Bloody Fabulous: Stories of Fantasy and Fashion

Page 10


“You should have been a fashion designer, Colleen,” says my friend Linda, whenever we work together. “You spend every flight obsessing about men’s clothes.”
Not true. During short hauls, we’re too busy to do much other than solve problems and serve drinks. Being an air hostess is sometimes no more glamorous than being a barmaid back home in Dublin. On long hauls over the Atlantic, however, hours of boredom may lead to speculation, fantasizing, and envy. Sometimes I’ll compliment a passenger, flatter his taste, and pick up the names of exclusive tailors in Paris, London, or Milan. I tell them the information is for my boyfriend—as if I had one, or that he could ever get buzzed past the front door, but that’s not really the point.
Meanwhile I spend every flight in a white polyester blouse, green polyester jacket and green polyester slacks. All that green makes me look airsick. The only reason I work for this airline is that all the others in the European Union make female attendants wear skirts, and I won’t.
“Auntie Colleen doesn’t like frills,” is how my sister explains it.
No frills, no lace, no perfume, no fancy haircuts; just me, with my short dark hair and absolutely minimum makeup (stupid regulations) and the lowest heels I can get away with. Transcontinental flights are hard on the body enough without shoes that pinch your toes or heels.
Like tonight, for instance. We’re thirty thousand miles over the ocean and four hours from Boston. Most of my First Class passengers are asleep but 5B keeps ringing his bell: another soda water please, a ballpoint pen please, do I have another pillow? If I have to get up one more time—
The plane bounces on turbulence. Pain cramps through my uterus. I grab the edges of my folding seat and bow over a little.
“Are you okay?” Linda asks.
“Fine,” I lie. “It’s that time of the month.”
In the lavatory, I try to will the pain away. But you can’t deny Sorrow when she comes riding on the winds with her red eyes weeping. Someone on this plane is about to die or lose a loved one. Maybe 3A, immaculate in pinstripe Yves St. Laurent, will suffer a stroke. Maybe 5B will meet his fate in traffic, regardless of his H. Huntsman tweed sports coat. Maybe Sorrow is coming for the woman in Economy who tried to sneak herself past the curtain to the first class lavatory, or for the American soldier a few rows behind her.
Another cramp cuts through me. Sorrow swirls around the fuselage, snakes writhing in her hair. Her tears rattle the hull like hail. We bounce again. The fasten seatbelt indicator chimes and lights up.
I begin to sing a lament. A soft, lilting tune meant to soothe Sorrow. Sleeping passengers might hear it in their dreams, but most won’t notice a single note. Not unless they carry the blood of the Great Houses. She’s coming for one of them or one of their kin.
Hunched over on the toilet lid, I sing and sing.
I’m twenty-four years old and I’m a banshee. Unlicensed, unsanctioned. Illegal.
Luckily no one on this flight is likely to report me to the Queen of the Fairies for a code violation.
When Sorrow departs and I step back outside, Linda’s flipping through the pages of a magazine. The first class passengers are all asleep or absorbed in their computers. I peek past the curtain to Economy, and most of them are dozing as well.
The American soldier is awake, though. He’s a muscled fellow with a square jaw and short dark hair. He’s gripping the aisle armrest as if he wants to rip it off, and his gaze is fixed out the window at the wing. Later, when I’m in the jetway and passengers are disembarking, I can see the nametag sewn on his jacket: O’Neill. One of the greatest houses in all of Irish history.
Chances are, I was singing for him. But he’ll never know, and our paths will never cross again. Small shame, that. He’s handsome indeed, and he wears his uniform well: steel-tipped boots, a well-fitted top, a cap snug on his head. A girl like me could use an outfit like that. Maybe it’s not too late for me to join the army.
A week later, I’m sleeping off a late flight in my tiny apartment in Dublin when my phone buzzes: See Maeve.
Two simple words, but better than an entire pot of coffee for waking me up. After a hot shower, I pull on a blue and gray sweater vest and pressed trousers and waterproof boots. November in Dublin’s not a kind season, so I add a gray trenchcoat as well.
