A Song for December 17

by Larkin Vonalt

The camera is set up, and John has the bulb in his hand, ready to squeeze off the shot. The wind is cold today. Laying along the top of the machine, he doesn’t think of it.

One-two-three-four, the machine powers down the track. His brother runs next to him in the sand, holding the strut of the right-wing, steadying the machine.  With a shout his brother releases them and they are airborne.

Like an unruly horse, the machine bucks and pitches. It darts this way, then that way. He moves the rudder to steady it. The propellers are so loud he hears little else, but he feels the spruce snapping and creaking beneath him.

A sudden dart ends the flight, and they tumble onto the sand: 12 seconds, more than a hundred feet. The small group assembled on the beach is cheering. His brother, usually so taciturn, is jumping up and down.

Then there’s a second flight, 175 feet, and a third, 200 feet. Hail the new, ye lads and lasses.

“One chimpanzee, two chimpanzee, three chimpanzee,” he counts under his breath, as his brother takes the helm.  There’s a watch for official time, but he can’t take his eyes off the machine.

As before, the machine pitches and rolls, yet stays aloft. After a few hundred feet, the stability improves. 852 feet in 57 seconds.  The landing has a few problems– easily repaired, they note. But as it is moved back towards the camp, a gust of wind catches the wing, sending the machine somersaulting into the dunes, flinging off the crew that tries to hold it down. It is wrecked beyond repair. No matter, they’ve crossed the rubicon, there will be no turning back.

The brothers walk four miles into town, sand blowing in the windy hills. Sing we joyous, all together. He feels light. They have just mastered gravity, they have achieved powered flight. Heedless of the wind and weather, they are laughing.

Grinning at their hard-won triumph, they stop at the telegram office they send a wire home to their father. The message they send is artfully cool:

“Success four flights Thursday morning, all against twenty-one mile wind started from level with engine power alone average speed 31 miles, longest 57 seconds, Inform press, home Christmas. ”

Fa la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la.