Scene One – WINGS – University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Wisconsin, September 1965
“Hello freshmen. Welcome to Biology 101. I’m professor Livingston. Ha – you wonder, where is the famous explorer and journalist, Henry Stanley?”
He walks to the lectern and peers over the top of his bifocals. “Unfortunately, Mr. Stanley and my esteemed namesake, Dr. Livingston, missionary, explorer and no relation of mine, died many years before you were born.”
The professor’s shoes and suit speak to that era. “Although I can’t entertain you with jungle stories from the African Congo, I will challenge you to think differently.”
“Mr. Williams, in the front row,” he nods to me. “ Yes, you. Why do insects have wings?”
I jerk my head forward. “To fly,” I say.
“Partially correct,” Dr. Livingston continues. “Insects indeed use wings to fly. Mr. Williams, can you think of other reasons for insect wings?”
The lecture hall chair holds me captive like an insect devouring prey. I have to quit sitting in the front row. “To escape death?” I guess. My classmates chuckle.
Professor Livingston’s eyes swoop to meet mine. “Partially correct, prior to wings, insects developed structures similar to radiator fins to dissipate body heat in the hot climate of the Carboniferous Period, 360 to 286 million years ago.“
He flaps his arms as if to fly. “Over time these fins expanded. Then with natural selection and an oxygen-rich atmosphere, insects with the largest wings survived as they developed flight. So, to the gentleman sitting next to Mr. Williams, would you say that because insect wings were developed for a purpose different than flight, that flight is unnatural for insects?”
“No sir,” my companion asserts.
“Excellent! Therefore, could we say that flight may be possible for any creature not intended to fly?”
Scene Two – KILL SWITCH – Great Lakes Dragaway – Union Grove, Wisconsin, September 1968
“I’d like to enter my Norton 750cc Scrambler in today’s motorcycle race,” I say.
A woman sits at a table shaded by a burr oak beside a hand-lettered sign reading Registration. She wears a denim shirt and jeans. A warm wind turns the pages of a yellowed, paperback edition of War and Peace that lies on the table next to a pack of half smoked Lucky Strikes.
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” I shout above the roar of two A Gas coupes. Drivers simultaneously pump right-foot throttles of supercharged, big block Chevy 409s and tap brakes with left to inch to the starting line. Lights, similar to a traffic stoplight, separate the two cars. Called a Christmas tree, the lights will signal the start of a thunderous sprint to the finish line ¼ mile down the resurfaced former asphalt county road now converted to a drag strip.
She reaches for a Lucky, leans closer to me, and pushes a sheet of paper and pencil across the table. “I said, please fill out this registration form. Do you have a kill switch?”
“Kill switch?” I gasp. “What’s that?”
“Okay race fans, we have a winner.” The race announcer blares through 36-inch speakers in the grandstand to our left. “It’s category killer, Jimmy Blair’s ’33 Willys pickup Little Willys eating Ben Johnson’s ’37 Ford Dream Baby coupe at 149 miles per hour and 9.3 seconds elapsed time.”
“A kill switch, honey, cuts off your engine if you fly off your bike.”
I jerk my head back. My voice quivers. “Fly off my bike? I don’t plan to dump my Norton at 100 miles per hour.” The name of the switch scares me.
She blows a blue-white smoke ring that drifts over her head. “Accidents happen. If you lose control due to tire blowout, engine explosion, equipment failure, or any reason whatsoever, we have to protect our fans from your runaway motorcycle.”
Scene Three – FLY OUT OF HERE – Mountain Glen Inn – Sylva, North Carolina, September 2010
“Good morning, sir. My name is Gina and I’ll serve you breakfast. Coffee? Where are you from?” She silhouettes the morning sun against the white chintz window curtains in the breakfast nook.
I place my book to the side. “Coffee would be great Gina, thank you. I’m Richard and live in Wisconsin.”
“Wow, I’d love to go to Wisconsin,” she says. “But I’ve never left North Carolina and I’m scared to death of airplanes. You know what? Someday I’m going to fly out of here.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” I say. “About airplanes I mean.”
“I see you’re reading Hemmingway,” she says. “I love books. On my break, I sit on the porch chairs and read. Not the rocking chairs. They’re reserved for guests. I have a private place in back where I’m not disturbed.”
Steam rises from my cup. “What are you reading?”
“To Kill A Mockingbird. My son started Moby Dick. It was hard for him at first, but I encouraged him to read. Now he likes the story.”
I lean back in my chair. “You’re a good mother.”
“I try,” she says. “But sometimes I’m not. I used to work at McDonald’s. When I came home after work I would yell at the kids. It’s better at home since I started to work here. More relaxed. Momma says I should go back to McDonald’s and make better money, but I like my job here.”
I sip my coffee. “How big is your family?”
“My son is eleven and my daughter is eight. His name is Alexander, like Alexander The Great. Her name is Victoria. She says, ‘not Princess Victoria, but Queen Victoria.’”
I laugh. “I like your Mountain Glen Inn T-shirt. Did you buy it in the gift shop?”
“Yeah.” She says. “I wish I could wear a skirt with my T-shirt but management wants me to wear jeans and sneakers. A skirt or dress would be more comfortable especially in this heat. So every night when I get home from work I change into my dress, slippers, and dance. You know what? Every night I fly out of here.”
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
I write personal essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and self-development articles from my home in Madison, Wisconsin.