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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents

either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead,

is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2005 by Ginger Strand

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction

in whole or in part in any form.

SIMON & SCHUSTER and colophon are registered trademarks

of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

For information about special discounts for bulk purchases

please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at

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Manufactured in the United States of America

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Strand, Ginger Gail.

Flight : a novel / Ginger Strand.

p. cm.

1. Air pilots—Family relationships—Fiction.

2. Parent and adult children—Fiction.

3. Fathers and daughters—Fiction.

4. Weddings—Fiction.

I. Title.

PS3619.T7354F58 2005

813?.6—dc22 2004062572

ISBN 0-7432-6684-6

eISBN 978-1-439-10468-2

ISBN-13: 978-0-743-26684-0

For Bob, who made it possible,

and Miranda, who made it worthwhile




THE THING TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT AIRPLANES, WILL always says, is that they want to fly. Diving, rolling, breaking to bits, plummeting to earth—those are things you have to make them do. When the girls were little, he would tell them to put their hands out the car windows and let them glide on the solid cushion of air.
Now angle it up,
he would say, and they would shriek with delight as their hands rose smoothly toward the sky. Margaret always rode behind the passenger seat. She had figured out that you see more from there, without the freeway median blocking your view. Also, being closer to the billboards gave her an advantage in the alphabet game. Leanne never seemed to mind.

A tiny raindrop lands on Will’s face, sharp and precise as a pinprick. He looks down, surprised back into the present. The driveway asphalt twinkles up at him. What was he doing? More and more, he’s developed the old person’s habit of getting overtaken by his thoughts, contemplation swallowing his intentions until he stops, unsure how to move forward. Almost sixty. Almost entirely used up, at least as far as the FAA’s concerned. He blinks. There’s a large black emptiness in the center of his field of vision. It’s from staring up, not at the sun, hidden behind a white scrim of clouds, but at the white sky. An airplane passing overhead, that was what made him stop and think about flying. Leanne is flying home today, arriving in Grand Rapids this morning, three days before her wedding. Absently, he wonders if the rain will slow things down at the airport. There’s no reason it should, but like all small airports, Grand Rapids is hard to predict. Sometimes they keep it together, but a little weather can drive the tower wonky.

The spring rain is lasting so long this year. Usually by June in Michigan, you can count on the days being mostly sunny. The strawberries will suffer for it this year. They like a burst of sun at the last minute.

Actually, it’s Margaret he’s worried about. Leanne will be fine, gliding in on Continental, subject to minor delays perhaps, but safe. At least as long as nothing unnatural happens—he veers away from even thinking about that. Margaret and David are the ones to fear for, driving up from Evanston, where they both teach. That could be ugly if it starts raining hard. The Dan Ryan, slick with oil and water, crowded with speeding Chicago drivers. Or that section of I-94 near Gary, Indiana, where all the trucks seem to converge. Even when traffic thins out around Michigan City, it’s still a fast road, given to construction barricades and narrow shoulders, tractor trailers jackknifing and minivans charging down on you from the right. He knows it well, knows every mile of it like a well-used garment. He’s worn that highway like a coat for over thirty years, since he moved the family to Ryville, Michigan, and took on the two-and-a-half-hour commute to O’Hare. It’s the bald midwesternness of I-94 that causes problems. The road is straight and flat and not as crowded as highways in the East or California, so people think there’s nothing to fear. They put their feet on the gas and drive flat out, their thoughts elsewhere, eyes fixed and numb, like people awake but dreaming.

Will doesn’t fly out of O’Hare anymore, but when he did, he would check the highway on the approach. From the east, the approach to O’Hare sweeps over southern Michigan, following the path of I-94, the only major east-west road in the lower third of the state. It was easy to tick off Michigan’s cities, each clustered around an I-94 interchange. First was Detroit, stuck to the eastern edge of the state as if trying to escape. An old pilot’s trick question: If you take off from Detroit and fly due south, what’s the first foreign country you pass over? The girls always loved the answer:

Over the years, Detroit has spread west, toward Ann Arbor, planted at the intersection of U.S. 23. After Ann Arbor, fields take over, then there’s Jackson, hanging by the thread of U.S. 127. Then more fields until I-69 marks Battle Creek, where you sometimes see
the flash of a fighter jet streaking toward the Air National Guard base. In another twenty miles, as regular as county lines, another freeway, U.S. 131, with Kalamazoo tumbling outward around it. Due north of Kalamazoo you can see Grand Rapids, and due west you can see the lake. Somewhere in that quadrant, too small to be seen from the air, is Ryville, the town where Will grew up, the town where he’s standing now.

