Solo Flight by Geanora Bonner
Willard Scott–yeah, he’s heard all the jokes from all the people years older than him. No, he wasn’t named for that guy, thank you very much. No, he didn’t watch the Today Show. No, he did not get a discount at Mc Donald’s, thank you. This Willard Scott– almost fifty, but trim and quick and as agile as he had been rounding third base and seeing that scowl on the catcher’s face that told him his high school team had the championship in the bag–this Willard Scott looked over longingly at the airfield as he turned left on to Baseline.
It was not his usual habit to turn left on Baseline with the pain of a grin high in his cheeks. He usually was trying to bring his face from scorn to neutral when he turned left. Left meant shopping, appointments, engagements. Left meant he was in a constricting turtleneck most likely and going somewhere he would have to smile, be polite, talk to people. He preferred a right turn. Right was the open back roads that twisted up into the hills and could eventually take him to a fishing hole or that biker bar back up in there where they had given him the hostile once-over the first time, and where, now, they tapped empty stools when he let light come from behind him through open doors to freshen up that dim interior. Yeah, he’d prefer to be going right this morning. Didn’t matter, though. Not today. Right, left, straight ahead; he couldn’t not grin.
Soon, he thought, giving a school bus a count of fifteen before he made the left turn behind it, soon. Soon, he’d be standing there before that Beech King Air 350 and it was going to be the sweet culmination of all that he had gone through to get there. All that shit back there would be hosed away when he gave Jim Sutton that check, put his dinged and nicked hands on his hips, and sighed as the sun bounced off the wings of his aircraft. Yes, sweet Lord, his Beech ef-ing King.
Willard Scott was not a man to scamper, gambol, prance, or giggle but his hands did all those things on his steering wheel when he thought of that sweet, sweet moment that was almost here. His hands, still precisely at ten and two, let his fingers tap out a rat-a-pat. He even lifted one hand to punch at the horn button, he was so…happy. Yes, that was the word for it. Happy.
And why should he be scared to think that? He’d promised himself in his last miserable minute that he was going to be this happy, that he was going to stand there, pilot’s license in hand, looking at his very own Slingsby Firefly, or Cessna Skylane, or something with some g-d damn wings. And here he was; a few hours way from that. Get this little cursory, perfunctory, customary appointment out of the way and he’d be…happy. Reward well earned.
“Earned this,” he said to himself easing up on the gas as he started to enter what passed for the center of town out here on the desert– Tastee Cone Stand, SaveRite Drugs Store, Taco Hut, a VFW hall, and the high school building that also housed the small civic center for Playa Nada, California. Civic center, he thought slowing so he did not clip the rear of the yellow bus as it swung wide to turn into the driveway. Yep, that there, that there little two room office there with the tiny gold letters peeling off the door and the limp flags in the window? That was about as big as he wanted his government to be. All the civic he could stomach.
That was no longer his concern. He was no longer Willard Scott, Staff Sarge, career military. He was Willard Scott, private citizen, taxpayer, soon-to-be pilot. Almost plane owner. Almost…happy.
His fingers opened and closed on the steering wheel. He hummed but turned it into a sigh when he heard himself. His feet anticipated the end of town and the beginning of the fifty-seven miles of open highway that would take him to the city. Not that much of a city, but big enough to serve his purpose today. His feet tingled with anticipation of growing heavy on the gas pedal. He drove fast anyway, when it was safe, but today he was going to fly on wheels. Pick up that little report, exchange some congrats with the doctor, and head on back home. Well, he’d detour by the municipal airport. He’d go look at that marathon white with red trim Beecher again. It wouldn’t be that moment yet, no. Not yet that moment he had lived in his mind so many times. That would have to wait until he had the cashier’s check in hand and was ready to place it on Jim Sutton’s greedy palm. Yep, he was gonna say, Close your mouth, Jim-Bo and give me my damn key! Had planned that, too. Of course, he hadn’t had a name to place in there back then, back in his last miserable moment.
That was what he’d actually called it eleven years ago. He’d been sitting on the edge of the cot he kept in the basement of his Great Falls, Montana house. He’d been holding a Walther P99, the handgun a hot, tugging weight in his cold hand. He had just argued with Lorrie, his bitch of a second wife. They had argued about money. Again, money. Not that they didn’t have money. Not having money, that is what he and Faye Ella had argued about. Faye Ella had been his first wife, the one who gave him children who did not look like him every two years of the ten they were married. He never let that become too important. Paid his child support. They called him daddy and he did not cringe, though it had not taken someone with a pocket calculator to figure out he’d been deployed when two of them went in the oven. But that wasn’t here. Wasn’t there. That wasn’t anything.
