Penny Sanders was voted “Most Eager Girl” in Whitmer High School on Toledo. She had joined so many clubs, had been first alto sax in both the school orchestra and the marching band, had been a cheerleader and on the student council every year, and was the head of the yearbook committee, the newspaper, and the prom decorating team. Cotillions, parade floats, holiday displays, and the school landscaping project all depended on Penny’s presence, opinions, and hands-on labor. She was so busy with all of her activities that there was never any time to really date boys… or even interact with them other than on committees over donuts and hot chocolate… and perhaps that had been convenient.
Though sweetly pretty in a wholesome way, she never could (nor would want to!) compete with her friend Giselle Pomerou. Giselle was tall, blonde, and extremely curvaceous, “like a movie star” Penny would always brag to her friends. When she entered a room, all eyes would go right to her; some with envy, some with admiration, and some with open desire, even lurid longing, poorly disguised. Giselle was the true meaning of “statuesque” and so stylish too; she could wear the simplest cocoa brown knit dress and again look “like a movie star”. Penny would study Giselle’s clothes carefully… was it the bias cut and the “hand” of the fabric, the scoop neckline and casually rolled up sleeves, the fit and flair silhouette, or the hemline, just low enough to brush her perfect knees but high enough to let them peek as she walked down the aisle at graduation. It was a simple brown dress (with a Peter Pan collar no-less!) and now here she was wearing that same dress again five years later as she walked down the aisle to first-class while she and Penny took a reunion flight to Paris. If anything, Giselle had grown into a breathtaking beauty over the interval since high school and then college, co-majoring in fashion design and journalism. And here she was with her old pal, Penny, who had co-majored in political science and journalism, and even fit a masters degree in the few years too. They had kept in touch, and decided that they should take a vacation together and splurge!…what better spot than Paris, and in the Spring. They both had “connections” and could see the new couture collections and even afford to go shopping… within reason.
When they met at the Idlewild airport with their luggage, Giselle from Chicago with her Louis Vuitton and Penny from Greenwich Village with her grandmother’s hand-me-down American Tourister, the joyous hugs and shrieks of delight echoed through the waiting area of gate 14 for Panam flight 108. Both girls had been to Paris before, but separately, and under different circumstances. And once Giselle had stepped back to give Penny a good look up and down, she shook her head sadly but smiling. “Oh, Penny! That dress! That collar! Darling, we have GOT to buy you some new clothes when we get to Paris! Good Heavens, you’re out of school now! You’ve got to dress for your success! And you ARE a success now!”
Penny blushed deeply, and was mortified, but when she looked at herself in the reflection of one of the windows, she saw as if for the first time how awkward she was… and how awkward she had probably always been. Her black dress was rendered ridiculous by that oversized collar, pointed white triangles accented by chrome yellow trim nearly as wide as her shoulders and framing her face like a clown. Even though the fit was perfect over her still petite figure, she looked like a clown! A CLOWN!..and all she could see was that ridiculous collar and her face floating in the middle of it like a circus poster. Giselle could see the hurt in her eyes and quickly took her back into her arms with a hearty laugh and a reassuring squeeze. “Don’t despair, Penny, my girl! We’ll come back to New York with you looking like a magazine cover!”, and somehow, Penny knew Giselle could do it too.
And now, here they were, sitting in luxurious first class; Giselle, stylish as a magazine cover in her five year old brown knit and Penny in her clown-dress that she had just bought two days before for this special occasion…ah well. The girls talked and talked, sharing stories that they had only hinted at in long distance phone conversations (too expensive and only on holidays!) or in letters (originally weekly, but increasingly inconvenient, and finally only sporadic!). They laughed and cried and laughed again while crying as they flew high over the Atlantic into the evening sky. Dinner was served, and, being first class on Panam, the food was delectable. As course after course was offered, they both chuckled at what all those calories might do to their girlish figures. But then there was another round of compliments; to Giselle on her stellar finesse and statuesque beauty, and to Penny on her petite figure, sharp and compact like a sparrow.
It was at that exact moment when the strange thing happened. Penny was holding up her hands noting how tiny they were. She could wear her grandmother’s rings with no problem at all… and she happened to look over at the stewardess as she served the coffee and French pastries. She was handling the cups and saucers, the plates and silverware so gracefully… but her hands! HER HANDS! They were… huge! And huge like a man’s hands! “Look at them”, she thought. “Giselle! LOOK AT THE STEWARDESS’ HANDS!”… she was almost frightened! NO! She WAS frightened. TERRIFIED! The hands were not only big and masculine. They were rough and weathered and… wrong. Bad hands. Hands that might do bad things. But Penny had been raised to have good manners. It would be so impolite to say anything…even to whisper it to Giselle when the stewardess had passed. Penny was never rude. Ever. But she raked her eyes up and down the stewardess’ perfect hair and make-up, her lovely smiling face, her perfectly tailored uniform and cap, and her gorgeous figure and those long glorious legs. But the hands! She couldn’t hear the words coming out of that smiling face offering her cream and sugar, the Napoleon or the éclair. All the words were rumbling echoes, and she thought she might faint… or be sick, or both. “My manners”, she thought. “My manners! Am I staring? I shouldn’t stare because that’s not polite!” Finally she smiled wanly and mumbled a thank-you for what ever the last choice she had been offered. Giselle looked over, puzzled but smiling, and chuckled a simple tossed-off apology to the stewardess saying that Penny wasn’t used to flying and was a little disoriented. Both of the women chatted and laughed, again undecipherable to Penny in the echoing roar and rumble, and, as Giselle reached for her own coffee… the hands! NO! THE HANDS!... huge and horrifying… even more terrifying than before!… And they were GISELLE’S HANDS! Giselle had man-hands too! Bad, man’s hands! That might do anything… and maybe HAD!... What was happening? What was happening?!?... “But it’s not polite to scream! I mustn’t scream!”…
…and it was at that point that Penny, poor sweet, sparrow-like Penny Sanders looked down the aisle of her Paris-bound Panam jet, and saw the handsome man, clean-cut and smoking his cigarette, his perfect suit over his knife-slim figure, calmly talking about her, and the plane, and the fact that it wouldn’t be going to Paris after all. That it was never going to Paris to begin with… that it was going to a place… called… the Twilight Zone.
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