Whenever a plane passes overhead, Will imagines the view from above, just as when he flies over Michigan, he imagines being on the ground looking up. Flying over Michigan is both familiar and strange, like looking at a well-known face upside down. He sees the puzzle pieces of farms below and imagines himself down there, the huffing of the tractor, the smell of stirred-up earth. When he was young, he wanted to avoid that. That’s why he enlisted in the Air Force, working the motor pool and taking night classes until he finally made it to flight school at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio. He lived in a cardboard duplex ten miles from the Mexican border, and every morning he burned a supersonic trail over the bleak expanse of western Texas. Even if he could see the ground, he didn’t look. He’d put over a thousand miles between him and any ground that could call him back.

The wind picks up with a heavy sigh, like a horse standing bored in the barn. The whiteness is darkening to gray. There’s a brief splatter of tiny raindrops on the top of his head, where his hair has thinned enough to be considered no longer there. He walks to the end of the driveway and looks down the road, aware of a fearful sensation that seems out of proportion. It’s only a county road, but cars travel fast on it. They lost two cats and a horse to that road, and the people down the street lost a child. He remembers being sad for them at the time, but it felt distant, someone else’s sorrow. Now his heart tightens with anxiety at the thought. Every year his heart, old fool, pounds harder for the past’s close calls. Danger seems closer to him now than it did then, as if every time it missed him, it took another step in his direction.

Still, he has to cross the road. Their mailbox, like all the others
on the rural route, is on the other side of the road, so the mailman can pass by once. That’s why he’s out here, to get the mail. That and to get out of the house. He glances back over his shoulder. In the flat, fading light, the house windows look dark, as if brimming with the energy that pushed him outside. Carol is in there, eddying through each room in a last-minute surge of nervous preparation.

Today is Wednesday, a day set aside for the girls’ arrivals, one with her husband and son, one with her husband-to-be. Tomorrow is slated for preparations and Friday is the wedding rehearsal. Bucking tradition, there won’t be a rehearsal dinner, but a cocktail reception for family and close friends in their home. He supposes that’s what’s got Carol all worked up, the thought of forty people milling around, all of them needing drinks and elegant little snacks. Carol likes to do things right. He used to love that about her. When he was in flight school, he was proud to bring his fellow pilots home, pleased when she cooked Easter dinner for his family. But lately, there’s been something desperate about it. She’ll be sweating every last detail until the party is over, and then she’ll be worrying for weeks about the little problems, going over it all in her mind. Even when everything’s perfect, she seems discontent. But maybe she’s always been that way. Maybe he’s only noticing it now.

A truck whizzes by, a piece of farm equipment rattling in the bed, and then from the other direction, a single blue minivan. The truck driver raises his hand in a slight wave, not because he knows Will but because that’s what people do in the country. The minivan driver is a woman, and she doesn’t even look at Will. Her van is new and boxy, a strange, almost aqua, color. Will makes her to be someone from the new high-end suburb growing west of town, on the edge of the state forest. The houses are big, all variations on the same theme, a young architect’s supposedly creative reinterpretation of the midwestern farmhouse, rife with gables and peaks and trim. Their lawns are studies in contrast: rich green expanses of unrolled sod punctuated by scrubby trees from the local nursery, some still sporting orange tags with their name and price.

Everything is changing, even here. He’s seen it in nearly thirty
years of flying over the country. In the seventies, at night, you would go for hours without seeing a single city, only scattered individual lights. Now every town has sprawled outward, and every part of the country, even the desert west of the Rockies, is carpeted with tiny pricks of light. Throughout the Plains states, the lights follow the dark line of the freeways, just as they must have once followed the great rivers.

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