Alice had never expected to be on national television, let alone hugging her own daughter in the middle of LAX airport. As the cameras circled their embrace, Alice became suddenly very self-conscious of the brown food stains on the sleeve of her sweater, which had overtime multiplied and settled into the patterned, sagging wool like a sky of ugly constellations.
Later, when she admitted her concern, the cameraman, who looked no older than eighteen, told her that was why Photoshop was invented. “We might even film it again. The producer might want you to cry. I’m not sure yet.”
“I don’t think I can cry on command.”
The cameraman shrugged, clearly already checked out of the conversation. “Then we’ll just get an actor to play her mom.”
“But I’m her mother.”
He rolled his eyes, exasperated. “No shit.” This was clearly his least favorite part of show business.
It was more than just the stains, however. It wasn’t only the stains, however, it was everything. After the divorce, Alice had developed an impressive reliance on Marie Callender’s chicken pot pies and Double Stuffed Oreos, vices she hadn’t indulged in since high school, yet were now stacked high in her refrigerator and cabinets like castles in a kingdom. Here she was, pushing fifty, stabbing soft, salty peas with a plastic fork, the glare of Grey’s Anatomy reruns reflecting onto her wrinkled face and exposing her in the living room darkness. She had gained thirty six pounds since March. She didn’t find out the exact tally until her annual check-up last week, but she knew she was expanding, mostly because of the lingering stares and even occasional smirks from coworkers and book club friends. One night, Alice saw a weight loss commercial on TV, where a young, attractive woman in a tight red dress strutted down a sidewalk, causing every man she passed to turn and look at her, many of them falling into puddles or bumping into mailboxes as a result. She didn’t envy the woman, but rather related to her, even though Alice hadn’t put on a tight red dress in nearly twenty years. She wondered, with great concern, if there was ever a way to not be stared at.
In addition to her weight gain, the outfit she had chosen for the four-hour flight, much like the uniform she slipped into every evening after work, valued comfort over national television aesthetic. Even though her daughter had reminded her numerous times that there would be cameras at the airport, Alice’s disbelief still lingered, perhaps stemming from her general denial of the course life had taken recently, and she had put on her grey sweatpants and oversized yellow t-shirt that morning with unwavering conviction.
When Wendy had first called to tell her the name of the reality singing show that she would be a finalist on, Alice recognized it immediately. Not only did she recognize it, but she had been watching it weekly, an essential staple of her television watching schedule. She thought the female judge was annoying and probably an alcoholic, but she found the male judges to be funny, and the British one sort of cute. Plus, she liked learning about the contestants’ personal lives, even though some of it was probably made up or exaggerated for ratings. It was comforting for once, to become invested in others without consequence, to care for them from a distance, so as not to run the risk of failure.
Wendy had always been private and fiercely independent, but Alice couldn’t help but feel betrayed by her daughter. Alice had never even known she had auditioned, and now Wendy mentioned being one of the fifteen finalists as if it were a new haircut. Alice would have liked to be there for the audition, she would have made signs and brought Wendy’s brother, if she had managed to take the day off from work, and the thought that that’s not what Wendy wanted was more than she could handle.
Had she not been the only girl in the airport surrounded by cameras, Alice was unsure if she would have recognized her daughter immediately. Wendy’s naturally curly hair was straightened, her make-up thick and glistening, and her purple, bedazzled blouse something she would have normally rolled her eyes at. Even the way she yelled “mom,” stretching out the “o” with rehearsed and inhibited grace, sounded eerily unfamiliar.
For the shot of the embrace, Alice’s orange and green checkered duffel bag was replaced with a black suitcase on wheels. “It’s distracting.” A PA informed her when he saw the confusion in her face, pushing the duffel to the side with his foot.