Cynthia Lee Cartier
This is a work of fiction. The dreams, the challenges and the spirit are not. In writing this story, I was so inspired by the women that sojourned during this time. It is to these extraordinary pioneers that I dedicate this novel.
The natural function of the wing is to soar upwards and carry that which is heavy up to the place where dwells the race of gods. More than any other thing that pertains to the body, it partakes of the nature of the divine.
It was a pretty good day to die. The Jenny plunged toward the earth in a determined spin, and the grassed over farmland spun into a kaleidoscope of a thousand shades of green. A hundred more feet, and it was all over. The plane would be unable to rise after that. A gloved hand bickered with the vibration of the stick and gently coaxed it to the right. Slowly, the twirling of the metal bird, like a top falling out of its spin, uncoiled as it inched up toward the silky blue sky.
The pilot pressed back into the seat and pulled the stick between both thighs. A leather ear-flapped cap framed goggles that shielded the pilot’s eyes from the air that blasted into the open cockpit.
“Good girl, now let’s go again.”
Briefly brushing the blue, the nose of the plane passed up and over curling into a tight inside loop, and the engine screamed with its efforts.
The pilot’s delicate touch moved the stick back to center and trimmed the flight to a straight away.
“Hang on folks, here we come.”
Making a low pass over the crowd in the field below, the buzz sent a gust of wind that flapped at hats and hairdos. As had happened with every approach that neared the spectators that morning, the men, women and children unknowingly shuffled closer together. Moving in unison, they fluffed and scratched at the ground with their feet, like an anxious flock of hens waiting for their rooster—could he do the job?
From the pass over the spectators, the plane lit out over the multitude of cars, trucks and buses parked in the side field. A wave of air tracked behind and rushed in between the automobiles, lifting enough dust to blanket the vehicles as a reminder of the day. Circling back and around and then out into distant view, the pilot twisted through a finale with a series of snap rolls, loops and Cuban eights. Completely captivated, the crowd winced with each risk.
“Oooos” and “Ahhhs” floated like a chorus, building and falling with a hypnotic drone. Women held tight to the arms of their men and firmly gripped the hands of their children until the plane landed and bumped along the dirt strip worn out of the fallow farm field in front of them. A few hundred feet later the wheels settled into some ruts and it was done.
The daredevil sat on the edge of the cockpit and waved to the crowd who let out one communal sigh. Then the pilot slid down the skin of the plane and two feet hit solid ground. The crowds relief was chased by “Hoots” and “Atta’ boys” as they welcomed the pilot back to the land of the living with applause. Chatter grew as the pilot sauntered toward the crowd.
“It’s not natural, up there like that. Not me I tell you, not me ever,” pronounced a woman to her farmer husband.
Still looking out across the field, the farmer said with dazed awe, “Can’t say I’ve seen anything like it, you gotta give him his marks. That was somethin’, just somethin’!”
When in spitting distance, the aviator peeled off gloves, goggles and fly cap. Shoulder length, sandy brown locks tumbled off the pilot’s head and swung around her shoulders.
The crowd took the sigh they’d let out when the plane had landed safely and sucked it back in with a gasp, then passed confused glances between them questioning one another without words, Where’d the pilot go? How did that woman appear out of nowhere? Liddy loved this part almost as much as the flying—well, not almost, but she did enjoy it.
The farmer shot a look of shock to his wife and declared, “Now that there’s unnatural.”
The ovation died down and left disapproval and confusion to float among the crowd. But spots of reserved enthusiasm stilled bubbled up in quiet admiration, which came mostly from the young ladies and girls in the crowd. Lustful yearnings seethed from the pores of the young men. Liddy had an appeal that her collective parts, alone, may not have garnered. And then there’s that something that peaks the attention of the male species when the unknown entity of a female does a thing unexpected.
As was her custom, Liddy walked tall past the gathering, stopping here and there to sign autographs for the future she-pilots. Her crooked grin was full. The older men and women soon lost some of their distrust of the turn of events and they too were fighting the itch to know this anomaly. And an anomaly she was. Goggles left coon-like impressions on her earthy skin, and her hair was smashed and damp with sweat, yet she glowed as people glow that just did the exact thing they wanted to do.
