Eyre and I stood on the taxiway in front of the hangar alongside the
instructor, a tall black woman in her fifties wearing the school’s flight
jacket. We’d made it to the little Republic Airport on Long Island just in time
for Martha’s first solo flight. All three of us were craning our necks as we
gazed up at the Cessna buzzing in the clear blue sky above our heads. Having
performed a few circuits of the airfield, the small white propeller plane
descended for its landing.
“Here she comes,” said the instructor.
The plane touched down on all three wheels simultaneously without
even the faintest screech of tires, and after rolling a hundred yards turned
off the runway to come to a stop on the tarmac.
“Exquisite,” she continued. “As expected. She’ll be done with the
post-landing checklist soon.”
The plane resumed taxiing moments later, and after another minute
cruised slowly past us into the hangar.
We followed the instructor inside where Martha was already getting out
of the cockpit. My ward was dashing today in a black windbreaker over a
button-up shirt with snug black faux-leather pants and elegant calf-high boots
that looked like they might have been worn by Star Trek crew members. The
jet-black hair she’d developed recently was styled in a pixie cut, and perhaps
as a gesture to her original rat-person appearance she’d given herself just the
slightest hint of an underbite jaw. She plucked off a pair of gold-tinted
aviators and beamed at us for a moment before turning back to the plane.
The instructor stood back, holding us back too, while Martha clamped
the plane down and checked the exterior for problems. When she was done, the
instructor approached her with one hand extended and the other holding a set of
shears. Smiling broadly, Martha shook hands, and then turned her back to reveal
that the white dress shirt she was wearing had two tails dangling over her
trousers; one was the end of the shirt, the other was a long, curling rat tail
drawn on it with a sharpie below her name, Martha Villiers, the date, and the
plane’s registration number. The instructor cut the length of cloth off with
her shears, draped the cloth over one arm, and thrust the shears back into her
belt, then waited for Martha to turn back around.
“Congratulations on soloing! I know how much this means to you,”
said the instructor. “Next time, you’ll find your tail up on the wall beside
the school’s other soloists. Just for the record, the whole flight was
absolutely perfect, and your landing was superb.”
“Thank you,” said Martha, a bit unsteadily; I think she wanted to
say something more, but her voice was so full of emotion she had to clamp down
to avoid embarrassment. She handed over her logbook to be signed, and the
instructor murmured a few words in her ear before departing, giving us a
cheerful salute on her way out.
Martha was almost vibrating as she approached Eyre and me, as wired
and happy as I’ve ever seen anyone in my whole life. I almost teared up to see
it, but there was a certain shininess to her eyes that suggested that Martha
might be feeling the same way. So instead of saying anything sappy and
embarrassing us both, I just hugged her as tightly as I could for a long moment
before passing her onto Eyre for the same treatment.
Laurence Raphael Brothers is a writer and a technologist. He has published over 25 short stories in such magazines as Nature, the New Haven Review, PodCastle, and Galaxy's Edge. His WWI-era historical fantasy novel Twilight Patrol was just released by Alban Lake. For more of his stories, visit https://laurencebrothers.com/bibliography, or follow him on twitter: @lbrothers.
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