What follows is a story from many hundreds of issues ago when I’d spin out tales, reposted here ’cause it captures the imaginary world ol’ Remus inhabited. I say “story”, but nothing happens, then almost nothing happens, then nothing happens again. The intent is amusement, nothing more, ’cause it’s easier on both of us.
Miss Alde Long, the schoolmarm, and ol’ Remus were passin’ a summer’s Sunday afternoon on his porch. The purpose of any worthwhile Sunday afternoon is to give the appearance of movement whilst evading any but the most trivial accomplishment, something along the lines of a Rube Goldberg machine but without the unseemly utility.
“So then they tell me the Giant Economy Family Size is the smallest one they make,” says ol’ Remus.
“Seems as ‘though everythin’ is ranged against the little folks,” says Miss Alde, “try as you will to cut back on expenses.”
“An y’can’t buy Grade B milk, nor eggs neither, jes’ only Grade A. I’m saying they keep the good stuff for themselves,” and then he went on about when the menfolk held off an invasion from Mars of an October night back in ’38, “… an’ sure ‘nough they saw an alien machine down the hollow, fifty feet high it was, an’ walkin’ on four legs. It’d already put many a good citizen underfoot … ,” an’ then how his own Pappy had run right up an’ made the decisive shot with his .257 Roberts.
That’d explain the bulletholes in the water tower, Miss Alde thought to herself.
Remus whapped his pipe against the palm of his hand. “It was all over the radio, even so, they tried to pass it off as a hoax,” says Remus with a wink and a grin, underhanding the dottle into the weeds. Then they got to talkin’ about old friends; Marty Palls and the Krumm brothers, Bob and Chuck, Bob bein’ in France.
Miss Alde heard it first, a sound that welled up from everywhere and nowhere, quiet as an old memory but more insistent, swelling in volume, rising in timbre until it burst over the ridge like an attack dog — an ol’ DC-6 in transport guise, four mighty engines with flashing propellers announcing the return of visible power, then, whooshing over the house in an operatic display of soaring heft that would embarrass a contemporary machine, it vanished like a flick of a finger, leaving a resonant drone that faded at last into wafting, discordant quiescence.
Miss Alde turned to ol’ Remus. “Geologic survey plane, mineral mapping most likely, low an’ slow. When those double Wasps are runnin’ right they sound like there’s a loose dime jinglin’ in every cylinder,” she said, recalling how she worked her way through Princeton as a night-shift pilot on the northeast corridor shuttle. She’d pick it up in Newark an’ take it on down to DC, then back to Newark.
“Me an’ ol’ George Haiduk. Doc we called him, on account he was seldom seen without his medical textbooks, my co-pilot, big guy from outten Mormon country who got nervous crossin’ high bridges, said he’d burn ’em all if he could find the courage and enough thermite. It’s not so unusual you know, some of yer best fliers won’t get on a ladder.”
“Ol’ George was a talented pilot but always in a rush,” she continued, “hard banks an’ such, musta been the war, he didn’t have much time for passenger-friendly glide slopes, wanted to put ‘er down in a hurry. He was steady an’ dependable, an’ worth the trouble. I was jes’ coachin’ him on bein’ more of a chauffer an’ less of a jockey. Y’can’t be a kamikaze I’d tell him, the customer wants some assurance of a return trip.”
Ol’ Remus fired up his pipe, glancing at her through his eyebrows, Celtic style. A fugitive devilishness was peek-a-booing around her aristocratic features.
“I’d been at Magdalene not long before, the New Building, inna room next door to ol’ C. S. Lewis’s,” she continued, “an’ got used to a more measured pace.” She discreetly cleared her throat and took a sip of tea. “It wasn’t all so very proper ‘though, we built a 2 MeV isochronous accelerator in the basement, strictly unauthorized you know. We got the money from KGB bribes an’ then fed ’em bogus data.”
She went on about the laggards in her third-grade statistical analysis class, how there was always a few couldn’t seem to master quadratic equations good enough to survive the lightning round, an’ the fifth grade metalworking class project, a CNC triax machining center powered by an eighth-scale replica of a ’76-pattern Corliss engine.
An’ how she’s been readin’ about the big-time city schools an’ their wonderful advances in education and doesn’t want the local kids to fall behind so, for instance, she’s havin’ her fourth-graders memorize Julius Agricola’s memoirs, interlinear of course, they’re jes’ kids after all.
Then a little repast, a boucherie plate with sweet potatoes twice-baked Cajun style, slathered with creole butter, followed with homemade pecan candy. Remus could see Miss Alde had an appetite so he spun out a story about Pappy’s mule, name of Milton Burro, so she could ‘tend to chowin’ down without feelin’ she hadda hold up her end, then he bussed the table for zank duty an’ set out the iced tea.
“Seems I rode a DC-6 on AeroQuito down Peru,” says Remus with a chuckle, “they’d cancel the flight if there weren’t enough passengers, an’ they don’t count the chickens and livestock. If they were jes’ one or two passengers shy we’d all ante up and be on our way. An’ the runway was fitted so tight to the hogback there wasn’t room to taxi, so the passengers hadda turn it around armstrong style, hah!, an’ they used pantyhose as a fuel filter when gassing ‘er up, that I remember on account it flew off into the tank an’ he hadda fish it out with a bent coathanger.”
Miss Alde had seen things like this and much more. Before she was hired they had her crank down the landing gear by hand jes’ to make sure she could do it. And good thing, she did it for real more than once.
“An’ y’know, there something to be said for that,” she said, “they jes’ get on with it and go where they’re goin’. We treat air travel like it was a secret NASA project, you know, searches an’ intimidation an’ federal agents an’ regimentation. The value of airline travel is in the travel, not the airline. We got it all backwards.”
“Not to mention their duplicity,” Remus said with a grin, “airline is a surveyor’s term.” He didn’t mention how he came to be in Peru and Miss Alde didn’t ask. And so it went until, as the poet—Humboldt?—said, or near enough, twilight trailed her golden robe across the darkling sky, an’ Miss Alde took her leave.