Better Than Sex

Bitter and betrayed, I slipped the moorings of home and family in early Spring and sought solace in the ocean of the sky. My machine was waiting for me at the airfield, and I was soothed by the familiar rituals of rigging and pre-flight checks. I took a sleeping bag, some cash and five gallons of spare fuel.

I took no charts, had no destination in mind. Airborne, the fancy took me to fly round the Northern coastline, sleeping on beaches and finding fuel where I could. Flying North along the shattered cliffline, I noticed nothing. My mind was full of self-righteous bitterness as I contemplated the loss of wife, children and half the business I had worked so hard at for so long in their name. One weekend in a Southern hotel – the first and humiliating, unfulfilled last – and I was dead meat in the divorce courts. How long had I provided nothing but money and received nothing but service? I went back over the last five years and felt their emptiness crawl over me for the first time.

A near-miss with a Navy jet brought me back to the business of flying, and I turned inland in search of fuel. An hour later I was round the firing range and heading still North, now above unending white beaches. I landed on the firm sand below the tideline to refuel in mid-afternoon and ate an orange. Later, as the Eastern horizon dimmed, I took off and flew on my uncaring way.

As the first stars came out I realised I could no longer see the ground well enough to ascertain if this section of beach was suitable for a landing. It did not seem to matter. I put the machine into a shallow dive, aiming to land just past a series of salmon nets connecting land to sea ahead of me. I had seen the small fire burning near my selected landing site, but it did not register until I flared for touchdown. I struggled with the steering as the nosewheel hit soft sand, then switched off as the machine came to rest fifty feet from the small circle of firelight.

A girl in a hastily-arranged towel ran towards me, not sure if my arrival was intentional or if I was safe. Her name was Elspeth, and she was from the village a mile away over the dunes. I never saw her by day, but in dusk and fire-flicker she was hauntingly beautiful. She shared her food and played guitar to me, and I drowned in her body to the crash of the waves and the rush of the undertow. In the morning the fire was out and she was gone.

I flew North again, stopping once for fuel in a pasture behind a garage on the edge of a small seaside town. I felt clean, refreshed and empty, a blank sheet of paper waiting for inspiration to cover me with meaning. I turned the corner around midday, and flew West along the inhospitable and spectacular top edge of the country.

There were no towns or villages now, and no traffic or petrol stations on the winding clifftop road beneath me. My fuel was getting low and I was flying into worsening weather from the West. Landing sites were few, and I knew I was in trouble. The lighthouse on the far headland where the cliffs turn Southward again disappeared in a squall as I fought the machine down through the violent air to a small but hopefully smooth patch of sheep-spotted grassland. As I tied down the wing and took what shelter I could under it I congratulated myself on getting down in one piece in such atrocious conditions; I was a pilot once more, not simply a fugitive.

Ten minutes later a Land Rover appeared, bumping over the trackless moor from the West. Behind the wheel was a woman with long dark hair and green eyes. For a moment I thought it was Elspeth, the beach girl of the previous night’s dream stop, but she was older. She asked if I was alright, then I got into the vehicle and she took me to her house.

Fiona lived in an old stone house on the edge of a cliff. Her nearest neighbours were the lighthouse keepers. Many small signs told me a man lived here with her, but she said nothing and was alone. She drew me a bath and cooked a meal for the two of us, thn we made love by crackling firelight. At some point in the heat of our lovemaking I became convinced that she was the same woman I had enjoyed on the beach, and a shudder ran through me. It passed unnoticed in the cut and thrust, and later she covered me with a blanket and left the room. I had dreams of falling.

In the morning she woke me early and told me I must leave. She put a can of fuel in the Land Rover and drove me to my landing ground on the moor. The machine was undamaged. I filled up and made a difficult takeoff. I circled to wave, but the Rover was already bumping its way across the dreary landscape. I flew South and East, heading home to sort out the mess. I had no plan, but I felt more positive than I had in weeks and was able to concentrate fully on my flying.

My direct route home took me over a large mountain range. On the far side and in sight of the coast a massive downdraught caught the machine and slammed me into a steep hillside.

I came to in great pain and realised I was in a hospital bed. Some time later a nurse came in with my wife. The nurse was Fiona. I was dizzy and strangely terrified – seized by a bizarre and namless fear I had neither the energy nor the will to identify. Nurse Fiona told me that I was lucky to be alive, and that I was just going for a wee operation. She pulled off her nurses cap. Long dark hair fell down, and she was Elspeth. She gave me an injection, and as I lost consciousness my wife smiled coldly.

They tell me I lost my balls in the accident. Sometimes I miss them, so I go flying.


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