“Mr Smith! Mr Smith!”
Chadwick’s eyes opened with effort. Ella, the chubby nurse’s equally chubby fingers dug into his arm painfully as she straightened him in his wheelchair. He looked bleary eyed around the whitewashed room of his private California Nursing Home. Ella smoothed back the sparsely spaced hairs on his age-speckled scalp with her hand.
“What’s all this for?” He said in a voice comparable to a debarked dog.
“You’ve got a visitor today!”
The tone, although pleasant, carried an air of take it and like it. She took the tasselled, plaid blanket from his bedside drawer and draped it over his leg. The face that peered around the doorjamb had a shock of brown hair and a spray of freckles. The boy looked typical of the youth today. Chadwick could tell he came reluctantly he appeared surly. Already Chadwick didn’t like him. Kids like him confused rudeness with being cool.
“I don’t want to see him.”
“Now, now, be nice,” Ella chided as she scuffed out into the hall and disappeared.
Chadwick’s gaze fell to the youth, and struggled to raise a shaking arm. It had almost withered to the bone and looked mostly brown from liver spots.
“Well, come in boy!” he croaked.
The boy slipped inside the room and dragged back the bedside chair. He wore shoes with laces untied, a hat on sideways and a gaudy, fluoro coloured jacket. Everything looked at least three sizes too big for the kid. Didn’t children care what they looked like anymore?
“How old are you?” The youth asked.
“Eighty-two, if that’s any business of yours, son! How old are you?”
“Twelve. I’m Brad, dude. What’s your name?”
“No, I mean your first name?”
The nerve of the kid!
“Mister! And why do I have the pleasure of your company today?”
Brad screwed his face and shrugged.
“The police made me. The judge says I gotta do community service, so I gotta visit old people like you. Today’s my last day.”
“So what did you do? It looks like you forgot to get out of the way while your friends graffitied a wall.”
The face screwed again.
“No, for free-running.”
A glance at Chadwick’s puzzled face informed Brad he didn’t understand.
“That means I run and jump over rooftops. The judge says it’s too dangerous.”
Chadwick began to laugh. At first, Brad looked concerned. A laugh nowadays racked his lungs like running up a flight of stairs. It sounded like a series of coughs until it ended in a fit of genuine coughing. He leaned back for the cup of water beside the bed and took a sip.
“Oh you’re a hoot boy!” he croaked with a smile.
“Too dangerous,” he sneered. “Women did more dangerous things than you kids in my day. Did you ever hear of the age of wing-walkers or barnstormers?”
Brad shook his head disgustedly.
“Well, why would you? You were only born five minutes ago. I used to be a fighter pilot…”
“Did you shoot down a lot of Zeros?”
“Who’s telling this story? And anyway, no, I was in the first war. Funny thing was, it was the first time I’d seen a plane, let alone fly one. I never felt more alive than when I flew those rickety clunkers, but… after the war, the world had no use for us anymore. You can’t have a taste of that kind of freedom and just go back to a plough.
Some of us—like me—joined flying circuses. I once flew a plane upside down through a set of barn doors… Just to feel the thrill of danger again, like we did in the war. Of course, you’re only as good as your wing-walker; they’re the ones who wowed the crowds.”
Chadwick reached into his beside drawer and handed a photo frame to Brad. He smiled at the boy’s enthralled face. A woman stood on the top wing of a bi-plane with skirt raised in her hands.
“I flew for her. She was Gladys Roy, used to dance the Charleston while I buzzed the grandstand.”
Ella pushed the stainless steel trolley for dispensing drugs into the room and checked her paperwork.
“Had a good visit, did we?” she asked without looking at anyone. “Visiting hours is over now,” she said curtly.
Brad slowly trudged for the door, lingered, and then turned.
“Mr Smith, is it all right if I come back tomorrow?”
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