Welcome to Story Sunday, where I try to prove Ray Bradbury wrong and write 52 bad stories. This is week 23. I am currently working on a fresh story for a contest, and it is still on the Story Factory assembly line, so here is one from the vault. It’s part prologue, part backstory for a longer piece.
from The Victory Girl’s Guide to Supporting the Troops
Joe McConnell’s Youngest
June 10, 1927
The army staff car pulled up to the curb in front of a two-story frame house. A wide porch fronted the house, it lacked a porch swing, Joe thought, something to make next time he thought about it. A large truck, parked in the front yard, attracted several neighbor children as moving men unloaded furniture. A small woman moved from the house to the truck, directing the men as they picked up a dusty sofa. Joe McConnell got out of the car and thanked the airman driving him. The house seemed too big for him and his three children. He went in and surveyed the front room. The Air Corps ought to think about hiring this woman for the Materials Depot, he thought as the movers jumped at her orders.
“Is there a certain way you would like the furniture arranged, sir?”
Joe looked at the slightly graying woman standing among the boxes in the living room. “Agatha, I’ve never been real good at stuff like that, just do what you think is best.” He looked around the room again. Decisions like this made him prefer the Batchelor Officer Quarters. “Just tell me which room is mine.” He smiled.
“Now, I had the delivery driver put the white furniture in the smaller bedroom for Frances and the light pine things in the other bedroom for the boys. Is that what you wanted?” Agathe pushed a box onto another pile and opened another.
“Um, yeah, that should work. That is how my parents had them sleeping in their house.”
“It’s all dusty and dirty, you said it had been in storage for a year?”
“Seven years. Since Evelyn died.”
“Well, Colonel Matthews’ wife came by and she said that she had a girl who cleaned for her and she would send her over tomorrow to help me get everything back into shape.” She sighed. “It’s going to be a bit of a change for your children to come from your parents’ farm and all the animals and orchards to come here to this crowded little town.” She closed the box, and looked for another. “But at least there will be other children for them to play with. There is a little girl named Marilyn only two doors down that said she could hardly wait to have another little girl to play with.”
“I saw a few boys running around too.”
“They heard you were a test pilot, I think they wanted to see if you are human.” She looked at her watch. “I only have about another hour, then I have to get home to fix dinner for Charles. Do you want to join us? Or should I bring something over?”
Joe thought a moment. “I think I’ll go get something over at the officers’ club tonight, it’s probably my last chance to get out with the boys before the kids come tomorrow. I talked to my mother and she said they would come on the afternoon train.”
“Did you see them much? I mean, it’s not like you’ve been a stranger to them or anything.” Agatha put on her sweater and picked up her black leather handbag, hooking it over the crook of her elbow.
“Well, the Army had had my squadron moving around a bit doing those air races. I saw them at holidays and I wrote letters. The last time I saw them was last month at my father’s funeral.” He kicked at one of the boxes with his foot. “I tried to get Mother to come stay here too, but she said that she needs a break.”
Agatha raised an eyebrow. “I guess taking care of them and your father could have been a bit of a chore, especially at her age.”
“She did say Frances was getting to be a bit of a pistol.”
“Captain, she’s seven, how much trouble could a seven-year-old cause?”
The fighter plane danced in the sky over the airfield. The Douglas Corporation was demonstrating some new O-2H biplane models for the Army Air Corps to consider. To Joe, the Liberty engine sounded loud and powerful in the air above. He flipped through the spec sheets Douglas provided him. The 512-mile range would be useful. He hated watching planes fly to evaluate them, he much preferred flying them. But today was the demonstration, tomorrow he could fly. He thought the kids would be interested in watching the new airplanes, so he had Agatha pack a picnic lunch and bring them to the airfield. Ethan and Edward were less than impressed with the new O-2Hs, they were under the wooden bleachers making paper airplanes out of some discarded spec sheets. Frances, however, sat next to Joe, eyes glued to the plane.
“Daddy, will you fly a plane like that?”
“Tomorrow, they’ll let me try one tomorrow.”
“Can I come with you? I like that plane, it’s shiny.”
