Chapter 4: Straight
SOLO FLIGHT. I have quite a mental scrapbook devoted to that flight.
To be truthful, flight isn’t quite the right word; flights
would be more accurate, because it was not one continuous flight, though
in the minds of most of those who remember it, or think that they remember
it, it has come to be a continuous flight. I even think of it that
way myself sometimes, as a nonstop flight from Babbington out to Corosso
and another nonstop flight back. When I was interviewed upon my return,
I tried to be honest about what I had accomplished and what I had not,
but the interviewers had their own ideas about what the story ought to
be, and nothing that I told them was going to change those ideas, so I
began to go along with what they wanted. The account published in
the Reporter was typical, an account that made the flight seem more
than it actually was.
Babbington Boy Completes Solo Flight
Babbington — Peter Leroy will sleep in his own bed in Babbington Heights tonight, for the first time in more than two months, but you can bet that he’ll have dreams of flying, as he has for as long as he can remember. We all have those dreams, said by some to be the remnants of our species’ memory of swinging through the trees when we were apes, but most of us remain earthbound. Our flying is confined to our dreams. Not so for young Peter Leroy. This is a lad who makes his dreams come true.YES, let’s set the record straight. During my return trip, from Corosso to Babbington, I thought a lot about what I was going to say when I got home, and about the impression that my story would make, and I decided, quite deliberately, that I would be honest but not accurate. I would be honest overall but vague about the details. I intended to say that I had flown part of the way but not all the way. I don’t recall when, in rehearsing my remarks, I began to refer to the earthbound portions of the trip as taxiing, but it was well before I came within sight of Babbington.
When I reached Babbington, I rolled into town along Main Street, coming from the west. There are people in Babbington to this day who will tell you that they saw me fly in from the west, make a lazy circle in the sky over the area now occupied by the Historic Downtown Plaza, and touch down near the park before rolling to a stop at the intersection of Bolotomy and Main, where the reviewing stand had been set up. Some of them honestly believe that they saw that landing, just as some people honestly believe that they have seen the ghost of a beloved aunt climbing the back staircase at midnight and others think that they have seen the silver spaceships of interstellar travelers flash in eerie swift silence across the night sky.
I was paraded up and down Main Street in the back seat of a convertible, with the mayor at the wheel and Miss Clam Fest at my side. People screamed my name as I passed. They threw streamers and confetti. I was given the key to the city. The high school band played “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” again and again. Feeling like a jolly good fellow indeed, I went where I was led, into the building where the Reporter had its office, and found myself the subject of a press conference. All of the Babbington media were represented: the Reporter, of course; and the radio station, WCLM; as well as the Babbington high school paper, the Esculent Mollusk. All eyes were on me. My audience hung on my every word. I was the boy of the hour. I was completely intoxicated, drunk on fame, besotted with adulation.
The first question directed to me wasn’t really a question at all. The publisher of the Reporter, who assumed control of the proceedings, said, as a preliminary to taking questions from the floor, “Peter, it is an honor for the Reporter to have you here today, and we all want to hear how you got from Babbington to New Mexico.”
He paused, and I took his pause as my cue. Feeling even more full of myself than I ordinarily did, I said, “Well, I flew—”
I meant to add “part of the way.” I really did.
However, when I said, “Well, I flew—” the response was immediate and overwhelming. People laughed. Then they applauded. Miss Clam Fest blew me a kiss from her seat in the front row. I added nothing to what I had said. I just shrugged. They loved it. They loved me. Miss Clam Fest in particular seemed to love me, even though she must have been a mature woman of twenty-two. I wasn’t going to let the truth come between us. I told a version of the truth, as I had intended to, but it became a version that allowed people to believe what they so clearly wanted to believe, and what they wanted to believe was far from the version of the truth that I had planned to tell them.
I flew part of the way. That’s true. As I carefully said later in the press conference, I also taxied part of the way, before taking off and upon landing. I would say now, years beyond the influence of Miss Clam Fest’s strapless gown, based on the sober calculations of an essentially honest man, that I flew a total of about 180 to 200 feet on the way out to New Mexico. My longest sustained period of flight might have covered six feet. For the rest of the outbound trip, I was on the ground, “taxiing.” On the way back, I flew nearly 1,800 miles, but I was a passenger in a Lockheed Constellation, and Spirit of Babbington was in the luggage compartment, disassembled, in crates. There. The record is straight.
TAKING OFF | CONTENTS | LOOK FOR THE BOOK IN JULY 2006!
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Copyright © 2006 by Eric Kraft
Taking Off is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
St. Martin’s Press will publish Taking Off in the summer of 2006.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Kraft’s indefatigable agent, Alec “Nick” Rafter.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.