A commission for Fred Brown.
Mature for language.
A young boy looks up to his veteran father and uncle, and loved airplanes. He wanted to defend England like they did, and with a nudge from his uncle decides that when he's 18, he'll join the RAF. His father is outraged by
This story takes place in the years between 1928-1938.
A time to Fly
By Jessica Raisor
Chester raced through the halls, a goofy grin plastered on his face. His father would be home soon, and this was the best part of the young pup's day. In the shafts of sunlight peeking through the curtain his brown eyes sparkled like molten amber in anticipation- any minute now...
He stood stock still, crouched precariously as he faced down the door to the front lawn. Before long it swung open, revealing a broad Foxhound in coveralls looking worn out. Chester pounced as he bellowed his best impression of a roar, fighting to keep the grin off his face as he tackled his father. Robert Bradford feigned surprise and dropped to the ground, wrestling his son through his mocked protests. It was a daily routine for them, the "surprise attack" but neither the young pup nor the old dog ever tired of it.
As they lay laughing on the floor, a rather stern-looking woman entered the hall with a frown.
"Really, Chester! Let the poor man sit before you trounce him!"
Chester looked up sadly, feeling ashamed of himself until he saw her smile break through the façade. She burst out laughing and Robert seized the moment to begin tickling his young son. Kicking and cackling Chester fought his way free and scampered off to the safety of his bedroom. This was the greatest part of the day.
Elizabeth helped her husband to his feet and led him to the dining room. A cool glass of water and a sandwich was waiting for him, which he practically dove into. The beautiful young woman watched him, her happy smile fading as she noticed a deep gash on his bicep.
"Robert... What happened?"
She caressed it gently, looking at him with worry flooding her green eyes.
"Beth, it's nothing. I just... I had an attack, I stopped paying attention, and I got too close to a sheet of steel the boys were carrying. I promise, that's all it was."
His wife gave him a disapproving look before disappearing into the kitchen. She returned with a first aid kit clutched beneath her arm. With nimble hands she cleaned and dressed his wound, planting a kiss on the end of his snout before whisking the medicine away once more. When she reappeared, she looked troubled.
"Are the attacks getting worse?"
Robert hesitated. Elizabeth saw.
"Why don't you go see that doctor in Derby? I hear he's great, and has done wonders for veterans-"
The tall foxhound cut her off with a sharp glare.
"Don't finish that sentence, Beth. Don't ever finish that sentence. Read my lips, Beth, I. Am. Fine. There's nothing wrong with my head, and there never has been."
He stood up and grabbed his coat from the nearby hook. Elizabeth chewed her lip as she watched him start towards the door.
"Where are you going, Robert?"
He turned to glance at her over his shoulder, eyes narrowed dangerously.
Chester winced as the front door slammed. His stuffed bear forgotten, the young boy crept from his room to find his mother. She sat with her head in her hands, cursing beneath her breath. Chester knew something was wrong but he could not understand just what that something was. He sat beside her and placed a hand on hers.
"Things'll be okay, mum."
Elizabeth Bradford turned her head to face her son, and smiled. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close.
"I know, love. I know. What do you say to some dinner, hm?"
He sat patiently at the table as she heated up some fresh tomato soup her mother had brought over earlier in the week. They ate in silence, Mrs. Bradford's eyes darting to the clock in the center of their oak table every so often. After they finished young Elizabeth sat reading in the parlor while Chester looked through his father's photographs and newspaper articles. Bedtime rolled around and Chester's mother tucked him in and planted a kiss on his forehead. His father had not returned.
Elizabeth fell asleep on the couch waiting for Robert. She did not hear him stumble in around four in the morning, reeking of gin and hardly able to hold himself upright. She did not wake up, in fact, until he tripped and crashed into the glass end-table in the study. Elizabeth grabbed the gun from the chest of drawers in the corner and crept toward the sound. She whipped around the doorframe, chamber cocked, and-
"Don't you point that thing at me, Elizabeth Jane Bradford," he slurred, "I'll drop you faster than a sack of topatos."