Joe laughed, “No, sweetheart, I’m sorry, I can’t take you for a ride in that plane. But you can ride with me Saturday when I do crop dusting for Mr. Wisenbaker. OK?”
She slouched. “The Jenny doesn’t go that fast.”
“Well, Joe, seems you might have you a pilot for the air race next month.” A young lieutenant came up and sat on the bleachers next to Joe.
“Yeah, the only child in the state that gets good grades rewarded with air time.” Joe laughed, then turned to her. “Frankie, this is Lietenant Dolittle, I was telling you about him at dinner a few nights ago.”
“The pilot who flew so high he fell asleep?” She studied the pilot carefully. “You shouldn’t go higher than you can handle, you know. That’s what my daddy says.”
Dolittle laughed. “I know, he tells me the same thing.”
Joe shook his head. “Frankie, I’ll make a deal with you. If you have a good week at school, no phone calls or notes from the teacher all week, I’ll let you fly the Jenny.” He stopped a minute and looked up, the engine on the O-2H was sputtering above them.
It was the first crash the children had ever seen. The pilot had the good fortune of enough time to bail out of his plane, so they saw the man suspended from the white silky parachute gently floating towards the ground.
Screams woke him up. They came from Edward’s room. Joe ran down the hall, tying his robe as he went. He opened the door to find the boy sitting up in bed, crying.
“What is it?” He sat on the bed and put his arm around him.
“I had a dream that your plane crashed right in front of us.” His bottom lip quivered. At ten, Edward was still a boy in many ways.
“Well, that’s certainly not my intention.” He smiled a bit, trying to make him relax.
“Dad, you’re a test pilot, everyone at school said that it’s the most dangerous job in the Air Corps.” He wiped his nose with the corner of the sheet. “What if you crash? We’d have nowhere else to go.”
“I’m sure that Grandma would take you back, she just thought you were old enough to be with me.”
“Dad, we both know it was Frankie. If it weren’t for Frankie, we would still be with Grandma.” He paused and played with the sheet.”If it weren’t for her, we’d still have a mother.”
Joe stood up a moment. He wanted to slap him and he wanted to agree with him and didn’t know what to do. He took a deep breath and sat down, hugging Edward tightly. “It’s not like Frankie had any choice, she didn’t choose to be born. And even these days, women die in childbirth. It was just one of those things.”
“Well, she did chose to get in trouble at school and she still does.”
“I don’t think she’ll try to drive the car to school again,” Joe said, “I think I made that pretty clear to her.”
Edward pulled away. “I think you find her amusing and that just makes her come up with more stunts. One of these days…”
“Edward, thank you for your advice. I know I haven’t been around much, but I promise you, I can handle Army pilots, so I can handle your sister. You just concentrate on doing your school work and listening to Agatha. Leave Frankie to me.” He kissed he gently on the forehead. “And I promise you, I won’t go down in a Douglas OH-2.”
“Captain, it’s someone named Agatha, she said she’s your housekeeper. I think it’s an emergency,” the airman held out the phone to Joe. He took it and listened and “hmmpf”-ed a few times. Then he hung up.
“I need to leave a while. My kids were playing air show again.” Joe told the airman. “Tell the Colonel I’ll call him when I know more.”
“Your kids play air show?”
“The housekeeper heard a scream and then one of the boys crying. She went out the back door and my middle son, Edward was sitting on the ground holding his foot and crying. Agatha asked what was wrong and he said his parachute didn’t work. Sure enough, Agatha said, she realized that he was sitting in the middle of a torn up bed sheet. There was clothesline everywhere and it attached to the boy’s middle with one of my belts. So Agatha asked where Frankie was, and Edward, who can’t talk because he is crying too much, points straight up. Frankie’s bedsheet caught on one of the gables of the house, so she is just hanging there. She was trying not to attract attention, because she thought she would be able to figure out a way down.”
“Sir, isn’t Frankie only seven? She’s going to be a handful once she’s a teenager, isn’t she.”
“Believe me, I’m looking into convents already.” He laughed. “I need to go the hospital, they already took Edward there to work on his leg.”
“You know sir, my brother got alot of that worked out of him at a good military prep school. He tried to move the barn with the oxen when he was eight.” “For some reason, I just don’t see Frankie being military material.”