The door slammed behind him. The sound was still in his ears, as Michael climbed into his Chevy. She was wrong. Young and lost and plain wrong. He gripped the steering wheel as if to choke the Ford emblem off. He'd thrown that punch. He wouldn't have hit her. He'd wanted to scare her, right?
Flora said, "You can't pretend she's a stranger, Michael." But Sadie was a stranger. Sadie was more of a stranger than people he passed on the street. She didn't know what men like him—and better men than he—had sacrificed. Even men like him who saw no combat, never heard a shot fired in anger.
He shut his eyes, laying his forehead on the steering wheel, and breathed. The pungent fumes of airplane fuel still lingered in his memory. The cold air of the Scottish morning, even in spring, bit at Michael's lungs. The chop-chop of propeller engines came back to him.
He checked the barometer every morning by habit.
"Hello, hello," came a voice, not recognizable. It was a young man and he could have been Scottish. His red hair clashed with the bright green of the grass as the sun lit upon the dew. But his accent said American.
Behind Red, Michael saw the B-17, propellers still spinning, engine cooling, the crew milling about. No doubt wondering when their first run would be.
Starting in the States, Red and his crew might have flown to Nova Scotia then Greenland and at long last, to Scotland. All they wanted to do was kill Germans, to watch those payloads fall. They'd come a long way in order to sit tight and, if Michael had his way, be quiet. Nobody was dropping bombs when the clouds rolled in.
"Not a bad day, is it?" said Red. "Ain't raining and that's a relief."
"It's the rain shadow from Ireland," Michael told him, without taking his eyes off the plane. It was bound to be torn to shreds by flak or bullets or a collision with another plane over Dresden or Cologne or wherever. "Whole coast's been socked in for days. You'll have to wait. Sorry, friend," said Michael.
You'll have to stay here and live, you stupid kid. You green pilot. You might not be old enough to buy a beer—still, you're a brave man. Another school teacher, dentist, construction worker. Sent off to die, sent up to The Lord God, while Michael stayed behind on a coward's errand, one he'd fought hard for and regretted and cherished every day as he watched the clouds for rain.
With his eyes open, staring at the speedometer Michael didn't even know if Red had been real or a trick of memory, a composite of all the pilots and airmen who had flown off. Whoever Red was, whoever any of them were—he'd never seen any of them ever again. He'd listened to their voices—thin across the radio—as they flew east in the hopes their bombs would hit their marks.
When Michael arrived home from the war Sadie was three years old.
"There he is, meet Daddy," Flora said, handing Sadie to him. She was big, bigger than he would have thought. What had he missed? Sadie looked into his eyes, then reached for her mother.
YOU ARE READING
The Way We DrownFantasy
When a young and brilliant photographer finds himself in a mysterious theater, he quickly realizes the fabric of the universe is thinner than he ever expected. When he tries to escape the theater, he finds that it is a labyrinth he cannot escape. Th...