"Oh, Robert... Did you drink the gin or did you bathe in it? You positively reek!"
She lowered the ancient Lancaster and rushed to his side, helping him to his feet as she brushed shards of glass from his clothes. He had a few minor nicks, but was otherwise unscathed.
"Let's get you to bed, love. I'll clean up the mess."
As she laid him down in bed, Robert reached forward and gripped her by the elbow.
"I still hear them, Beth. I hear their laughter. I hear their screams. I hear my disgrace ringing in my ears. I hear the guns roaring, and the explosions... I smell them burning... You never leave the forces, 'Lizbeth, and they never leave you."
He trailed off, unable to fight off the blackness as the drink took its toll.
Chester bounded out of bed with a smile on his face and rushed to his parent's bedroom. His father was snoring soundly, but his mother was nowhere to be seen. The young hound checked the parlor next, and when she was not there he headed to the study. He found her kneeling next to a dustbin, sweeping shard of glass off the carpet. There were dark circles under her eyes. She seemed exhausted.
"Mum? Have you been up all night?"
"Oh, no, of course not, sweetie. I woke up early to clean up a little accident. Your- I dropped a stack of books and the table shattered."
Chester nodded his head, his ears flopping comically.
"Alright! Listen, mum, is it okay if I go play in the back yard for a while?"
Chester bolted for the back door, his jowls spread in joy. Elizabeth watched her son go, probably to play Ace Pilot with two sticks and plenty of vocal sound effects, and felt hot tears running down her face. Robert was a good man, but... He had a problem, and she knew it. Their son could even sense it. Her husband, however... Robert was oblivious. There were so many things she wanted to tell Chester, but she knew it would only cause issues. Mr. Bradford never hurt them, oh no, he would simply disappear down to a local pub for twelve hours and come back broke and shambling. His records, too, where something she would never show their young son. Chester looked up to Robert like some sort of indestructible god, a man who protected their country and lived to tell the tale like a creature of myth. The truth would wreck him.
Elizabeth stretched and emptied the dust pan into the plastic bin. She checked the clock; Twelve Fifteen. She'd need to wake Robert up if they were going to visit his brother on time. She carried the trash can to the kitchen and washed her hands before heading to the cozy bedroom she and her husband shared. It was going to be a very, very long day.
Chester ran around the green lawn, his arms outspread as he pretended he was an ace fighter pilot.
"NYAAAAAAWWWWWWMMMM! Kk-Kk-Kk-Kk-Kk-kk SBOOOOOSH! I got one, Johnny, down he goes!"
He knew today was the day he'd get to see Uncle Andrew, who had fought in the war like his father. Uncle Andrew was a pilot, though, and continued to be such. Robert had gotten out of the game a few years back, much to his family's relief. Andrew, however, was a single man who loved the thrill of flight too much to give it up. If Chester was lucky, he'd get to ride in his uncle's plane today. He loved his father, and he looked up to him, but something about Uncle Andrew called to him, elevated him beyond playful child and turned him into an equal. It was going to be fantastic.
"Hey sweetie? Go hop in the bath, alright? I already drew the water and I've set out some clothes for you on your bed."
Chester stopped running and smiled proudly at his mother.
"I got one, mum! We won!"
Elizabeth clapped him on the back and laughed.
"That's my boy! Now go wash up, you don't want to be all dirty and icky when you're up in the air, do you?"
Chester ran into the house, whooping with excitement while he stumbled out of his clothes. He was so busy unbuttoning his shirt, in fact, that he ran right into the muscular legs of his father. Robert looked down at him and forced a smile. The tall hound seemed tired, somehow older than he had yesterday. There were lines in his fur Chester had not noticed before, and the very sunlight seemed to make him wince. The young pup got to his feet and stared at his father for a minute before speaking.
"Daddy? Are you okay?"
"Of course, Chester. I'm just feeling a bit under the weather. Today's the day we go visit my brother Andrew; are you excited?"
