Life is a Purse


Sitting in an airport holding pen, I look up, disoriented. Have I missed my flight? As panic rises, the thinking part of my brain rouses. Reluctantly. Sluggishly. My watch is still on Vancouver time from a trip a few weeks ago. It’s 6:10 where I am. Whew.

But, once roused, my snippy internal monitor is not content with merely correcting my mistake, or with alleviating my (mis)apprehension. What’s that she’s saying? That if the watch showed the correct time, I’d be early for my flight, not late?

Thanks for that. Given that the 6:10 in question is the oh-dark-hundred kind, not the glass-of-wine kind, and that I’ve been up since oh-4:30, I’ll cut myself some slack for slow thought processes.

As I return the rarely used watch to the outside pocket of my Walmart black-cotton purse — I spare no presentation effort — my breathing returns to normal. It will be a while before the adrenaline surge works its way through my system.

Waiting to board the 7:00 flight for a business day trip to Toronto, I have idly begun a task that should suit my currently diminished mental capacity — sorting through my purse to see what’s there. The wristwatch was not an auspicious beginning, but I soldier on.


This yellow mini-stickie is my grocery list from earlier in the week, speaking of the ease of communicating with self and the difficulty of communicating with anyone else at all. No one else could produce my desired results from this note. Even apart from the cryptic abbreviation for English muffins, I consider what it doesn’t say. The carrots: peeled and bagged, just bagged, or loose? The chicken: whole, piece-parts (breasts or thighs?), or cooked and seasoned strips? The ham: steak, roast, or deli slices? The salmon: canned or fresh (farmed or wild? steak or filet?)? Not to mention the quantities of all of these things.

But I’m going too deep for this review. Pull up, pull up. What’s next?

An American penny and a dime, speaking of the last trip south of the border with the Big Guy.

A crumpled receipt for $2.52 from the Canada Post outlet at the neighbourhood Shoppers Drug Mart, speaking of a large envelope of stickers and a small grandson across the country.

Six black Pilot Fineliners, speaking of an apparently inherited predilection for felt-tip writing implements. I am momentarily distracted from my appointed course — Six? Are they breeding in there? — until I steel my resolve and carry on.

A folded, ragged, but clean kleenex — no, not a Kleenex® but a no-name facial tissue — speaking of contingencies that never materialized, of snot that never happened.

One decongestant tablet in a nearly impossible-to-pop bubble-pack package with sharp edges (the better to stab me with from the dark bowels of my Walmart black-cotton purse) and an extra layer of paper almost impossible to peel off, which disobliging packaging — designed to discourage those who would illegally create methamphetamine from the decongestant’s pseudoephedrine active ingredient — has, instead, encouraged me more than once to fling it across the room while trying to self-medicate quickly for a migraine (quickly!) in an off-label use that my current pharmacist clearly does not believe in but that my former neurologist found completely reasonable, big breath here, speaking of how one never knows what will come to be seen as an indispensable, albeit sharp-edged, travelling companion. Because speaking of the health care system, illicit drug use, or organized crime is too deep, too deep.

One purse-sized container of Life® extra-strength acetaminophen red-coated pills to take with the decongestant, its store-branded label worn worrisomely thin over several years of use and numerous refills from the humungous bulk-buy container sitting on my medication shelf, speaking of how my cheapness trumps my mild phobia about triggering suspicion at airport and border security checks, but does not quiet it.

Prescription sunglasses in a hard, black-plastic case, irritatingly obscure in the dark bowels of my Walmart black-cotton purse, speaking of inertia in correcting the readily correctable little irritations of life.

The stub of a two-year-old bronze lipstick, speaking of how I spare no presentation effort or, perhaps, of how “I spare no presentation effort” can mean such different things to different people.

And, at the very bottom, crumbs from unidentifiable snacks, speaking of a life-long sparring match that I think the snacks are winning.

Wah wah wah

The low-fidelity announcement system erupts with something unclear, but that might be my row number. I close my Walmart black-cotton purse, sling it and my 50-pound laptop bag over my shoulder, and stand up.

You should clean that out. You might find Jimmy Hoffa.

The remembered voice of an old friend, speaking to his mother of her famously large purse, is clearer in my head than the boarding instructions assailing my ears. As I shuffle forward in the queue at the airport gate I reflect that, although I didn’t find a notorious dead guy, I did catch a glimpse of my life. Of my self.



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10 Responses to Life is a Purse

  1. Ralph Gibson says:


  2. A glimpse of yourself, as have we; an endearing insight that extends similar vibes for the owner of similarly revealing purses with unaccountable collections of fine-tipped writing instruments.

    Glad to know you’re back.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Yes, I have no idea where the pens come from. Or, for that matter, where they all go to on those odd days when I reach for one and none is to hand, not even in the bowels of the purse. I believe this was the subject of a 1960’s sci-fi (and when did that become syfy?!?) story – something about paperclips morphing into coat hangers and taking over the world. I guess odder things have happened.

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    A decongestant that cures migraines? My wife Joan gets migraines too, so could you share the name of the (possibly) miracle medication? By the way, that was a magnificent sentence…..


    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – The name has changed as the restrictions on pseudoephedrine have tightened. I used to buy it over the counter as Sudafed (non-drowsy) without any added pain medication. Now I can only get it bonded with acetaminophen – it’s sold under different trade names, but Shoppers Drug Mart has a version in its Life brand. Since it is a decongestant, I thought for years that I was having sinus headaches until an obnoxious ear, nose, and throat specialist actually looked at my sinuses (about which, the less said the better) and said, clearly, No. But the neurologist claimed me as one of his own . . . So I don’t know why it works for me, but it does – even when the headache is one of those with visual disturbances. If it helps Joan, that’s great. I guess the prescribed migraine meds can be nasty. I also heard this week of a Botox injection for migraine treatment whose efficacy increases with repetition.

  4. For one of my books, I asked 20 people what they thought Queen Elizabeth II carried in her purse, for it looks rather empty. Among the answers: mints, her glasses, London A-Z… was this, my favourite: “Anything she wants.”
    Same goes for you, Isabel. We are all the Queen of our purses, so there!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Yes, it’s good to be Queen. Maybe She carries sci-fi/syfy novels about with Her, or a point-&-shoot camera, or a spiral notebook to write down any ideas for Her next book. Or was that the occasional contents of my purse? But – as you say – whatever we want.

  5. Ted Spencer says:

    For years, I’ve carried a purse. Its contents, with minor variations on the theme, mirror yours. Being of the male persuasion – and a broad-minded example of the type – I ALWAYS refer to it as ‘my purse’ even though you might be forgiven for seeing a floppy black two-strap-over-the-shoulders knapsack. It always seemed dreadfully unfair that we lads couldn’t carry a purse, and be able to astonish the audience by producing the flotsam and jetsam of life that inevitably hides at the bottom: folding corkscrew, iPod/Pad/Phone charger, Tums, razor & cream, deodorant, spare knickers, clean t-shirt, dead pens, laptop, two whodunnits… My kids used to be terrified I’d refer to it with the ‘P’ word in front of their friends; now they’re vaguely amused that the aging, post-modern geezer still seems fixed upon proving his point. It is, I think, one’s duty to amuse one’s Heirs and Successors.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ted – It’s a sign of maturity, I think, when kids move past being embarrassed/horrified by their parents to merely being amused by them. It may be too much to expect that they come to the point of adopting their purses/knapsacks, literal and otherwise. And on a side note, you have checked it recently for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa, yes? Speaking of embarrassing – imagine trying to explain that at airport security.

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