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For Heashin Kwak


The Paper Aeroplane

She didn’t think about it for a moment. She knew that she wanted to do this thing, and nobody was going to stop her. She put the phone down and considered how she would do it. She was a woman of forty-five years old,, a widow, a teacher of art, and she was making one of the greatest decisions of her life. Something that she had always wanted to do. She got up and made herself a cup of tea and considered how she was going to carry it out. It was not going to be easy. But she had made up her mind, whether or not her nieces liked it . It was so ridiculous that it was untrue. But it was going to happen.

            She was going to build an aeroplane. One that would be big enough to carry her, and to do what she wanted. She sat down and began to draw plans. A biplane, with a small engine on the front. Ailerons, a rudder, and elevators that would carry her high enough to see what she wanted. It would be easy to build. She was good with her hands, and she could make the framework herself. And she could easily build the rest of it. Only the engine would require outside help. But even that she could manage. It was fixed in her mind – a small biplane, motored at the front, with a seat for her in the centre. It could be done. And she could use the large garage at the back of her house to construct it. All it needed were the materials.

            Next day, she went to a nearby carpenter’s, and ordered a range of materials. Wooden sticks, about an inch in diameter, a pair of  spoked wheels, elastic rubber of a high quality, and some strong wooden blocks. She had them delivered to the garage. The carpenter was mystified. What could she be doing with those? He assumed that she was making some strange furniture of her own design. So he sighed and delivered the goods as promised, telling himself that she was probably a bit of a nutcase. Never mind.!

            For the next three months she hammered, banged and screwed a framework together. She read books about aeronautics and how the wing should be cambered to create lift by creating lift on the lower surfaces, and minimum drag on the upper. She learnt about how an aeroplane can be controlled in the air by moving surfaces up and down and from side to side..She began to know the shape of an aeroplane, and what it consisted of. Her creation began to look like an aeroplane, though as yet it had no covering. And no-one knew what she was doing., or what she was planning. Everyone thought she was making some strange furniture. They never knew.

            Finally she knew she had to get some kind of engine. She knew enough to understand that it had to be small – a two-stroke engine maybe, so she went to see one of her nephews. He ran various motorbikes and could have what she wanted. She met him one afternoon and asked him directly if he had any spare engines she could have. He looked puzzled. “Why do you want this” he asked. She looked mysterious. “It”s for a project I’m doing. Something to do with my art teaching”. He looked relieved. After all, she was a bit mad, but if it was for her art work, then should be all right. He found her a motorcycle engine that he didn’t need and delivered it to her the next day. After a lot of heaving and gasping she finally mounted it at the front of the aircraft and connected up all the wires that he suggested.

            But there was a final problem. How could she cover the aircraft in fabric? How could she make it fly? And then she had an idea. What about brown paper? If it was painted properly, it would be strong enough and tough enough to make her little aircraft fly. Next day she ordered, from a stationers,, packs and packs of strong brown paper –‘only the strongest quality – that’s what I need’ she instructed. And when it came, she began, for the next two weeks, to glue and cover her little aeroplane.

            By now it looked like an aeroplane. A small biplane, two wings, an engine at the front, a seat in the middle, and with a tail. She looked at it and felt proud of herself. She had made this wonderful thing herself, and nobody knew about it. It stayed in the garage, where nobody could see it. She felt such a fierce pride about it, but also a sense of love. It was her creation, and she hoped it would not let her down. She walked up to it and gently caressed its strong firm wings,, its fuselage, it’s shape. She got up and sat in her seat, holding the steering stick in her hands. It was truly wonderful! And soon it would lift,, and fly her into the air, where she wanted to be.

Her closest niece, Hannah, wondered what her aunt was up to. She had not seen her aunt for many weeks. She was very fond of her aunt and she wanted to know what she was doing. She had heard mysterious reports about how her aunt was making some strange furniture in her garage, so she decided  to see what this was about. She drove down to her aunt’s rather isolated farmhouse. She heard noises from the garage so decided to see what what was happening. She pushed open the door and walked in. What she saw was a strange flying machine, and  her aunt sitting beside it looking very happy. She stood there, looking confused and uncertain, not knowing what was happening. Her aunt looked up, looking more radiant and happy than she had ever seen her before. ‘Hannah’ she almost shouted, ‘Come and help me push my aeroplane out!’

Hannah didn’t know what to do. Without a word, she helped her aunt to push out this small, rather lovely aeroplane into the paddock. ‘What are you doing,,Aunt’ she cried. Her aunt looked at her, in a kind and soft way. ‘I’m going to fly’ she said. And with that, she put a pair of goggles on her face and climbed up into the little paper aeroplane. ‘No, Don’t!’ cried Hannah again. But her aunt smiled at her and started the engine. It puffed at first then began to roar and buzz. The little aeroplane began to move across the paddock. And then suddenly it moved faster, and faster, and it took off. It flew slowly into the air and then it flew above the chestnut trees that were close to the paddock. It rose higher, and Hannah could see her aunt, sitting at the controls looking down. Hannah could swear she was smiling.

And then it happened. The little paper aeroplane suddenly tilted. It began to fall towards the ground. Hannah shouted, but it was no good. The little paper aircraft hit the ground with a terrible smash, and Hannah, with one or two farm labourers who had seen what had happened, ran towards the scene. In the broken little aircraft, surrounded by wreckage, Aunt Beatrice looked up at the sky. The lights were going out all around her. She could not feel her legs, and most of her body. But she still smiled and whispered to herself ‘ My lovely little paper aeroplane’. Then she died quietly and peacefully.

The coroner suggested a verdict of ‘death by misadventure’. He looked sympathetic. There was little he could do. Most other people felt the same. They had liked Aunt Beatrice a great deal. Though no-one could understand why she had undertaken to build a flying machine, and lost her life in the process, they had genuinely liked her and were sorry to have lost her in this strange way. But that was the conclusion and they all had to accept it. What was left of the little aircraft was taken away and burnt at the municipal dump, and that was the end of it.

Several days later, Hannah sat at her aunt’s desk, in her little farmhouse. She was going through her aunt’s things, to clear everything out. As she looked through her aunt’s correspondence, a large foolscap letter fell out. It was addressed to ‘Hannah”. She opened it and read the contents. This is what it said.

My dearest, dearest Hannah,

I’m sure you want to know why I built my little paper aircraft. It was because I wanted to do something that I have never done before and I know that you might feel that this was something very stupid and silly. But my little paper aeroplane and I went up above the chestnut trees, and for the first time I saw them from above. I have never seen my chestnut trees from that height before. As you know, I love my trees. I have seen them from below and from afar, but I have never appreciated them from the air. It was so wonderful to see them from above.. You see, I have never seen the tops of trees. To fly over them was a miracle for me, and it made me love them even more. It was worth it to see them blossoming and seeding from way above, and that was the reason why I wanted to love them from on high, not just to see them from a normal point of view. To see the tops of trees is a wonderful experience, and one that I would die for. Indeed I might. Please, please forgive me. I would not hurt you for the world, but this was something I always wanted. Please do not blame me. And please do not blame my little paper aeroplane. It carried me to where I wanted to be.

All my greatest love,

Aunt Beatrice.

Hannah read her aunt’s letter silently, and then she put it carefully back into the envelope. Than she put it into her handbag. She got up and went to the door. She looked behind her once, and then went out,, very gently closing the door behind her.

Frank Jackson (12-06-06)