Chester nodded quickly, his happy grin returning once more.
"Oh, yes! I just have to go take a bath and then I'll be ready!"
Robert patted the boy's head and sent him along to wash up. The veteran made his way toward the kitchen, where a steaming pot of coffee was waiting for him on the counter. He poured himself a cup and sat down at the table, staring off into the distance as he nursed his powerful hangover. When Elizabeth crept in to cook some breakfast he did not glance her way. He was angry with her, and he had no idea why. He had woken to the sting of peroxide on many tiny wounds he could not remember acquiring, her disapproving face looming over him as though she were his mother. This seemed to be happening more frequently as of late, as the rate of his flashbacks grew. He felt like he should apologize, but the anger lurking behind his brow would not let him. It seemed like an eternity as she fried their eggs before he was able to force himself to speak.
"What happened last night, Beth?"
The beautiful canine looked over her shoulder at her husband, a haunted look in her eyes.
"You broke the glass table, Rob. You came home drunk as a skunk at four in the morning, stumbling around in a stupor. I thought it was a burglar, so I grabbed your old Lancaster and went to see. You threatened me..."
Tears began to well up in her eyes, and she turned away quickly. Robert saw the pain on her face, and the anger died. He went to her and held her close, resting his muzzle atop her head.
"'Lizbeth, I'm so, so sorry. I had no idea. You know I would never lay a hand on you or Chester... You two are the only silver linings in my life. Do not be afraid of me. I know you've heard horror stories from your friends about veterans coming back violent and broken, but I'm not like that. I know I hit the drink a little hard, but nothing- NOTHING, Elizabeth, would ever make me hurt you."
Elizabeth turned and wrapped her arms around him, sobbing into the soft cotton of his shirt. Robert stroked her hair, appalled by the way he acted. They broke when the eggs began to brown. Elizabeth laughed in relief as she saved their breakfast in time for young Chester to join them at the table. The two adults could hear his tiny claws scrabbling on the wood floors as he raced to the dining room. His fur was sopping wet, but he smelled so strongly of strawberries that they knew he was clean. They laughed as he flumped into his chair with a soft squelching sound.
"What's for breakfast, mum?" he asked happily, oblivious to the tension in the air as only a child can be. Elizabeth passed him a plate of eggs and a glass of orange juice, which was met with cheers from the small pup.
"Eat quickly, love, we're cutting it close."
Uncle Andrew lived in a large four-story manse in Bristol, and the five hour drive was made once a month by the three Bradfords. It was around six in the evening by the time they arrived, and the young foxhound was famished. He pulled his luggage from the trunk and raced toward the front door as well as he could with the added weight of the suitcase. As he drew near the steps leading to the polished stone patio the massive front door swung open and his uncle Andrew appeared. His fur, unlike his brother's, was a dark brindle with white patches here and there. He was a tall man, very fit and broad, with a face that was more than handsome for his age. Andrew was drawing nearer to fifty years of age, and he was as healthy as an ox. His deep baritone echoed across the manicured lawn.
"CHESTER! My dear boy, how are you? I bet you're starving, aren't you? Well come in, come in, have Mary-Anne take your things to your room while I help get your parents situated."
Chester smiled at him as he lugged the heavy cargo up through the doorway. Andrew clapped him on the back as he went to greet the rest of the family.
"Elizabeth! You look gorgeous, as always! How have things been in the old LC? And Robert! Why do you look so glum, brother? This is a joyous occasion! Come, let me help with those bags. We'll get you squared away and then we'll eat- Mary-Anne said she was planning on roasting Cornish hens! Doesn't that sound almost sinfully good?"
His boyish chatter was reassuring to Elizabeth, who knew the history between Robert and his brother. The animosity was all on Robert's side, of course, but as long as the war wasn't spoken of the two would get along amicably. As they crossed the threshold into his astounding house, the young woman couldn't help but feel a little inadequate. Andrew's work at the de Havilland Aircraft Company had left him a wealthy man, and though she and her husband owned a beautiful one-story house with plenty of space for them and their son, the Bradford Manor made her feel like a pauper.
