Her name was Love. (It really was). She was fascinated by airplanes. As a young girl she met a man who was a pilot and his eyes were voluminous blue like the sky and so she developed these fanciful connotations of flight. He had been visiting her father. Her mother allowed her to sit with them after dinner listening to the radio and eating popcorn. Later still, when they were all talking, she held as still as a stone so they would not remember she was there and send her to bed. There was the flavor of popcorn in her mouth and the sting of her lips from the salt and from biting them to stay awake. She thought about becoming a stewardess, and went as far as applying for a position with Transcontinental as soon as she turned 20. But then there had been her fathers’ illness and a job at the dress shop and through these things she was characteristically stoic and optimistic, with a light heart, a beautiful aspect.
Her name on the passenger list was a matter of interest when it was over. Some of them went home to tell their wives.
Love sat in the cabin of the plane, putting aside a magazine and gazing at the motley landscape with a pretty sigh. The man beside her was alerted because he had in fact been distracted by her for the duration. Taking her contentedness for boredom, he folded up his newspaper and offered it to her solicitously. The smile in return was worth it.
It began to rain. She was face-framed in a small orb of acrylic plastic. (Isn’t that a shame, the wives would say when they imagined it that way. It made them sad to think of a life reduced to that. They felt in her a kindred spirit.)
Outside the window it began to rain, but she turned her attention to the newspaper, headline ringed in a coffee stain. The man beside her apologized, brushed his hands on his suit in a nervous gesture. On the tray table his coffee jiggled and the concentric rings that might have flowed eternally reached the edges of the cup and died. Love laughed and spread the paper out.
They wondered if it was her given name. If it really could be, as no one came forward to claim her.
Love gasped. There was a shudder then a calm. She looked at her hands and they were shaking. She tried to rub off the ink stains while he smiled sidelong, charmed. There was a noise and then the blast. The man beside her was a stranger but she forgot the ink on her fingers, was grateful for a hand to clasp.
There were people at the edge of the marshland below. They watched with their hands to their mouths as the plane went down with one engine burning like a crippled bird. There followed a sort of misunderstanding that comes with tragedy in the minds of some at the scene who could not quite reconcile the fact of the falling rain with the persistent burning of the plane.
Those who investigated the crash found the reports given by witnesses to be disturbing in their vividness: Those in the marshland had clapped as the pilot landed the plane. They had seen the passengers moving in the tiny oblong windows just before the great gust of air that sounded like a breath of relief but turned out to be the oxygen sucked in just before the explosion. They described it as a burning log on the marshland. Trees dripping wet memories and the metallic taste of smoke and ash. Like a Dali painting, one man said.
It was enough to make their sleep uneasy and when it did come it was accompanied by dreams. Given what they knew, they dreamed of Love as the plane went down, the shy release of hands when at last the cabin stabilized on the marshy ground and his leaning over her as they looked out the window, laughing that it looked so cold out there and maybe they could stay inside the plane where it was warm. They blessed the pilot and each other for there had rarely been so much comradely affection amongst a group of strangers. But the man in the suit did not share in the jubilation as he peered across the expanse at the bystanders on the marshland, feet sinking in the grass and mud. Why had they begun to run, mouths turned to O’s of surprise?
They went home and told their spouses that Love had died that day, as a way of making a little joke of it to lighten the mood of desolation that they were sinking in.
But they dreamt of Love as the plane burned.
They dreamt of Love as the rain quenched the scorched remains.