My mother believed in its power to perform miracles, win us the lottery, and ward off the devil. And, of course, honor the Virgin Mary. As a young child, the beads fascinated me from day one. Maybe because I marveled at her moving lips every night while her fingers blindly gaged each bead. Those round iridescent stones encircling her fingers. I wanted them. I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom and open my mom’s nightstand drawer, taking out the round white mother of pearl case and the rosary inside it. From one hand to another, I would pass it between my fingers and watch the aurora borealis beads sparkle.
* * *
My German airline had cancelled my scheduled flight to Vienna and I was rerouted to a low-cost airline owned by a retired race car driver. This did not make me feel any better. I hate flying. My Italian friend, who saw me off to Ciampino Airport in Rome, tried to calm my nerves. Non preoccupati, not to worry, she kept on saying while I washed down a Xanax with Pellegrino.
I tried to distract myself boarding the flight, looking for a kind face to ask about the airline’s track record, since we were already running on a two hour delay. But everyone was preoccupied with messaging friends and relatives. I even joked with my neighbors in 32 E and F that I hoped we had a pilot and not a Formula One driver at the wheel. They were Austrian, so it was a bad joke.
I settled back into my faux-leather seat before take-off, having my usual flying paraphernalia in easy reach: romance novel, nose drops, pills, inflatable neck pillow, and my mother’s rosary.
We were soon over the Alps and when the plane jolted and cranked, I just blamed it on wind currents, having remembered Pilot Jim’s advice from my online Fear of Flying course. “Turbulence is normal, like hitting potholes on the BQE.” Pilot Jim had obviously flown out of Laguardia.
But when the plane had made a complete turn on its side after a minute or two of turbulence, I panicked. Plastic cups, filled with drinks, shot into the aisles and pretzel bags flew like frisbees across the cabin. A wailing wall of prayers, obscenities, screams, resonated in our cabin in French, Italian, German and English.
There was no announcement by the pilot, just the seatbelt signs glaring above us. Was there even a pilot, I wondered, while popping an additional half of Xanax.
And then I remembered – my mother’s rosary nestled in the front pocket of my backpack. I utilized my advanced yoga skills and whipped up the backpack with my feet, quickly retrieving the rosary. Tethered to the sweaty palms of my hand, I tried to remember the prayers my mother had mumbled to herself every night before going to sleep. Was it the Our Father for starters? Jesus, why didn’t I pay attention?
“Che cazzo e?” a bulky Italian guy behind me screamed out. The overhead compartment had flung open with his duffle bag tumbling into the aisle. I tried to get his bag by leaning over my aisle seat and the rosary dropped from my hand to the floor. I looked below my seat to retrieve it, but only saw part of it. Somehow, it had broken apart during the fall. I managed to pick up what remained, figuring that I would get the rest when we landed – if we landed.
The Austrian woman next to me had crouched over, burying her head deep in her lap. I was savoring my last minutes of conscious mindfulness by reciting ancient prayers stored away for decades in my lapsed Catholic attic. Asking forgiveness for leaving the Church and God, as a result of Sister Angelica scrubbing my make-up off with a Brillo pad in my high school bathroom.
The plane plunged again. I held onto the broken rosary. The beads dug into the palms of my hand making a slight stigmata.
“Eclair, eclair!” It was the French guy across the aisle yelling out. An idiot, I thought, wanting to eat an eclair at a moment like this. Then I remembered that the French word for lightning was eclair. He was pointing to the window.
Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. I hit the pray list all speedy Gonzales, touching each of the seven beads, seven times over.
Then a miracle.
The plane rattled less and leveled out to its preferred horizontal position. I undid my seatbelt and quickly looked for the rest of the rosary under my seat, but couldn’t find them. I decided to re-belt and wait it out until the plane landed. I turned to the French eclair man.
“What was that?” I asked, my hands still shaking.
“Very bad storm.… are you okay?”
“Yes, okay now. Thank you.”
I tapped my neighbor’s shoulder.
She looked up and said something in German.
“We’re fine, it’s over. Look, there’s Vienna.” I pointed out the window, to the grey, stormy skies and the airport runway.
I had almost forgotten, the broken rosary. I turned my head and asked the Italian guy behind me if he’d found part of a rosary.
“Non ti ha dato, lei?” She didn’t give it back to you?
While the plane was in a tailspin, part of the rosary had rolled back behind my seat to his feet and he’d thought it best to hand them to a flight attendant who was passing by.
“Oh, I thought when he gave them to me that they were from the last flight, so I threw them in the refuse.” She answered when I asked her for the rosary at the exit.
Refuse? What the hell was she talking about? Yes, I remembered. It was European for garbage.
“Can you please look for them? They were my mom’s rosary beads.”
She half-smiled. “Oh, I can’t possibly go through the bin.”
I pictured the shimmering beads, my mother’s rosary, lying at the bottom of the airplane’s bin. Wrapped in half eaten sandwiches, pretzel wrappers, bound for some dumpsite on the outskirts of Vienna.
Near the luggage carousel, I caught the eye of the burly Italian guy and his girlfriend who sat behind me. I told them what the flight attendant had done with my mother’s rosary beads. I might as well have told him that Lazio, Rome’s soccer club, was knocked out of Series A.
“Ma che stronza!” What an asshole! He shook his head.
His girlfriend took my arm, and in English said, “but you see, the rosary breaking, that can be someone thinking about you. They say when we lose something it’s an angel who has taken it.”
What can I say? I love Italians.
“Maybe the flight attendant didn’t know they were rosary beads.” Her boyfriend chimed in, shrugging his shoulders as if to say, let it pass.
He was right. No one could have known that a wayward strand of round, sparkling beads could have been part of a bigger story. The story of a woman’s utter devotion, a child’s longing, six Our Fathers, fifty Hail Marys. And one big miracle.
About the Author: Joanne DeMieri Kennedy is a writer living in Montclair, New Jersey by way of Brooklyn. She has co-produced and written several documentaries for US independent production houses and for German television. Her short story, “Al Capone at the Diner,” will be published in an anthology by Hippocampus Books in fall 2019. Besides getting her two novels published, her interests include: traveling solo, Zion National Park, and eating franks at Gray’s Papaya in NYC. She dreams of living in Umbria one day in the town of Spello (after her novels are published).