“Still you dress like a boy,” says Loman when I let myself into the office not far from O’Connell Bridge.
“And still you sound like a tea kettle crawled up your sinuses,” I retort. Loman’s a leprechaun, but you wouldn’t know it unless you had the Sight. Otherwise he’s just another short man with a prim mustache and poor taste in off-the-rack suits.
“And your so very pleasant disposition, also unchanged,” he sniffs. “Don’t drip on the carpet.”
The office resembles a tiny accounting firm stranded in time, with typewriters and carbon paper and a rotary phone. The faded newspapers on the table still talk about the Troubles. But it’s not as if someone’s likely to stumble by and notice; you have to have fey blood in you just to find the front door. Maeve’s inner office is barely big enough for a desk, a filing cabinet, and a window that overlooks the Liffey River.
And for Maeve herself, six feet and six inches tall, with fiery red hair and bright white teeth. She looks my age, but she’s looked that way since I was a little girl squirming on my mother’s knee. I ignore women’s fashion as much as possible but let’s just say that A-line skirt doesn’t flatter her hips at all.
“Colleen,” she says, and invites me into a hug.
Keep in mind that she’s not human, our Maeve. Hugging her is like trying to wrap your arms around an enormous oak, something rough and ancient and thrumming with life. You have to be careful not to scrape your skin on the bark. When we sit down, divided by her messy desk, I feel like she squeezed a year or two out of my life.
But she wouldn’t do that without a warning. Usually.
“How’s Air Killarney these days?” she asks. “Still serving the cheap whiskey?”
“Surely you’ve never been on a plane in your life, móraí,” I reply, using the Gaelic word for grandmother.
Her eyes twinkle even though her mouth frowns. “But I hear stories, child. In particular, I hear a story that someone was singing a lament for the House O’Neill on Air Killarney flight 112 just a week ago.”
“I don’t know how you could possibly hear such a thing,” I reply.
She pushes a piece of paper across the desk. It’s a printout from Craigslist Dublin, in the “Missed Connections” section:
AK112 November 14 I heard a banshee sing. When we landed I found out my father had died. I know what I heard. Must talk to you. Please contact.
Beneath it was a phone number and email address for someone named John O’Neill.
“No one believes in banshees these days,” I say, pushing the paper back. “He’s just going to get crank calls and nasty messages.”
Maeve folds her hands primly. “You sang. You know you’re not supposed to and you did it anyway.”
It’s too hot in this little office, and too quiet. The loudest sound is the hissing of the steam radiator. Loman’s probably pressed up to the door, eavesdropping on every word. I don’t fidget, though, and I don’t flinch. No matter how much I want to.
“No one can deny Sorrow, and you’d never ask me to,” I tell her. “Turn your back on the wind and you’re turning your back on shamrocks and potatoes and turf fires.”
“Could you possibly be more cliché?” she chides.
“But it’s the truth! Sorrow calls and we answer.”
“Officially licensed banshees answer,” Maeve says, her face gone steely. “In specific places and times. Don’t you remember anything from your studies? ‘Banshees may answer the call of Sorrow in forests, vales, crossroads, fields, bogs, marshes, and winding roads.’ Not in a Boeing 747 zooming over the Atlantic Ocean!”
To be accurate, Air Killarney’s long haul planes are all Airbus 330s. I don’t think she cares.
Maeve sits back. “You’ve put us in a very awkward position.”
“What position? We just ignore him.”
“No banshee can ignore a summoning by an O’Neill,” she replies. “It’s in the oldest codes.”
The phone rings in the outer office. The Great War of 1839 severely diminished the fairy race but their descendants, now bound by bureaucracy and regulations, still squabble. Queen Maeve is the one to call on to solve problems, arbitrate disagreements, and keep the peace. She also tracks down fairy folk who’ve gone missing or silent, and tries to keep our existence as secret as possible.
I tell her, “No officially approved banshee can ignore a summoning by an O’Neill. I’m not licensed, therefore I’m not required. Send Monnie. She’ll do it.”
“Your sister can’t go jaunting off to America to solve a problem you created,” she replies.
“Someone else, then,” I say. “Someone who’s licensed.”