He and Faye Ella had argued about money, her partying, her ‘friends’, her dresses that were cut low and clung high. He’d escaped those arguments in Lorrie who was board straight front and back, and had no interest in friends, dresses, or children. Money was Lorrie’s interest. She was shrewd and ruthless in business, and stocks, and investments. They’d made plenty. Trouble with Lorrie was she never wanted to spend any of it. “Let’s wait and see how the Dow does,” she’d say. “In a few months we can tap that without losing any principle,” she’d foresee. And all he wanted to do was just take a few g–oreo–d damn lessons then. “Not getting any younger,” he had reminded her, “flying’s been my dream since I learned to crawl.”
So dangerous, Lorrie had declared. Do you know the hidden cost of even taking lessons? Lorrie had asked. And the upkeep for a plane, Lorrie had warned. They’d yelled at each other and he had stormed down to his basement. He’d fumbled with the keys to his lock box, cursing. Held that Walther P99 and thought, it’s going to be either her or me. Either me, or her. One of these times. Maybe not this minute, but one of these times, it is going to be either her or me.
And it had flashed in his head like he’d raised the barrel and pulled back on that trigger to send the words through his temple, You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to be miserable.
“F-in’ A right and roger that!” he had hollered. His voice had cracked with cold certainty like ice fighting warm tea in a glass. “This is my last miserable moment, by the God I don’t f-in believe had a son, this is it!”
He’d stowed the gun away and got his flack jacket. He took his emergency stash and his lock box. He’d grabbed his keys and gone upstairs. He’d given tight wad Lorrie a kiss like all the kisses he’d ever given her had been condensed down into that single one. He’d stepped back from her dazed and slow smile and announced, “I’m out of here.”
He’d often wondered how long it had taken her to figure out that he hadn’t just stepped out to the SunDowner, or gone over to Bob “Muka-Duka- Mouth” Cranton’s to commiserate over a six pack. How long had she waited expecting him to come back and follow through on the promises of that kiss?
Didn’t know. Didn’t care. Not important. That was what happened after his last miserable moment. It was long ago. He sighed stretching out his shoulders as the needle simmered around the nine-zero on the dial. “Yep, all done with misery.”
He’d come out to where it did not snow. Wanted it to be as hot as possible; many clear flying days in the future. He’d had back-up companionship out here in the desert near the base where he had done his early airman years; an old friend of that cow Faye Ella’s. Sweet girl. Quiet, dignified, trusting with a girly high voice, giggly laugh, and bright brown eyes that prayed to him. Patricia joked that she would never fly with him, but she’d gladly wait on the tarmac in the Ferragamo heels he brought her. She’d lift her Chanel clutch and wave as he did figure-eights and curly-ques above her. They had a sweet arrangement, he and Patricia; when he could fly she’d have the ’72 MG MGB she always wanted. And it was almost collection time, he thought.
He grinned. Then he smiled. And then, he frowned thinking of his last words to Patricia that morning. “Watch it!” he had yelled snatching his keys. “You are turning into a Lorrie, here. Always being so damn negative.”
She had wet her lips and drawn back. “I’m just sayin’, Will, that maybe I should come with. Doctors don’t usually…want to discuss the results of routine tests.”
He had tucked his own lips in. Had worked them different ways in the safety of his mouth. Just routine, he’d wanted to reassure her. Just a formality before I get my license. It’s a flight insurance thing is all, Patty Cake. Lighten up. But, he’d only released a broad smile, kissed her cheek, and left.
Maybe he should have been kinder. He let the red arm swing to one hundred, pleased that the engine barely seemed to notice and the tires turned true. Patty was delicate and cautious and loved him. She wasn’t Pocketbook Lorrie or Ass-like-a-pocketbook Faye Ella. She was only being loving. He should have been more patient with her. Wasn’t her fault that she held good in hand expecting bad to snatch it away just as she went to savor it. Wasn’t her fault at all. Just the way she was raised, is all. Just what the men before him had taught her to believe, is all.
Not Willard Scott, though. Willard Scott didn’t operate that way, thank you, ma’am. Just you wait, Patty Cake. MG on the horizon! He’d take her out to celebrate tonight. Sure, take her over to the steakhouse and sit by that long window that looked out on the runway. Sure…
He stretched his shoulders again. That little weight in between his shoulder blades was pressing there. Hell, he was lucky that was the only little twinge he had at his age. Seen younger men than him who couldn’t yank up an engine, climb a ladder, move boulders, get a pilot’s license.
That was quick, he thought, coming up on the off ramp that told him he was reentering civilization. Houses started wide apart and then squeezed together. The side of the road came up and he was on a freeway. Signs that could light up started popping up over those freeway walls. Malls, cars, people, fast food, stink, noise. Almost there, he thought watching his speed drop gradually down. 80, 70, 50, zero in a tight spot. No matter at all, he reminded himself. Soon he was going to fly above it all!
