Force of Nature
Carl was what they meant when they say, "He was a force of nature."
He was standing looking at the airplane he had just bought with his pay and poker winnings and every other scheme besides the money from the family gas station they all ran for a living.
It was a Taylorcraft, painted red now sitting there in the perfect evening light of the damp chilled morning. -Trees off behind it. Eight O’Clock in the morning now.
The prevailing winds came down out of the northwest that time of year, and he stood at the south of the grass strip so that what sun there was made the leading edges gleam with the advertisement of their bright soul.
He’d been out of the Navy since ’46 having come in just that late in the war to miss it, except for the loot.
They had all from the top to bottom loaded any ship at any port leaving there at the very end with anything they could cram in a corner or hold or stacked in the paid spot on the deck.
He’d won enough poker, collected enough favors owed, fed enough, to put ten German motorcycles on the ship for the trip back.
He bought the little plane with the money from the motorcycles because after after the Navy he wanted to go further faster. Ships had been too slow for him. He liked women and the time between ports and whores was too great.
It made his temper bad.
The plane was sitting there in the gray of a misty 11 day. The grass was just brown now, the strip cut out of the pines, pin oaks, maples dogwoods and blackberry tangles now raw at the edges of the strip. He’d bought it where it stood from the brother of the man two years dead in a bomber over Germany.
After Carl had figured out how to start it he’d driven it back and forth on the runway listening to the engine and feeling when the bounce got lighter. He’d done that all alone there on the strip which was often oddly to him, deserted.
The second time he’d let it hop a little.
As patiently as was possible for him, he had read the brown paper of the cover creased and cracked half folded manual and noted what speed he might expect to get off the ground.
He was stubborn and living was a joke to discover on your own terms for him. Six foot three two hundred and twenty pounds, not full bald yet, but seeming in happy anticipation of the event with the short military haircut.
All the men of the family went bald, so he looked like the rest of his brothers. There were three of them. They shared laws and treaties among only themselves, the brothers down from the uncles and grandfather and father and they were from Dutch traders and sailors and livery owners and then after the two wars and the depression it came down to the gas station and five tractor trailer trucks.
He was now back and knew that the gas station, Durham, the trucks would not be enough. -At least not the way he saw it.
Carl there just 23 concentrated beneath the heavy oval Dutch head. The short military bristlecut standing up. Just looking at the airplane wondering what it would show him without knowing he was even thinking or wondering.
He saw his future and it gave him peace.
Real peace was foreign to his thinking so much that only a beautiful and dangerous thing would have even the glitter of peace that he would ever love. For the violent and angry, compelled, it is only beauty that will stop them long enough to at least feel something like peace.
They did things, and made other people do things, go places, carry things as they carried and did things as if it had always been so in their family to move freight and know how to get horses, boats, trucks or cars to move. They made all around them move and carry as quick as possible.
He stood a moment more. If anyone had been around they would have been surprised to see him stand still that long.
Then he went to the plane.
It was too small for him. He scraped his head getting in the hole in the side. For the rest of his life there would always be a blood crusted spot on the top of his head from all the cockpits, door openings, wheel wells that he put his head in and out of. No plane was ever really big enough for him. 05be there would have been a ship, but he was done with ships. He didn’t seem to notice it from then on a perpetual scab, or care about it then or from then on.
This time he scraped his head bending his neck while he lifted his leg into the space infront of the seat. His right leg was up and the panel had held his attention more than what he was doing. – Altimeter, airspeed dial in familiar knots, turn and bank indicator, fuel guage, magneto switch, radio.
Finally he was in the thing and he got it going right off and let it run and ran it up with his feet on the tops of the pedals and then taxied out to the end of the strip bouncing a bit here and there and got it turned into the wind and steered it down the runway.
He liked the sound of the engine the way he liked the sound of a motorcycle engine and felt everything about it as he went from one end of the strip to the other. He felt the way the grass drug at the wheels and way it felt to have a wing above him feeling them as if they were attached to his shoulders. He felt it when it was not the brakes but the rudder and wheel yoke in his hand that had influence and we was off the ground climbing in a changed sound and experience of gravity and rush of air.
He was surprised at how soon he was lost.