“I already know who he is, and where he is.” Sharon Lacey watched the soldiers march past. They were like one entity, with arms and legs moving in unison. She heard the uniform applause of their heels as they struck the pavement. She saw their faces, the blank stares of defeat. Their helmets glistening with a layer of mist. It’s as if the whole world is wearing khaki, she thought.
“Do you plan to do anything about it?” Linda Townsend crossed her legs and took a drag on her cigarette. Her red hair was cut scandalously short, and she wore a white flying suit with the front zipped down to reveal a white blouse and blue tie. She looked at Sharon, who sat next to her on the rock wall at the eastern edge of the airfield. The tarmac road running past the wall led to an army camp about five miles down the road.
“You think they’re the boys from Dunkirk?” Sharon put her hands between the rock and a backside that was complaining about the rough edges of several stones.
“Their kit looks new,” Linda said. Their boots are new. Supposedly, they left the beaches with little more than the clothes on their backs. It’s being called a victory. Our army plucked off the beach and saved from certain defeat by the Nazis. By the looks on their faces, they don’t feel like victors.” Linda looked over her shoulder. The fog was sifting away from the grass of the airfield. She could make out a low, red building with white window frames. “It’s lifting.” She carefully tapped the hot end of her cigarette against a stone, touched it with her fingertips, and put the remainder in the pocket of her flight suit. “Come on. If we get through today, we’ll be off to White Waltham. It’s a little airfield next to London where the ATA is beginning its operations.”
“ATA? How come you British never speak English? It’s all ATA, RAF, BBC, WC,” Sharon said.
“Air Transport Auxiliary. We get to fly all the kites the big boys get to play with. The difference is, we’re not supposed to have Jerry shooting at us.”
I’ll never get used to this place, Sharon thought. Nobody speaks English. Jerry means German. RAF means Royal Air Force. Git means asshole. It’s like learning a new language.
An engine sputtered and caught.
Sharon swung around, using her arms to push herself away from the wall. She landed softly in the long grass. It swished against her flying boots as she walked. She looked down. The toes were already coated with dew. She zipped up her leather RAF Irvin sheepskin jacket as she walked against the wind. She watched the wings of a Tiger Moth shiver as its engine ticked over. The newly camouflaged green and grey biplane looked about as awkward on the ground as it did in the air. She turned to her friend. “Any news of Michael’s whereabouts?” Why are you so interested in her brother?
Linda shook her head as she zipped up her flight suit. “Not a word. My mother is beginning to fear he’s been captured by the Germans.”
Sharon nodded. We can’t speak about the other possibility. The possibility that he won’t be coming back.
“Look at that.” Linda pointed at the orange windsock whose tail began to flap as it turned into the wind with its open, fishlike mouth. “We’ll get some flying in after all.” Sharon picked up the pace. “Do you think Bloggs will let us do the cross-country today?” Sharon looked at a patch of blue sky to the east.
“Why not ask him?” Linda cocked her head to the left.
“You’d better do the asking,” Sharon said.
“Maybe you’re right. He found out you’re a better pilot than he is.” Linda turned to her friend. “A much better pilot than any of us. I’m afraid you’ve bruised Waverly Bloggs’s fragile male ego.”
“He’s right over there.” Sharon pointed.
Bloggs smoked a cigarette and leaned against the wall of the hangar.
Sharon said, “It looks like he’s got his wind up.”
Linda laughed. “You’re beginning to sound like you were born here.”
“My mother was always using expressions like that. I guess she never really left England.” Sharon watched Bloggs as he dropped the cigarette and crushed it under the heel of his flying boot.
As they neared the hangar, the engine of the Tiger Moth sputtered and stopped.
Bloggs turned their way. He wore his freshly pressed uniform jacket and ants. The final touch was slicked-back hair and a pencil-thin moustache. “About bloody time you two showed up!”
Linda reached inside the breast of her flight suit.
Bloggs watched her intently.
“We’ve got our flight plan ready for you, sir,” Linda said. “Course plotted, winds estimated, and time computed, sir. All as you requested.” She handed the plan to Bloggs.
Bloggs stared at Linda and then Sharon, searching for evidence of sarcasm.
Sharon raised her right hand to salute but was stopped by a glare from Linda.
“We’re ready to go as long as the weather is accommodating. We were hoping you would have the weather report, sir.” Sharon looked in the direction of the windsock.
“Met report, you mean?” Bloggs looked at the flight plan. “Headed for Ilkley. It’s a longer than normal trip into ungodly West Yorkshire. Well then, get going, and don’t get bloody lost along the way or you’ll both be washed out!” He turned his back on the pair and walked into the hangar.
“We’re off.” Linda smiled at her friend.
Sharon leaned close. “Can’t wait for some of that real home-cooked food from your mom’s kitchen,” she said.
“And a chance for you to walk over and introduce yourself to your grandmother.” Linda headed toward the Tiger Moth.
“We’ll see.” Sharon followed with a knot growing in her stomach.