Shining oak floors that were regularly waxed reflected the beautiful light of the chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling. Everything seemed to sparkle with otherworldly light. Though these visits were regular, the couple couldn't help but be amazed every time. Only Chester seemed oblivious, as he was almost entirely focused on going to visit the hangar out back, where his uncle kept his de Havilland DH 60 Moth. Flying was always the highlight of his trips to the manor, and his time with Uncle Andrew was nothing short of fantastic. As the older foxhound was a bachelor, young Chester was treated almost like his son. He was showered with praise and taught many things, as well as given many gifts like model aircrafts and clothes. As much as Chester loved his father, he knew in his heart that it was truly Uncle Andrew he wished to become more like. Robert had proven himself a worthy patriot, but something about Andrew was just, well, better. Every time they came out to Bristol, Robert could feel his son slipping further away from him...
After a full meal the family lounged in the front parlor. Every member was stuff, exhausted, and lethargic. Idle chatter filled the room between the Lancashire Bradfords and their Bristol blood, as well as his head housemaid Mary-Anne as they laughed and traded stories of what had happened in the last four weeks.
Chester sat in an oversized armchair, his brown eyes slipping ever more closed as his drowsiness began to win out against his delight. It was almost impossible to stay awake now, in the warm orange glow of the lights with the soft voices of his family enveloping him in a blanket of safety. He began to snore.
Elizabeth noticed her son's dozing form and excused herself from the conversation. Very gently she scooped him up in her arms and began carrying him up the stairs to his room.
The woman laid her son down softly in his bed and tucked the sheets around his chest. With a kiss planted squarely on the edge of his snout she left his to slumber in the land of dreams.
Chester awoke to find a pair of aviator goggles lying atop a pile of clothes on his nightstand. With a yip of joy he got dressed and bounded down the stairs two at a time on his way to the kitchen. Uncle Andrew and Mary-Anne were there, nibbling at toast and reading the paper. He glanced up as his nephew entered the room and grinned.
"Good morning, Chester! How did you sleep?"
Chester adjusted his goggles and gave his uncle an over-exaggerated thumbs-up.
"I don't even remember sleeping. I was sitting in the chair, listening to my father talking about his accident, and then I was waking up in bed."
He reached forward and snagged a piece of toast before continuing.
"Can we fly today, uncle Andrew?"
The hound lowered is crisp morning paper and stared scrutinizingly at his young pup of a nephew. Chester began to feel anxious beneath that steady gaze, questioning his worth. Finally, seeing the look on the poor boy's face, Andrew broke into laughter.
"As though you needed to ask! Come on, my boy, the blue skies await!"
Soaring through the air with his uncle by his side, Chester felt invincible. Clouds parted for the pair, sending little drops of dew scattering across the thick windshield. From this high up everything seemed insignificant; the buildings that loomed over the small boy on the ground were but as specks beneath his heels now. He could see for miles, the perfectly manicured homes and farms seemed to fit together like a well-planned puzzle as they rose.
From above, the world was a work of art. Chester knew this was where he belonged.
After their flight, Chester mulled over his feelings in his mind. He wanted to fight for his country like his father had, like Uncle Andrew had, but he knew how his father felt about the RAF. There had been many drunken rantings on the subject, and they left a great impression on young Chester. When he was old enough, which would he choose? Would he settle for something he knew would appease his father, or would he follow the pull of his heart?
"Uncle Andrew? May I ask you something?"
The older gentleman nodded at his nephew.
"When I grow up... Well, I'd really like to fight. I sort of want to be in the army like father, but I know you understand how I feel. You can sense it. I want to be in the skies more than anything in the world. I want to soar above the cities, gunning down German fighter pilots as I roll and dodge, looking down on the people as the enemy ship explodes and smiling at the families I just saved. I know daddy hates the RAF almost venomously, but it's my dream job. What do you think I should do? Can you help me?"
