A novel about a woman who is determined to pursue her dreams despite the expected and unexpected obstacles can be inspiring. Then bring forth a protagonist like Misha Gaffney – headstrong, emotional, intelligent and caring – and the reader is likely to pull for her through setbacks from sexism, physical danger and just plain nastiness. Add romantic interest and exotic settings and the story becomes even more appealing. “The Watering Hole” is a story of a woman who loves to be around airplanes – “nourished by the smell of jet fuel” – and who advances from a lowly job with an international airline to become one of their first female management trainees, a process that puts her through vindictive military-like training and field experience in some of the foreign airports seemingly selected for their slovenliness.
Misha’s story moves from New York, where she has just split from a cold marriage, through London, Bombay, Nairobi, Sri Lanka, Johannesburg and even Alaska. She deeply loves her new friend and co-worker Theo Harcourt, and the revelation that he is gay does not diminish her feelings. They are emotionally dependant even as they are half a world apart. Their warm letters punctuate the novel and Theo is often catching up with Misha from London to Nairobi. In one harrowing chapter they nearly drive an auto through the back country of Kenya and into a state of near-demolition in the company of two spear-carrying Masai hitchhikers.
But as Misha starts up the corporate ladder of the fictional Air England she also finds her personal life increasingly tormented.
“Anna grinned. ‘And we’re going to need the third bedroom,’ she said. ‘We’ve been approved for an adoption of two little girls – twins actually! Ivy and Pearl!’
Again, words burst around Misha in a screech of sound that hurt her ears. Leaving? They were leaving London? She couldn’t believe what she was hearing – from any of them. Theo moving to Florida – with Dale – and the girls leaving for Tucson, Arizona, for God’s sake.
She would have no one. She wanted to say this, but she couldn’t speak; her throat was blocked by an anger beyond logic or expression.”
— from “The Watering Hole”
Eventually, Misha will have to choose between the career she craves and the needs of man she has come to love like a brother.
“The Watering Hole” is the work of Beth H. Evans and Elayne C. Nicholas, two authors who guide the story like a skilled pilot and co-pilot (though who has written which portion isn’t obvious). Both women live in Ithaca. Beth is a graduate of Wells College with a degree in writing, Elayne has a worldwide background in airline management and is now director of special gifts at Ithaca College. They continue to write poetry, plays, fiction and non-fiction, both individually and collaboratively.
Evans and Nicholas join Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to tell about their literary partnership, the decade’s work they put into “The Watering Hole”, and behind-the-scenes life in the airline industry.