A Worse Seat Mate

Commissioned by Meggan Skrzypek, written from the prompt, “travel, pink, a dog.”

Judy Gumm yawns, her pink tongue curling out of her mouth, whining soft and high. Fiona unzips the front of her crate just a tad and pushes a pretzel through. It drops to the bottom of Judy Gumm’s crate and she sniffs it.

“It’s a pretzel,” Fiona says, “not poison.”

Judy Gumm is not convinced. She laps the pretzel into her mouth and drops it back on the floor.

The woman sitting next to Fiona on the plane looks down at Judy Gumm, then over at Fiona. “You shouldn’t give dogs human food.”

Fiona has to sit next to this woman for an hour. Telling her that what Judy Gumm eats is none of her business will not improve the situation.

“Do you have a dog?” Fiona asks.

“No.”

The flight attendant comes by and Fiona gets a ginger-ale. The woman asks for tomato juice and two little bottles of vodka. The flight attendant seems unconcerned, but Fiona is very concerned. It’s seven in the morning.

“Are you going on vacation?” the woman asks, pouring one of the vodkas and a splash of tomato juice into her glass. “It seems excessive to take your dog.”

The woman is dressed like someone that is difficult to ignore. Her shirt is bright red and low-cut, the eyeshadow caked on her lids is sparkly blue, her white hair is shiny and curled. Fiona looks down at Judy Gumm, who has finally decided to eat the pretzel.

“I’m moving,” Fiona explains. “New job. Judy Gumm is the last thing I have to move.”

“Judy Gumm?” the woman says. She plunges the stir stick into her drink and rattles the ice around. “What a ridiculous name for a dog.”

* * *

Caroline finds the girl next to her horribly boring. Her yoga pants, her ginger-ale, even her little dog. She can’t imagine a worse seat mate.

“I like The Wizard of Oz,” the girl says, defending her dog’s atrocious name.

“Well, you shouldn’t,” Caroline says. “They tortured that poor girl.”

The girl sighs and leans her head back on the seat, closing her eyes, as if she could avoid Caroline’s point by pretending to be asleep.

“You’re not very nice.”

Caroline thinks the girl has said it, but when she looks at her, she still has her eyes closed. Caroline hears the dog whine and she looks down. Judy Gumm is staring at her through the mesh of her crate, her tongue out and panting. Caroline supposes some people would find it cute, but all she can think of is the dog’s slobber.

“Will you be more pleasant after you drink that? Or are you always like this?”

The girl still has her eyes closed, Caroline looks around the cabin and no one is staring at her. Only the dog, with her pink little tongue and wet nose.

“I like my name. It makes me sound like a real person, don’t you think?”

The dog blinks at her. She raises her paw and hits the side of the crate.

“Seriously. Why don’t you like my name?”

“If I say it’s a fine name will you leave me alone?” Caroline asks.

“What?”

It really is the girl this time, her eyes open, looking at Caroline with her eyebrows raised.

“Your dog is rude,” Caroline informs her, turning towards the aisle, wishing she’d been upgraded to first class like she’d wanted.

* * *

Fiona isn’t sure why, but the woman turns away from her, picking up her drink and holding it close to her chest like she’s afraid it’ll be taken away. Judy Gumm is watching the woman too, peering up at her and panting. Fiona drops another pretzel into her crate and Judy Gumm catches it before it hits the floor.

“Oh, so now you like them?” Fiona asks. “I thought you were being picky.”

The woman glances back at Fiona, then down at the dog, her face scrunching inward with distaste before turning back towards the aisle. Fiona regrets splurging on the exit row.


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