Wing Tips and Tea

The icy terrazzo floor feels unwelcoming–aloof and chilly. I would prefer wall to wall but the concrete beneath my feet came with the house.  My husband Bernie, a fighter pilot, has six months to go in Vietnam and hasn’t even seen his new son yet. I sit on the bed’s edge, as I do every night about this time, knowing Little Paul will soon sing out his belly wail. My slippers warm my feet while I slip into my robe. I know what’s coming.

My breasts throb. How can Baby’s hunger lust alert my body so quickly? How I can pop up like a jack-in-the-box when my son is about to demand his midnight snack, when only a few months ago, alone in bed, I lolled around all night, punching pillows, dreaming of Bernie, and procrastinating the day’s beginning? How swiftly things change. 

All I hear from baby is faint churning. He will take at least five more minutes to work up a frenzy, so I shuffle to the bathroom. On the way out, I grab a look in the mirror and yank a headband around my wild hair, then head down the hall towards the kitchen. Four minutes of free time left. 

I could read Bernie’s last letter tucked into the pocket of my robe. But do I really want to hear about how you can lose your wing tips by pulling too many Gs, and still land to tell about it? The small wing tips on the F-4 fighter jet are vulnerable to pressures when pulling up too fast from a dive. What Bernie did was dangerous, and I was relieved to learn he and his plane flew on and made a safe landing.  It’s not something he can write to his parents about, but I’m glad he does to me. His tells me stories that make me laugh, or cry, or desperately want to know more. 

I plop down at the kitchen table, and pull out the envelope and unfold his four-page letter.  I’ve memorized that sentence so many times. He writes as if losing the wingtips on his F-4, is a daily occurrence. I see him sitting across from me right now, gesturing with his hands as pilots do, trying to explain what happened. My heart races.  If I could just touch him.  

The stain on the folded up yellow, legal sized paper is from beer most likely, but his letters are precious keepers. I finger his closing: I miss you my darling. I feel you close to me. All my love, your Bernard.

I slide the letter back into my pocket, shuffle to the cupboard and pull out a cup with a fresh tea bag–called Sleepy Time–already in it, then click on the gas burner under the teapot. Cooking with gas makes me uncomfortable; it smells, and ticks back at me when I turn it on. While I wait for the whistle, I say a prayer for Bernie.  

The baby starts to cry as I set my steeping cup on the end table next to the living-room rocker. 

The moon lights up the room. 

“You’ll have to wait ‘till I’m ready, Little Paul.” I open the letter again and ease down into the plush cushions.  

“Two more minutes.”

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