Reports of ice pepper the scrolling news on my tablet. "Avoid travel, stay off the roads", warn the weather folks, their hands waving in front of blue screens. Ice....travel....
January, 1991. Life blooms within me; life which in a half dozen months will enter, laughing, six weeks early.
I'm bound for Brookfield, Missouri, from the Springdale, Arkansas airport. I park my Audi close to the hanger, and swing my briefcase and overnight bag out of the trunk. My feet slip from beneath me; a hand reaches to take my burden. It's cold; it's nearly dawn; and my pilot has arrived.
He rolls back the wide, tall metal door through which the little plane will come. He nods; we've not flown together before now, and we exchange names in the gloom of the building. Our voices echo in the dark stillness.
"I just found out, the heater isn't working on the little Cessna," the young man says. "I think you should wear a coverall, get some extra protection." He rummages among the yellow, oil-stained garments hanging along the wall, and finds the smallest. It fits over everything I'm already wearing, including my clothing, winter coat, and long wool shawl. "Zip it up, all the way," he cautions, and then gently lifts me into the twin seat of the 150.
We're in the air within minutes, flying north towards Kansas City. We hit bad weather right away, and in the chill of the small cabin, I feel my teeth chatter. I've clamped the headphones over my hat; I hear the pilot's voice: "I'm glad you don't mind flying with me after what happened last week." I turn to look at him. "That was you?" I ask, through the microphone. He turns his attention back to the ice forming on the windshield and I try not to think about the crash, the reason we're flying the 150 instead of the 206.
I lean back against the seat and feel the rush of the wind. The little plane fights the storm and I wonder, what in God's name am I doing up here? I've got a hearing the next day, but what hearing could be so important that I would wrap my pregnant body in a greasy pair of overalls and fly through a winter storm in an impossibly small plane piloted by a guy who buggered up the landing gear of another plane just a few days ago?
I cannot open my eyes. I wouldn't see the sunrise anyway, through the pelting sleet. Ice coats the glass and the air rushes past us, pummeling the little plane. We drive on; we do not speak; and I find myself reciting the first line of the Hail Mary like a mantra on which my life depends. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." I can't remember anything else of the prayer, so I just say that line, over and over. I don't realize that I'm babbling outloud into the headset and the pilot's face is looking grim.
We land in Kansas City for refueling. My pilot eases me onto the asphalt and catwalks me into the Executive Beechcraft lounge. "My passenger's pregnant, can you get her some tea?" He says it as though the men aren't surrounding us with open mouths. "You gonna keep on in this," someone asks him, and he spares the guy a short glance. I slump into a chair and wrap my hands around the styrofoam cup someone hands me.
Grey engulfs as as we take off, heading north by northeast towards Linn County. My pilot's on the radio now, trying to find out if we can land at the Linn County airport. "Negative," comes the reply, static breaking the word into three reverberating sounds. "The landing strip has not been cleared since the last snow. Your plane's too small for the drifts." We fly on, there's nothing else we can do. The radio crackles. Linn County's calling back. "The Burnses wanna know if that's their lawyer you're totin' here," the voice inquires. My pilot glances at me; I nod. "That's affirmative, Linn County," he says. "Okay, you're gonna have to land in their field, they'll meet you." They converse a few minutes more, with the pilot making changes in the bearings while I close my eyes and practice breathing.
The storm takes hold of the Cessna and drives us forward. I feel the plane shake; I strain to find the sun, to figure out which way we're heading. I see nothing but clouds, and frozen rain, and the eerie layered greys of wind and water high above the earth. I close my eyes again as the descend begins.
We fall forever.
I'm sure the pilot has lost control; I feel my body shift forward and I reach both hands out and grab at whatever is in front of me. "Hold her steady," the pilot mutters, and I drop my hands to my belly and shudder, the tea rising back into my throat as we near the ground.
The wheels hit the frozen field and we skitter down a line meant for a clean cool crop of corn. "Jesus Mary Joseph," I hear, through my headphones, and I look over at the pilot who's clenching the throttle with one hand while the other presses hard against the window. Time stands still.
Then we're sliding sideways and he's struggling for control and I raise my arms to shield my face and I brace myself and think, "Oh my God, I am heartily sorry...."
And then all motion and all noise stops.
When I can hear again, I realize there's the sound of a honking horn. I lean towards the windshield, peering through the thick veil of ice. I can barely make out the shape of the pick-up truck coming towards us, its lights cutting through the driving sleet. Within minutes, I am lifted down and placed in the cab of a truck full of billowing warm air and someone hands me another cup, ceramic this time, and someone else says, "Mom's got supper ready for y'all."
The pilot clamors down from the plane and bundles himself into the bed of the pick-up, just seconds before we take off, towards the house, where the lights are on and somebody's mother waits.