Patty wouldn’t come with him of course. Not when he flew. There were other options…but…no, he’d better not think about that steakhouse gal. Better not go there at all. He chuckled unable to not see the rounded back of her calves when she led him to a table. Tried not to but couldn’t quite manage not to hear the husky depth of her eagerness when she had said she’d fly with him anytime, anywhere, anyplace. He felt again Jim’s fist impacting his shoulder when Jim had winked and hinted, “Got yourself an unofficial co-pilot there, Will.”
“Don’t tell, Patty,” Will had joked. Lord, that had been a good day, too. Just gotten through with his solo test. Just met with Jim Sutton to discuss purchasing the plane. A perfect steak in a perfect steakhouse and the hostess with the perfect assets not able to look away from him. Him, Willard Scott.
Wasn’t life good?
The doctor steepled his hands in front of him. His elbows rested on the big envelope with the x-rays. Willard Scott could not take his eyes off that folder. He felt like he needed some kind of special wrench to slip under his eyelids and pry them open a bit. Was he squinting? He felt a pressure like he was squinting. Is that where the pressure in his head was coming from? The clamped together tightness in his jaw? All from above like the doctor had laid a few bricks on top of his head. He couldn’t quite open anything right. Couldn’t open his eyes to see right. Couldn’t expand his nostrils to take in air right. Couldn’t part his teeth to let words out right. Clenched. He was clenched. Like a clamp had been screwed on him from head to chin.
The doctor cleared his throat. “This is not a death sentence out of hand, Mr. Scott.”
Willard had barked. A short bitter laugh.
The doctor had shaded with inadequate patience.
“Damn straight,” Willard said, but he was not sure what was straight; what was damned? Six month? Is that what this old pill pusher had said? Really? Really? Impossible. He ate right. Drank rarely. He had stopped smoking so long ago he wasn’t even sure when it had been. Still been married to Lorrie. He knew that; she had wanted him to take some kind of insurance physical. This was all wrong. Had to be wrong. Sure. He’d get home and this doctor will call him himself–not the receptionist gal, too afraid of malpractice suits to trust that phone call to a receptionist–this doctor with his smug, fake sincere smile will call about it. He’ll get home and the phone will ring and…all he had to do was get home and wait for it is all he had to do.
You don’t have to take it this way, Willard. He heard that as he stood pushing back his chair a little too forcefully. You don’t have to see it this way. Take a minute. Breathe. Get your head together with a little silence. You can beat this thing if you only stop trying to talk over it. Stop running from it.
He pressed his hair thinking of a bald scalp. He’d always managed to hold on to his hair. Friends had left theirs on barracks’ floors, shower walls, locker room sinks, the hell of Afghanistan’s sandy shit holes. They’d always envied him his hair. He pressed it with his fingers as if he could screw each strand in that way. He looked at the doctor. He also had stood. The physician’s face was trying to show alarm and uncertainty and compassion. It was failing. This was routine for him. Probably did this every day. Probably owned a plane.
“Eh…” Willard went. And in his head he heard, Make a plan, man. Make a declaration like you did when you said this is my last miserable moment. Yeah, calm down and just think this is my last sick moment. This is my last moment with…
Yeah, he thought, hearing another inarticulate sound come from deep in his chest. Yeah. that might get you away from Lorrie, but this? Words can’t get you away from this. This is…big. This is payback. This is…you earned this, buddy. Don’t try to push the bill away. Tuck in and take it. Just go home. He would let Patty rub his head while she could touch hair.
He nodded at the doctor and left the room.
Drove into the sun. An even, unhurried fifty-five miles per hour most of the way. For one brief, ten mile stretch he took it up to 110, figuring, why the hell not? And anxiety answered his belligerent question. Anxiety reminded him of a promise he couldn’t quite recall making. But then he remembered Lorrie’s single tear hanging off her chin the day they’d met in the lawyer’s office. He recalled his “daughter” and her stunned silence when he’d said, no, he would not walk her down the aisle. “The check was generous, dad, but I want my father there,” she’d whined. Though he’d been kind enough not to quip, ‘You better ask your mother who your father is then,’ he hadn’t been kind enough to go, just go for her. “Why didn’t I just go for her?” he asked out loud letting the speed drop down below sixty.
He thought about the little dog he had unintentionally crushed when he was four years old. The limpness in his arms that had been sudden and long lasting. He’d cried because the pup did not lick his face and squirm any longer. Had never cried because he’d taken something precious away. Never.
Would this make up for any of that? Bring the dog back? Roll tears back up Lorrie’s cheek? Give another man’s daughter his genes?
No, but he should pay. Shouldn’t he pay?
Approaching Baseline and Velmer, his corner, his hand paused on the turn indicator lever. Down, and he could go to the airfield. Up, and he could go home to Patty. If he didn’t push it at all, he could continue up to the hills to the fishing hole, grab a beer with Mad Monroe or Devil’s Own.
You don’t have to let ‘em know what way you’re turning when you fly, he thought.
His finger caressed the knob.