Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Father (as in paternal parent, not God) (04/10/08)
TITLE: Flying Blind
By JoAnne Potter
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Two impossible propellers prodded Dad’s little Cessna into the sky, but after the runway dropped behind, we hardly knew motion. The engine growled its customary low bass. Clear windows revealed identical swirling white wisps. Compass and altimeter needles moved, but the plane’s nose never split its shroud. Dad, who usually pointed and chatted, only stared, hungry, at the console. He usually held the stick loose in long, big-knuckled hands like he wanted to take the controls for a friendly stroll; today, he held tight, curling all ten fingers around the bar. Outside, fleeing ground, tiny trees, and ant-size people all hid. Inside, vertigo brought mild nausea.
Dad reached up to rub his eyes and shook his head in confusion. I didn’t know him. He always put on confidence with his morning shirt, white or pale blue, pressed and buttoned. He wandered in jubilation and discovered in victory. He cleverly unwrapped secret gifts of territory and experience. He never got lost. This day, wearing unfamiliar disorientation like handcuffs, he did something he had never done before. Dad gave up. He spent all his ability, hit bottom, and found only his own echo. He banked a careful arc back to the airport where someone, I never knew who, had lit the runway lights. When I looked at him, failure fell from his face with a hollow clang. I haven’t seen him wear that same face for more than forty years. Until now.
Today, clouds crowd him again. From his wheelchair, he rubs translucent eyelids and shakes his bent head. The motion pulls up his wrinkled jowls, but they fall back into loose folds when he releases them. He is trying to find his way again, but this time, has no stick to hold or gauges to analyze. Somehow, he must pierce the fog. His eyes open, but nothing clears.
Dad has yet to understand that this trip will end in one of only two destinations and he needs more than an instrument rating to navigate properly. He couldn’t fly blind then and he can’t now. He grasps for control. His hands tremble, but he still clutches the stick. Soon he will discover that, at the right time, the cloud will be taken up and he will see to move. Somewhere, the runway is lit up in expectation, and again, he will have to let go to reach it.
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