She sat at the terminal with a view of the runway where 6 small planes had already taken off. Squinting to identify a familiar looking aircraft, she noticed the unique take-off approach, specific to taildraggers, where the single back wheel rises a few feet from the runway to level out the tilted plane before the two front wheels become airborne and the pilot begins to climb. Françoise understood the meticulous process that was required to take-off and land taildraggers because she'd seen her dad do it about a million times. She thought about how easy it looked from afar, watching the ant sized plane flawlessly ascend into the clouds without mistakes or doubt. She imagined herself in that aircraft, sitting in the second row with a window to her left, directly behind the pilot. She remembered how quiet it was during the short moments prior to her dad demanding silence so that he could say "CLEAR," before he turned the power key on his Cessna-185's control panel to fire up the roaring propellers. She relished on the short moments before the windows were sealed, the moment of peace before the swirl of the propellers urged fresh air into her lungs, styling her hair into the wind.
"Now boarding zone four" echoed throughout the chaotic terminal as she stood in line to scan her ticket. Indifference manifested her mind as she boarded the commercial jet-plane, where the engine would already be stirring and producing the humming noise that never ceased to invade her thoughts until she got to baggage claim. As Françoise stared at her ticket, pondering the involuntary sorrow she experienced when the realities of adulthood failed to elicit the spirit she epitomized as a child, she realized that she had gotten a left window seat, her favorite. The new Delta seats brought to mind how the Cessna never stopped smelling like a new car. It was one of those nostalgic scents that elicited flashbacks of her most cherished remembrances.
"Fuel level?" her father would yell over the deafening whine of a double engine prop plane.
"Full!" she had exclaimed. An unnecessary precaution that Françoise would later come to understand as a mere ploy her father used to make her feel of value.
"Flaps?" he inquired.
"Check!" she answered as she pulled the yolk back and forth in the pilot's seat with half of her body hanging out of the door to make sure the metal attachments on the wings were moving.
The checklist was an essential responsibility that she supervised before she buckled up, put the over-sized headphones over her ears and plugged their wires into the small outlet box next to her seat. To her right was her mother, Suzette, whom she regarded as fearless, for always going along with her father's sporadic ventures. Her mother was so patient; when her dad unsuspectingly attempted "zero gravity" by nose diving for a couple seconds once, her mom just had a laugh at the floating objects that crashed down once the plane leveled out. She had felt satisfied that her mother would temporarily be sitting in the second row with her, as they understood each other the most.
As her dad climbed into the pilots seat, her older sister, Janique, sat to the right of him as the trips official co-pilot. Françoise was eight years younger than her teenage sister, who never matched the excitement she felt about taking flight, maybe because she had been forced to take flying courses three times a week. Although still an adolescent, Janique was already the golden child of the two (and still is now); she had the ability to flawlessly retain and comprehend any concept ranging from sculpting to the art of flying. Flight school had bummed Janique out since it was another hobby that had taken more time from her friends but, nevertheless, she passed all of her written exams and simulations on her first try. Françoise still recalls how bad she wanted to be a prodigy at every skill like her sister, how bad she wanted to be the co-pilot.
As her father taxi'd the Cessna towards the runway, he looked at Janique, fully aware of his older daughter's stubborn tendencies, and confidently stated, "You're taking off today." The ringing silence in the headphones broke with frequency as her mother warned, "Mike, it's not a good idea. She's too nervous and the wind is a little rough today." Silence engulfed the four connected headsets again as Françoise quickly peeled hers off, so as to not have audio access of the upcoming brawl between her sister and dad. She remembered peering at poor Janique from her seat, watching her mouth angry words as they drowned in the raw vibration of the propellers before they could be heard.
The flight attendants' high pitched voice interrupted her thoughts, "Please buckle your seatbelts, make sure all tray tables are up and prepare for take-off." Sitting up and opening her window, Françoise smirked at the increased pitch of the turning jet blades, subconsciously reminding her body of the flutters in her belly as her sister prepared the Cessna for take-off.
The plane was perfectly aligned to the runway, the pre-take off equipment had been double checked and her father began to release the two break petals at his feet. Janique crossed her arms and refused to take control in one last attempt to shimmy her way out of the situation, causing the taildragger to slowly begin spinning in a circular motion. Françoise's mother desperately took hold of her hand as she rushed to put headphones back over her little ears in order to gauge the seriousness of her sister's immobility. Before she could question anyone, Janique jolted the plane to a halt with heavy feet and took hold of the co-pilot yolk to re-align the plane's nose with the runway. The headsets went silent once more before air traffic control chimed in, "Tango golf juliet sierra foxtrot, cleared for takeoff."
Her dad was as composed as he'd ever been, with his hands resting on his lap awaiting Janiques next movement, "You have all the knowledge and experience to do this on your own, and you will. Flaps are already up. Increase pitch and throttle." She remembered feeling her blood pumping so ferociously as Janique placed her trembling left hand on the throttle as she twisted the knob and pushed it towards MAX. The wings of the small plane began to sway as the engine's power blasted wind beneath them as Janique slowly released the breaks. The sudden jolt in speed caused her dad to nonchalantly break the silence, "RPM is over 2,500, the wings could break off, decrease mixture."
Françoise had the next 45 seconds engraved in her memory as she intently watched Janique silently fix each instrument in accordance with one another before she slowly pushed the yolk towards the instrument panel, lifting the tailwheel from the ground. Françoise and her mother were no longer sitting at an incline, signifying that Janique had single handedly pulled off her most treasured step during a takeoff in the Cessna. She remembered being buzzed with delight as her sister pulled back on the yolk and lowered the last setting of flaps that lifted her into the clouds.
She remembered being mesmerized by her sister's bravery, accepting, without envy, that Janique truly was a golden child. Françoise recalled the annoyances she brought upon her sister after that day; filling an entire notebook with answers to questions and advice that she had persuaded out of her sister, seeking to further mature so that Janique would let her hang around more and desperately attempting to live up to her hero. The rest of her childhood would revolve around embodying the characteristics of her sister so that she could one day recreate the same performance.
The high pitched voice bluntly plucked Françoise out of her reflection, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent. Please prepare for landing by making sure your seat backs are straight and your seat belts are fastened. Thank you for choosing to fly with Delta Airlines!" In composing herself before gazing at the birds eye view below, she became aware of the moment in which she had lost the inspiration that radiated so energetically within her younger self. When Janique ventured far away to begin her college career, Françoise's dreams followed. As the Delta aircraft kissed the runway, Françoise awakened to her naivety as a child. She made the mistake of believing that her motivations were fueled by Janique, therefore abandoning all hope when she left. Françoise, now working on her own college career, realized that she had neglected to discover her own courage, aside from her sister's shadow.
The hum of the jet engine still rang in her ears as she walked towards baggage claim, pleased to finally be home. Once the cell tower granted her phone with a connection, she immediately dialed a number and impatiently lingered around the conveyor belt for three long rings, "Françoise! Did you make it home?"
"Hey dad, I finally made it and I could really use a joyride in the Cessna."