Smoke

Smoke

11/24/2008

Kenneth Burchfiel

“Thanks for trucking over the gas.” Dan took one of the canisters and set it on the wing. “A few gallons should be all we need.”

“You’re not flying on this stuff, are you?”

“No. Just want to make sure the engine’s in working order.”
The polish on the Cessna belied its two decades of service. The racing stripes on the side looked like they had been painted yesterday; the tires on the undercarriage showed no sign of wear.

“Well, it’ is a beautiful plane. Did you fly much in it?”

“Oh, absolutely.” Dan stared at the cockpit. “My dad would take me up every other weekend. He was instrument rated, so we had no trouble flying through the clouds to regional strips. I worked the VOR from time to time.”

The orange “remove before flight” tags on the wings whipped around in the wind. The breeze was strong enough to move the propeller.

“We even flew into Canada.” He took the second canister and placed it under the tail. The only fuel inlets were on the wings.

“But you were never certified.”

“Never had the time. Farming’s a full-time occupation. Not a second to waste on ground school.”

“Your dad managed to find the time, no?”

Dan turned, leaned his shoulder against the plane and smiled.

“Oh, sure. He had plenty of time in his schedule. When I needed help with my math homework, he’d be out tuning the avionics. When his wife broke her arm and went to the emergency room, he was having too much fun up there to get her to the hospital. He didn’t let my graduation get in the way of his flight slot.” He patted the plane. “And where was she during our wedding reception? Polishing those racing stripes in his hangar, stroke after stroke after stroke.”

He reached over, took the last canister and set it on top of the plane.

“So I got the plane in his will. Fancy that. They sent it over a few weeks ago.”

“Did you have a chance to go to the funeral?”

“Funeral?” Dan stroked the aileron and smiled. “I don’t have time for a funeral. I’m busy testing the engine with you. You see, I’m like my father: I have priorities in life.”

A gust of wind sent the propeller whistling around. The orange flight tags held onto the wings with all their strength. Dan flexed the aileron up and down with his hand.

“I’m getting a craving. Do you have a lighter?”

His friend hesitated, then handed him a thin metal case. He turned it over in his hand, smiling, then knocked over the avgas tank on the wing. Straw-colored liquid spilled onto the tarmac.

His friend took two steps back. Dan picked up the tank on the ground, uncapped it and threw it at the tail. He then poured the last canister onto the fuselage.

For a second, Dan watched the gasoline pool onto the ground.

He then flicked the lighter and threw it at the Cessna. A jet of flame erupted out of the top and spread to the back of the plane. The racing stripes turned from red to brown to ash-black.

“I never knew my father,” Dan said with an empty canister at his side. “I only knew this plane.”

The fire melted a hole in the fuselage. Smoke hissed out of the cowl flaps.

Dan stood and watched the plume. His knees then began to bend, and he sunk to the ground.

For a while, there was silence. Dan held his head in his arms.

“It wasn’t my fault,” he said. “I’m telling you, it wasn’t my fault.”

His friend took a few steps forward and sat alongside him.

“He said once— he said that I’d make a good pilot. He was going to pay for my certification once I got out of college”

The sky cast shadows of smoke on their bodies. He watched the charred aileron drift up and down in the wind. Most of the smoke had receded.

Dan stood up and opened his mouth. He whispered something in the direction of the plane, then turned back to his friend.

“Thanks for coming by.”


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