My son wakes me up, mouth close to my ear.
“Our neighbor—” he starts.
I jump in the dark.
“Our neighbor is really Amelia Earhart.”
I flick the light. My boy is illuminated, encyclopedia in hand. White leather. Gold leaf letter.
Usually this is for some clue regarding the whereabouts of his mother.
He doesn't believe she's died. The therapist says it's because he didn't see it happen.
I drew him a cartoon once of what happened and he said, "That's just a cartoon. Fake.”
The frame with his mother on the gurney being loaded into the ambulance is especially fake. An ambulance never came. Just the coroner. But try explaining that to a little boy.
This time, and for the first time, he’s not asking about Emily.
“Amelia Earhart, maybe,” I say.
"Definitely her! First woman to fly around the world! We're going over there.”
"I’ve got work, you got school.”
"You don't work, you draw."
"Isn't that a beautiful thing you just said."
He looked out the window, “Amelia Earhart’s lights are on."
"So she just walked in front of the window!"
“Bed,” I say and he leaves the room.
There’s a noise outside, I crane my neck to the window. It’s Walter knocking on the neighbor’s door. When the door opens there is golden light and a figure. My son steps inside the house. I can’t even yell. The door closes.
I’m barefoot in the street and there’s glass and a dog, loose from some yard, roaming in the darkness, barking on the other side of the drainage pond.
I knock. The woman lets me in, her face wrapped in bandages. She says, “I just met your son …”
“He said he was researching a school project.”
“Disappeared women. Missing women.”
I glanced around the room. Model airplanes suspended from fishing string. Bookcases. Painting of a beach covered in massive crabs, pinchers up.
“He’s fine.” She smiles behind the bandages. “I don’t think I’ve ever even seen you.”
“I don’t go outside.”
She shrugged this off. “I like your boy. I see him playing out in the yard. He asked me if I was Amelia Earhart. I told him I was, I hope that’s okay. He’s looking for evidence to show you.”
I called Walter, I heard him call back even distantly.
The woman forces me to sit down on her couch.
We sit in stony silence while I look at her bandages.
“Plastic surgery,” she says. I realized I’d never gotten her real name and she hadn’t got mine. I’m happy not knowing her true identity if I don’t have to give up mine.
She slaps my leg, “I’m told I’ll be even more unrecognizable.”
“That’s good,” I said.
The patter of feet on the stairs as Walter bounds down, “Dad look what I found …”
A book flopped onto my lap.
The Collected Works of Linus Duncan: Ten Years of Ily and Lee.
Amelia Earhart is astounded, here I am, the famous cartoonist who doesn’t do famous anymore.
I say, “Well it’s an equal privilege to finally meet the pilot of the Enola Gay.”
“You’re thinking of someone else,” she says.
“I haven’t seen your comics in the paper anymore. You still draw?”
She says, “The comics in the paper are not good anymore. That makes me feel like the world is not good anymore.”
“The world is how we remember it,” I say.
Walter taps the woman on the shoulder and says, “Why do you have so many books on airplanes?”
“Because I’m a pilot,” she says. “My plane is at the airfield.”
“You’re a pilot for real?”
“I am,” she says, “I can show you my pilot’s license if you want to see. I’ve got a fake name now. But I promise you I’m the real thing.”
She walks off. I should be telling my son he’s rude and should leave the woman alone with his game, but the problem is, I’m weeping about a cartoon of my wife and me pushing a baby carriage on the beach, only the baby has hopped out of the carriage and is behind us in the surf about to be hit by a wave, swept away forever, and there is a sea lion in the carriage tossing a football up for itself to catch. I hide my face behind the book.
Before we leave, I have to sign in blood that we’ll go for a flight in this imaginary plane with this imaginary woman.
And we do go flying on Wednesday.
Her plane dives out of the sky and lands in the middle of our quiet street. The propeller shreds the low lying limbs of the weeping willow, but no one minds that, we’d rather not weep.
My son charges down the hallway into my office where I am drawing. I have a new deadline I refuse to miss.
“I’m not going flying …” but my son grabs my shirt and yanks me through the doorway, and once you’re passed the threshold, forget the threshold.
We climb inside her plane.
Her bandages are off and her face is as smooth as the strawberry sea seen at dawn.
Amelia puts the throttle down. Gaining speed until air is under the wings and suddenly we are high above our little assumed lives.
“Where would you like to go?” she asks us.
Walter says, “Where was she last seen?”
“No one knows.”
So we just soar along. Just the sounds of the engines and the propellors.
Below us, in a field next to the supermarket, there is a little girl in a blue dress walking across the broken asphalt road. The field is lousy with wildflowers. Pink and yellow and white dots.
“What’s she doing?”
“Trying to catch butterflies in her hands.”
I press my face to the glass and say to everyone, “Yup. There she is.”
“There who is?”
“Whoever you want it to be.”
About the Author: Bud Smith works heavy construction in New Jersey. His books are F250, Tollbooth and Calm Face, among others. www.budsmithwrites.com
Story Song: "Andalucia by Esquivel" & a whole Spotify playlist.