Andrew stared off across the cropped green lawn, his eyes focused on the beautiful dying light of the sun. The sky they had left over an hour ago was filled with pastel pinks and blues, shifting to an autumnal orange near the sinking star. It seemed as though the two men were suspended in perfection; this moment so full of beauty even beyond the small child's understanding that it nearly brought the veteran to tears. Here, then, was his own personal Eden, his closest relative on the growing verge of manhood without even realizing it.
"Chester, you know that I was in the RAF. You know how much I loved it. You have so much potential. I can see the look on your face when we're up there, and I believe that flying for the army may be the greatest thing you could ever do. You would raise the bar for them, Chester. I know your father may hate it, but you need to stop worrying about how he might feel about this. You need to stand up and tell him 'Father, I'm going to be a pilot!' It might make him angry, but you will feel so much better being honest about who you are. You're an ace pilot, Chester, aren't you?"
The young lad pumped his paw in the air and cheered. Tonight, he'd break the news to his father. He had finally decided- He was going into RAF training when he was 18.
"WHAT?! No you are not! No son of mine is joining that clique of snobs! Did my bastard brother put that damned idea in your head? I swear to god I will put the fear of the ages back into him!"
Elizabeth grabbed her husband by the arm and fought to restrain him from doing something he'd regret. He was a powerful man, though, and his years of military training were no match for the weaker housewife. He shook her off easily and stormed through the manor, his vision a hazy cloud of red. The angry man could not hear the pleas of his wife and son for the throbbing of his pulse in his ears. Andrew would answer for this.
Robert found his brother stepping fresh out of the shower, a white linen towel wrapped around his waist. Andrew could see the hatred on his brother's face, could feel the rage radiating from his fur, and he knew there would only be one way to resolve this.
"Robert, please listen. The boy has chosen his lot in life, and-"
"No, Andrew, YOU chose his lot in life, just to spite me! You've always known this would happen, and you perched up here on your royal fucking throne waiting for the day when you could watch my son drive a dagger through my heart! You're a right bastard, Andrew, and a bloody awful influence on Chester. He is MY son, and I will make sure you NEVER see him again!"
Andrew held up his hands in surrender and opened his mouth to speak- before a single word could be uttered, Robert had struck him square in the jaw with a powerful fist. Andrew reeled in shock as his brother turned on his heels and stormed out.
"Grab your things, Elizabeth. I'll pack for the boy. We are through here."
Chester sat in the back and watched the tall mansion fade from view. Uncle Andrew stood on the front porch, his usually jovial face fraught with sorrow. The young pup's brown eyes began to well up with tears as the figure of his beloved uncle grew smaller with the distance. His heart was breaking.
As the years passed, Chester's anger with his father never faded. He occasionally snuck letters to his beloved uncle Andrew, but it was almost ten years before he would look upon his face again. The foxhound had grown to be a broad man with a bit of fight in him, but he was still smart as a whip. The RAF training had left him fit and healthy. He had long since stopped playing the pouncing game with his father, and had instead devoted his free time to borrowing books on aircraft from the nearest library and building model planes in his bedroom. He was very knowledgeable on the subject, and passed his exams with flying colors.
Robert never moved to repair the rift between he and his son, for his own pain would never cease. It was as Chester left for his training that his own carefully sheltered secret came out.
"Mum, dad... My train leaves shortly. I wanted to say goodbye before I-"
"They'll laugh you right out of the force, Chester, like they did to me. Our name's mud. 'Oh, you're the son of Robert Bradford? What a right drunkard he was, had to drop him down to the Armed Forces because his boozing was a hazard to us all.' You'll come back with your tail between your legs, just you watch."
Chester stood shocked at his father's admission; he had gone out for the RAF originally?
"Dad, I... I didn't know, I'm sorry-"
He kissed his mother goodbye and cast a pained look at his father before leaving that world behind him for good.