Chapter 9. Aileron

[Excerpted from Hazard: A Sister’s Flight from Family and a Broken Boy. First published in Lost Magazine, Summer 2010.]

In the warm, thinning light of summer evenings in Colorado, I knew where to find my father. Once our supper table was dust-panned the crumbs away, I reached for the kitchen door knob.

We lived far out in the country beyond a bend in the road. It was a place of virtues for me, a wandering child of ten, prone to loneliness and reverie. At twilight, when chiggers and mosquitoes forced me indoors, I sought out my father’s domain: our two-car garage.

Daddy’s VW Bug, painted sky blue, always greeted me as I swung the door wide. Not two feet away sat Mama’s finned white Fury, both cars side by side, the way my parents would be throughout life, an inseparable fleet of two. Despite this, I believed my father belonged to me. I was most like him, taking after his side of the family: my blondish hair a whisper of his mother’s; my nose and eyes a regeneration of his aunt Malta; and my middle name, Ray, was the same as his first name.

One summer afternoon, I pushed open the screen door to the garage and, for a moment, paused, dizzied by the pungency of warm engine oil, gasoline, and treaded rubber. A funnel of soft light fell through the only window, and there, half-perched on a stool, my father curved like a fishing pole over his work bench, casting and dropping his fingers into a pool of parts and bits that seemed from another world: model-pins, X-Acto blades, ball-headed studs, swivel socket links, stabilizers. Dust motes swirled around his dark thatch of hair, curling upward to the ceiling where a flock of delicate model airplane skeletons dangled from the rafters, covered in sleek flawless skins of brushed reds and buttery yellows. Though meant to float on the air like prairie birds, Dad’s airplanes, with their tissued wings and opaque membranes, appeared more to me like pterosaurs: mysterious, primal creatures taking shelter in our garage.

Though I didn’t recognize it then, I sensed my father’s awe. Aviation was a youthful and evolving dream in 1962, with nearly a decade to go before Boeing would fly its first 747, ferrying crowds of people across unfathomable miles as easily and comfortably as Chevrolets. Nearly as many years would pass before Neil Armstrong scuffed his boot in the dust of the moon. Flight and its mystery were imaginative and visionary, and, in the case of missiles and booster rockets, heroic and powerful.

My father didn’t look up. I stood for another small moment, the door half-open, and inhaled a deep whiff of glue and wood dust, my lungs billowing and folding like bellows. In the next half second, a clattering sound exploded behind me from the back corridors of the house. Quickly, I pulled the door shut as the noise tumbled up against its hollow core, muffled and fierce. In a distant bedroom, Roddy’s fists and heels whirled and pounded, bits of gears and toy parts scattering and crunching under his heels. The fury of his barking gave way suddenly to the deep thumping sound of his forehead, deliberate and unhurried, banging the wall. Bong, bong, bong….

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