you?”
He apparently intends to bludgeon her with questions that aren’t questions.
The nuns are staring at Francie now. They look concerned.
She tells them, “I’m not pregnant. I won’t get caught pregnant until I’m 29.”
“You’re so peculiar,” he says.
It occurs to Francie that she could change his life. She tells him something that she remembers reading on facebook one day in November 2012. “You will die unloved, Randall. Your daughter will post something like, ‘The old man croaked. He’s bankrupt. If he owes you money, forget it.’”
The nuns turn to one another now, leaning away from Francie. One whispers something that might be a prayer, or it might be a complaint. All Francie hears is, “Dear God.”
Randall is simply shaking his head.
Francie says, “But you could change. Try a nickname. Maybe Randy. Part your hair on the other side. Oh, and here’s a thought. Stop pushing women around. We don’t like it.”
Randall raises a hand, as though he might slap her, but he stops himself. Francie can see the wheels turning behind his eyes. He puts his hands in his pockets, and he grins at her. He says, “I can forgive anything, Francie. Just stay.”
They have started boarding the flight. The nuns hesitate before getting up to go. One of them pats Francie’s shoulder as they leave her.
When Francie stands up, she’s nearly nose-to-nose with Randall.
He says, “Francie, I love you.”
She says, “Back off.”
When he doesn’t do it, she kicks his shin, not forcefully, not the way she’d like to kick him, just a tap, enough to make a point.
His hands fly out of his pockets, but again, he stops himself. He steps back.
Francie smiles now, as she leaves him. “Goodbye, Randy,” she says.
He’s red in the face, but he remains silent. He looks confused.
Randall’s last view of her will be her fanny in a pencil skirt, sashaying away in spike heels. This amuses her no end. Even so, she knows he will never realize that she’s the actual star of this movie. Maybe the nuns will get it, though, when Francie boards the plane.