Lawrence Russell

Still Flying

§§ I'm walking up B. Avenue, heading north towards the airport. A Senior who's sitting on a recent model electric handicap car at an intersection whispers to me, could you give me a push? I look at his unit: nice metallic green with good all-season rubber on the wheels, state of the art.

I say, what's wrong? Battery flat?

No, he says, I just need a push.

He's wearing tinted prescription glasses, cap, golfing jacket. He tries to lift his right hand from the handle bar -- it's shaking.

What's wrong? I say.

Parkinson's, he says.

So I grab his shoulder with one hand and his hip with the other, give him a push, centre him in his seat.

Thanks, he says.

When did this come on? I say.

When I was 57, he says. I was an airline pilot.

Really, I say. What -- DC 10s, 747s...?

Before that, he says. Comets.

Comets, I say. Christ, they had metal-fatigue problems.

Yeah, he says, just like me.

I tell him my father was a test pilot, flew Spits, Lancasters, everything the R.A.F. had in the war.

Yes, he says, I was in the war, 4 years, R.C.A.F.

We talk briefly about aging, the problems of getting around. He says he's 76 now, going over to Vancouver in July for a brain operation.

What, I say. Checking a nerve cluster?

They're, they're going to drill a hole through my skull, he says. I'll be talking to them as they do it, telling them, them...

His sentences all fade like this. He whispers and fades.

Well, I say, you look pretty good otherwise... just so long as you can get around. Hey, this isn't a bad-looking unit you've got here.

New, he says. A woman in a car hit me a month ago next block up... said, said she didn't see me.

She'll see you in this one, I say. Like Caesar's chariot.

He spasms, seems about to weep... but it passes. I'm thinking, is this the disease or is this raw emotion, the trauma of his situation?

He says, I was going to get a smaller one, put it in the car but, but....

But this one flies better, I say.

Yeah, he says.

An old woman in a shabbier handi-car approaches and he slowly raises his hand in greeting.

Quite a shake, I say. Well, good luck in Van.

I watch as the woman guns it onto the cross-walk and he follows smoothly. I move on up the street to the framing shop to pick up a matte for a print I've had for years, forgotten about, just rediscovered. He's gone when I come back.

That old Shooting Star, that TC-33 fighter jet they keep at the airport for coastal patrols roars over, banking east. I've seen it for years around here -- straight stubby wings with bullet tanks on the tips, like a shining cross in the sky when you look up. Real vintage aircraft, must be 50 years old now, and I'm always surprised when I see that it's still flying.

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