Liddy Lynn Hall was taller than the average woman, or at least seemed to be. She didn’t give a bend to her stance but pushed the top of her head towards the sky she loved. Nothing weighted her down. It wasn’t that Liddy had sailed through her twenty-seven years without grief, but life hadn’t settled on her shoulders as it did on many women during tough times, and men for that matter. She was an accepter of ends, and she worked hard to push disappointment from any dwelling place in her thoughts.
Liddy’s amber eyes had a brown wash, the color of root beer, but light and clear. They were grabbers because they were glazed with luster and filled with adventure. Her hair was thick and flat on top and thinned and curled at the last four or five inches, no matter how long it grew. It was the color of earth that you might see in a newly plowed field or on a dark rock wet from the quenching of a brook. She had the toned body of a committed tomboy. A body that had just enough God-given shape to make the fit of her clothes travel in more than one direction as they dropped from neck to toe. But mostly, she was sure and content. That was what made up most of her look.
All in all nothing exceptional, together though, something that was indescribably interesting. An interest that drew people to Liddy once they knew her but might hold them at bay until then. Some came more quickly to her than others. Some not at all if she was gone before they crossed that bridge. The slower to come would usually be a certain kind of man or woman—the kind that is always afraid that someone might take something from them, and in that they miss so much of life.
To her credit, Liddy took this routine of surprise, disdain and confusion and made the best of it, never allowing a snide remark or disapproving glare to extinguish the joy of her calling. She continued her stride until she reached Daniel who was waiting in between two big sheets of shabby plywood. Both had been propped against old metal oil drums. The wood was lettered with the hand-brushing of brown, drippy paint: airplane show $1.00 a person and plane rides $5.00 each.
“It’s a pretty good day to die, Danny Boy. Go get ’em!” Liddy grabbed the young man’s face and kissed him big on the cheek.
“Please don’t say that, Liddy,” he pled softly.
“Alright, Ace, but it is a great day isn’t it, and what a way to go.”
Liddy had no boundaries in the sky. There she was stronger, she trusted and was free. Her time in the air erased the disappointments of life, and one moment held up by a wing was worth all the ground could offer. She was wholly aware of her mortality and welcomed it. The sky held her soul and on its own willed her heart to soar.
Daniel handed her the cigar box he had been clutching firmly. “Great show, Liddy.”
“Thanks. Now give them a thrill.” And off she strolled toward the barn.
Daniel Cooper seemed much older than his twenty years. He had six inches greater height than Liddy, but life had settled on his shoulders, so you would never think him a tall man. Not that Daniel had met great tragedies in his young life. He came from a fine farm family, and he and his brothers and sisters had enjoyed love and comfort in their childhoods. He just took on all the unwanted possibilities as weights and let them share his day-to-day. Some people are like that.
Why Daniel wanted to learn to fly was anybody’s guess. Liddy thought it was because he had to know he could do something brave. Once he went up, he had the bug. He wasn’t one to take risks in the sky, but he had become a good pilot, and it was his badge of courage.
A line about ten deep trailed out behind the plane ride sign. Daniel took the money handed to him by the woman at the head of it and zipped the bill into his jacket pocket. He led his first passenger of the day to a plane sitting next to the one that was cooling off from Liddy’s go. The woman leaned on Daniel as he guided her onto the wing and then into the cockpit where he helped her strap in and then carefully snugged down the goggles over her eyes. When her whole head of hair slipped backwards, Daniel jumped a little and quickly pulled the wig back into position. The woman was too excited to notice.
Right where she left them, Liddy found Orrin, Jensen and Crik playing cards off a wood crate. Muck was posted at Crik’s side with the scruff of his shaggy neck at just the right height for scratching. The air was scented with the memories of manure and straw but was bullied by the oil and gasoline that fed the barn’s current life. Planes and plane bones were neatly arranged about the place, dwarfing the space and exaggerating their mass. Two huge doors were rolled open on opposite ends of the building. A breeze ran through the room in one door and out the other, leaving the cool spring air to prick at the skin. Liddy tossed her leather gloves onto the makeshift table, making the pot of coins jingle. The men kept their attention on the opportunity in their grasp, and Liddy stood and admired the trio.
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