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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Father (as in paternal parent, not God) (04/10/08)

TITLE: Flying Blind
By JoAnne Potter


Rare August fog blanched central Ohio the day Dad tried to fly us home. From the parking lot, we padded toward the hangar through pale gray clouds that sat on the tarmac, hunched against one another, silent as dust. I didn’t know their piles drifted as high as several thousand feet, but he must have. When we found the plane, I caught a thin smell of caution that he drowned in fast bravado as he cranked open the white metal hatch and waved me inside. No one sat in the tower that Sunday morning. No one looked to see that his pilot’s license lacked an instrument rating. Instead, like a cliff diver closing his eyes before stepping off, he turned the key, primed the carburetor, and pushed the start button.

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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This article has been read 414 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sara Harricharan 04/17/08
My dad loves flying and this was especially close to me. You captured the feelings and the intesity of flying blind-a terrifying experience, but sometimes a necessary one-I liked your comparison here, great job! ^_^
Debbie Wistrom04/17/08
There is so much here that is amazing. So many well turned phrases. but here is my favorite. "He always put on confidence with his morning shirt,"

WOW what a description!

Thanks for this story.
Angela M. Baker-Bridge04/18/08
The admiration a child has for their father, then the pain that adult child has of facing their father's death, came through authentically.
terri tiffany04/19/08
Wonderfully done:)) Love the way you worked into the ending! The only change I might suggest would be to watch the adjectives in the first paragraph. But I loved the examples you gave and descriptions! You are a good writer!!