The faint image through snow of the fuselage
and lingering odor of fuel led me to my steed this
evening. Freshly shined, dusted with a light
layer of snow from the nor’easter moving across the
state. The weather, dangerous. But the mission,
Climbing into the cockpit, the mechanic tosses up
the stiff leather bag. In it, my cargo, the precious
packages and letters, bound for New York. Through
rain, sleet, snow, I had promised to do my
duty. Tonight, that oath was put to the
In the bag, a letter, lilac envelope, black script,
stares up from my lap. Addressed “To George,” whiffs
of expensive perfume rise and withstand the salty wind.
“Harriet,” the return name, probably a love letter, written
by husband and wife, torrid lovers, or a long distance
The rotor of my biplane buzzes to life, and a final slap
upon its ribs from the mechanic, I’m off. Wind smacks
my face, glad for goggles this evening. Snowflakes, like
miniature razors, leaving my cheeks red and numb.
Flickering lamps show me the runway, my steed lifts into the
Maryland shrinks under me as I head north, my cargo
awkward upon my lap. Hard to move joystick, but
I’ll manage. All sound of civilization disappears, drowned
out by obnoxious buzz of my rotor, the whistle of the wind.
No stars to light my way tonight. I could use the
Many have made this run, but not in this kind of hell,
most never returned, regardless. Other guys scoffed
at the assignment, but I needed the cash. New baby
on the way, wife needing the finest cloche hats and stockings.
Gotta keep her happy, it makes me happy to know she’s
Wings shudder as a gust crashes from the northwest. My
hands steady on the stick, I keep her in line. Nothing I’ve
not seen before, just a larger degree. Over the coastline
now, lights only to my left. Darkness, stillness, to my right.
Feeling has left my face, the only warm parts were my
Steed rocks forward, rotor stutters. Ice most likely. Peril
of flying in snow. Push forward, fly lower, hopeful
the ice will break. Ice is worse than I expected.
Blood rushes back to my face, now acutely
alert. Gauges say I’m dropping fast. This is nowhere near
Rotor stops. Engine whines to a halt. I yank on the stick,
mail bag gets in the way. Panic sets in. Wind, engine, all
sound ceases. Only thumping of my heart fills my ears.
Moonlight breaks out from behind a cloud, I see waves.
I’m plunging for the water, stick won’t move. No, can’t happen
Stick breaks free, I yank hard. Nose pulls up, but not
before ribs slap the water’s surface. I’m jarred forward,
padded by the stiff leather bag. Crunching of package and
letter between me and the panel. I skip across the water,
a weathered pebble over a creek. Still have time to save
Steed leans right, wing clips the waves, sending me into
a somersault. Dizzying views of sky and water, revolving
and alternating. Crack of the wing is muffled by searing wind
and snow. Holding on, knowing George will never know how
much Harriet loved him. No cloche hats, no stockings, no more
Finally comes to a halt, upside down in chilly seawater, my
breath taken from me. Clutching the bag for dear life,
it’s my life now. No more energy to swim, no breath
to get me to the surface. Eyes close, grip tightens, maybe
she’ll meet someone who will buy her those hats, “To George,”