Sunday, January 16, 2011

“Old Gray”

© 2009, Paul Berge

Dawn slipped over the mountains and quietly extinguished the desert stars in passing. They didn’t seem to mind. Having kept watch all night it was time, again, for sunlight to rouse earth dwellers from bed. Chuck dwelled above the planet so was already awake and at the airport. After parking his Studebaker Lark he kicked the hangar door to chase out any snakes that might’ve curled beneath the rubber skirt. When nothing stirred, he slid the door open and smiled at the old Tri-Pacer waiting beneath a dusty skylight. She smiled back.

Painted the same light gray of his mothballed West Point uniform, she had pearl white wings trimmed in blue. Piper chevrons raked her tail. She looked as though she’d been awake all night combing the stars for dreams. And, maybe, caught a few. Chuck walked around the nose and patted her cowling. If Piper made Tri-Pacer biscuits he would’ve fed her one. And, yes—he’d tell anyone who didn’t understand—the Tripe was a she. Chuck didn’t give a rat’s butt who thought it inappropriate to think of his old gray beauty as female. Something this pretty couldn’t be otherwise. And he’d stare down anyone who claimed that Tri-Pacers were funny looking. Those same fools turned up their noses at Navions and Apaches.

With one hand on the strut, Chuck ducked beneath the right wing to open the cockpit door. Leaning inside, he inhaled that elegant blend of leather and butyrate dope with a hint of avgas. He wondered why it couldn’t be bottled so all women could smell as good: Eau d’Avion—$1000 per ounce. Chuck was a romantic and a rebel who couldn’t explain his attachment to this airplane. She wasn’t as sleek as those Mooneys that taxied by with their tails on backwards. Nor could she haul the load of a rumbling Skylane. “But so what?” he asked aloud. “I love her.” But mostly he loved the thought of her in flight.

Outside in the cool air with the throttle set, Chuck reached beneath the seat for the starter button. “TSA couldn’t confiscate you if they wanted,” he muttered. “They couldn’t find your starter with both hands.” The white hair on his neck bristled thinking of the country’s worst agency. He shook it off and looked toward the pink desert sky. And by the time they departed all thoughts of fools flushed from his mind, replaced by airplane dreams coming to life. It was their daily routine. Together, they’d wander about the morning sky, the short-winged Piper telling Chuck what she knew about flight. Despite their long relationship, each trip offered new insights into life beyond gravity. And returning to land, he’d let his companion find her way to the runway as she had for over 50 years. There was nothing he could teach her. She wouldn’t listen if he’d tried. And, later, he’d thank her for the visit while yearning for the next dawn when she’d reveal more dreams taken from the desert stars.


"Old Gray" by Paul Berge, first appeared in Pacific Flyer magazine in October 2009. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact author for reprint permission.