The Mission: Elijah (part 6)

Deborah Hendrick on Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Ginny adjusted her headset and radioed the tower at nearby Ellington Field. After a brief exchange of information and instructions, she pushed the throttle in and they began rolling down the runway. Eli felt the tail wheel lift as the Dragonfly picked up speed, and then Ginny lifted them gently into the morning sky. She climbed out and turned south, heading for the coast. She swept her gauges again, throttled back and leaned out her fuel mix. Then she flashed that unexpected smile at Eli, that clutched at his innards.

“What do you think? she asked.

“I must be dreaming; I feel weightless!” laughed Eli. “How often do you fly?”

“I try to fly every week, usually in the evening. I like landing in the twilight, just as all the neighborhood lights are coming on. And anyway, I’m at the beach house on the weekends.

“By yourself? Flying I mean,” Eli wanted to know.

“Usually; it depends. I rarely tell people that I’m a pilot, much less that I own an airplane. I used to, but it can make forming friendships awkward. Men go all bigdog on you, and some women decide you’re a form of competition that they can do without. They’re not people I want to be friends with anyway, but it saves time in the long run to keep that information private. No one at work knows I fly except your father, and he won’t tell. And I’m used to having only a few good friends anyway, because we moved so much. Remember the fellow with the L-2? I like to take him with me.”

“How about you?” asked Ginny, “do you ever go rent an airplane and fly for pleasure?”

“No,” said Eli. He started to say more, but didn’t.

“I figure we’re doing about Mach zero-point-one now!”

“That fast huh! Should I get out and push?” laughed Eli.

They flew down and crossed over the tip of the island, then Ginny turned southwest and they flew down the coast toward Matagorda Bay. “Let’s go in at Victoria, and you can buy me coffee and a hamburger.”

Over their food, Ginny asked Eli about being a fighter pilot. It was a bit unfair in a way, since Ginny knew all the right questions to ask. But she was quick and funny, and understood his answers. Eli responded in spirit without giving away too much of himself, which Ginny knew as being right and proper too. “So what happens for you next?” asked Ginny.

“Alaska.” he replied. “My squadron’s going to Alaska.”

Of all the answers he might have given, that was the one Ginny least expected, and all she could ask was, “Your piano? Can you take your piano?”

“I’ve never been to an Air Force base that didn’t have a piano somewhere. It’ll be ok,” he said, feeling the need to comfort her.

They stopped in the office so Ginny could pay her refueling bill, where the man behind the counter remembered Ginny and she called him by name. Eli thought about Ginny’s solitary flights, and how every airport manager on the gulf coast must remember Ginny. It made him happy and sad, and jealous.

“I was supposed to invite you to my parents’ house tonight for dinner. I forgot to mention it earlier. I hope you don’t have something planned for the evening.”

“No, I was going to Galveston, but it can wait until tomorrow.”

“You go to the beach every weekend? How much R & R can you take?” he asked grinning.

“Don’t be daft. I don’t go down there to loaf, I go down there to work.”

“Work? What kind of work?”

“I paint. It’s how I pay for my lavish lifestyle and fuel bill. I do book illustrations, and a gallery in Houston shows my stuff. One painting a month keeps the Dragonfly in the air. Two paintings a month and my savings account grows. Right now I’m doing detailed drawings for a book. If the author approves, then I’ll do them in watercolor.”

This time it was Eli who didn’t have a response. He looked at her. “What’s the book about?”

“It’s about a little girl who raises a lamb for the 4-H livestock show. As the lamb grows, it turns out to have a crooked leg. Everyone tells her to get a new lamb, but she won’t; she’s bonded to the lamb.”

“Does it have a happy ending?” he wanted to know.

“Oh yes,” said Ginny, “it has a lovely ending.”


While Ginny took a quick shower, Eli stood at the edge of the hangar and watched the little airfield hum and buzz. “OK,” Ginny called out. “I’ll take my pickup so you won’t need to bring me back.” He turned and there she stood, cool and fresh in white trousers and a green silk shirt, with her long red hair in a thick braid, falling over one shoulder. He wanted to argue, but he didn’t.

Mrs. Madden hugged Ginny, and Ginny hugged her back. “Can I help you in the kitchen?” she asked.

“All we need to do is set the food on the table. Max is bringing in the steaks now. If you like yours well-done, go shout at him.”

“No, that’s ok. I’m happy with rare. To tell you the truth, I’m happy anytime someone invites me to dinner. Thank you. I get awfully tired of my own cooking, but I don’t like to eat out either. If I ever get burned out on cottage cheese and fruit, I’m done for!” said Ginny.

“Ginny! Welcome! Did you and Eli have a good flight today?” shouted Max.

“You’ll have to ask Eli, but he seemed a bit jittery without that big helmet. He kept touching his head.”

After the meal, Ginny offered to help clean up, but Eli’s parents shooed them out. “Eli dear, why don’t you play us something?” asked his mother. So he and Ginny went into the the beautiful living room, dominated by a gleaming grand piano.

“Do you play?” asked Eli, running his fingers over the keyboard.

“I can find middle C,” she said, showing him. “Oh I took lessons for a few years as a child, but after one of our moves, my mother didn’t bring it up again and neither did I. I think she was relieved.”

Eli began a slow romantic piece, that Ginny vaguely recognized. “I don’t do it as well as that other fella, but maybe you’ll like it.” And he began to play and sing softly, “Dove va a morire il sole, dove il vento si ripose, ci son tutte le parole de chi e stato innamorato e non ha dimenticato tutto quello che c’e stato … “

Ginny gave him a long look when he finished. “Le Tue Parole … your words are better than mine, so maybe you’d better play something more jazzy.”

“Ah. How about this,” said Eli, and moved into Sweet and Lovely. Followed by The Duke, Body and Soul, and At Last.

“Don’t you know something up-tempo. There’s a mourning dove out there in the palm tree with a broken heart.”

“You want happy?” He played Blue Skies, then played and sang Love Walked In. He pushed hard and bright, and closed with Nice ‘N’ Easy.

Ginny stood and dropped a kiss on his forehead. “I need to say goodnight to your parents.”

Eli met her at the front door and walked her out to her pickup. “Can I come down to the beach house tomorrow?” he asked. Ginny took so long to answer that Eli’s heart fell, and he knew her answer was no, but she said yes, “if you’ll fish and run on the beach and nap and be restful, because I have to finish what I’m working on.” He nodded his head in agreement.

“Bring donuts,” she said, “There’s a big H.E.B. at FM 646.

By the time Ginny reached the freeway, she’d changed her mind about going home to the airfield, so she drove on down to the island. It was almost midnight as she stood in front of the dairy case in the 24-hour grocery store, trying to decide whether to buy a quart of milk or a half-gallon. And the look on her face was so tragic that a passing stocker touched her on the arm, to ask if she was ok.

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Topics: The Mission


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