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Odessa at Dawn
copyright 2007 by H. Paul Shuch, All Rights Reserved

I swear, this stretch of Texas has got to be the loneliest place on Earth. Whenever I fly this route, mile after nondescript mile of dusty desolation slips featurelessly beneath the wings, as my mind goes on autopilot. So, it was a decided relief when a forgotten voice from long ago broke the silence with a snicker.

"So, you still haven't sold Son-of-a-Beech," Avalon Eden intoned, as a familiar feminine form slowly materialized just inches to my left.

At least, thank Dadelus, she knows her place, I thought. First time this happened, right after she died, Avalon materialized in my lap. Surely she knows that flight instructors always fly from the right seat.

"Of course I know that," Avalon thought right back, "and stop calling me Shirley. Besides, what makes you think that was a mistake? I figured you could use a thrill."

"That was thrilling, all right," I replied out loud, "having to shoot an IFR approach down to minimums with you blocking my forward view."

"You needed the partial panel practice," was her logical reply. There's just no arguing with a ghost.

"Whatever brings you this time?" I inquired of my first and favorite flight instructor. "Engine failure? Forced landings? Total electrical outage?"

I was making pointed reference to the last time Avalon flew with me, a dozen years back, enroute to my son Andrew's high school graduation. She yanked the alternator field wire loose that time, forcing me down over Dwight, Illinois.

"Hey, but it gave us time to talk about Muriel," Avalon thought back at me. Don't you just hate it when women do that to you?

"Right -- Muriel. Don't ask," I replied.

So she didn't. Instead, she volunteered one of her superfluous opinions: "You didn't have to marry her, you know."

"Wait a minute -- but it was you who told me I should marry her!"

"You ought to know better than to take relationship advice from me," Avalon responded, "what with all the husbands I've had."

I took the bait. "And just how many husbands have you had?"

"Four, of my own." It was an old joke of which we never tired. "Anyway, it's been how long with you two? Ten months?"

"Ten years." She knew that, of course. Guardian angels have a bit of a problem with units of time.

"And now the honeymoon's over?"

"I'm not so sure there ever was one. We went straight from courtship to raising her kids. Five special needs boys doesn't leave a couple much time or energy for each other."

"So, how about romantic getaways?" Avalon persisted. "Cruises to the Bahamas, European vacations, that kind of thing?"

"Well, yes, at first. I've been on continuous lecture tours, all over the world, since before Muriel and I were married. She was always invited along, and always cherry-picked, one good trip a year. There was Scotland, and Capri, and Vancouver, and Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Rio... but then she stopped coming with me at all. Said travel is too much hassle, she'd just rather stay home."

"It's your own damned fault," Avalon accused. "You built her too comfortable a nest, and now she doesn't want to leave it."

"So, what would you have me do, burn the house down?"

"Sure. We had to destroy the village in order to save it," Avalon reminisced from a bygone war.

"Village, hell. You mean marriage," I shot back, just as the engine began to sputter. We both grabbed for the fuel selector valve; my hand shot right through hers, reached the lever, changed tanks. The engine smoothed right out -- and brought us back to her original question.

"So, why haven't you sold Son-of-a-Beech?"

"You should know, Avalon; you're the one who made the market dry up. I've had it advertised in Trade-a-Plane for a year and a half now, priced it right in the middle of the pack, and still not even a nibble."

That wasn't her fault, Avalon insisted. Blame the White House, and Homeland Security, and maybe the oil industry, but not her. The fact is, general aviation was dying -- something she knew all about. But none of that was the real reason my plane hadn't sold.

"Nu, so what is?"

"You are. You're not ready to part with it yet. Maybe it's inertia, maybe it's love, possibly something else -- but until you're emotionally ready to let go, no matter how bad things get, you'll hold on. Unconsciously, your grip keeps tightening, and the universe, feeling that, just backs away."

"Wait a minute," I interrupted. "What are we talking about here, airplanes, or something else?"

"I'll never tell," replied Avalon, just before she faded from view, leaving me alone in the cockpit with a thousand miles to go, and far more questions than answers.

I hate it when Avalon makes me think.

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