Though she loves her best mate to bits, Rachel doesn’t believe her for one moment.
“Yes, someday soon, I’ll be flying planes,” Jeany had told her as they were observing from the bar an airline pilot crossing the terminal hall. He’s smartly dressed in his gold-striped uniform.
“Sure, Jeany.” Her friend could never stick with a job. She gets bored too easily, flittering like a moth from lamp to wall light. First there was the hairdresser’s, then the vet’s, and now more recently the dental assistant job. “That’s it—I’ve quit the practice,” she’d announced, tossing her keys on the benchtop after returning to their flat.
Rachel stares at her friend’s blue cocktail. What is she thinking? There’s no way Jeany could figure out any of the controls in a cockpit to shift a mechanised behemoth even an inch along the tarmac.
“I’m dead serious, Rae. I’ve got an application form.”
“Don’t you need some special degree?”
“No, I can dive straight into a flying course.”
Rachel shakes her head. “Where did this come from, Jeany?”
“You know I’ve always been interested. Remember Mangere Mountain?”
“Oh, right.” Rachel takes a sip of her wine.
“Yes, well, that’s where I got the idea.”
Sometimes Rachel doesn’t know why she puts up with her. Back in their hometown Jeany had often stood her up at the cinema or the mall, hanging out with boys instead for a smoke. “Sorry, Rae—you know how it is.” Her friend regularly ran into trouble at school and Rachel resorted to playing the protective sister, sticking up for her, sorting out her messes. When they both moved to the city Jeany’s mother made Rachel vow she’d keep an eye on her.
Jeany orders another cocktail. “Do you want anything, Rae?”
“No, I’m fine.”
They had only just begun their weekend break and Jeany was already hitting the pre-flight bar. Rachel had reluctantly agreed, shouting the drinks. She had to, considering her friend’s broke and waiting on her first pay from the temp work. In fact the whole trip to Wellington is at Rachel’s expense. She wonders how Jeany’s going to pay for the course, but doubtless it will involve begging money from her mother. Like she’s done in the past.
Cabin crew, all bronzed and looking glamorous—including the male purser—saunter past, pulling their luggage. Jeany could join them, with her sleek features. Rachel gazes at her own reflection in her glass and brushes back a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She glances at her friend.
“Is this seat taken?” Further along the bar a businessman hovers.
Jeany turns to him. “No, go ahead.”
“Thanks.” He smiles as he sits down beside her.
The pair start to chat while Rachel checks her phone. She’s used to Jeany being the centre of attention. Others dancing around her at a festival or during the live band performance at the farmers’ market, or listening to her stories as they all sunbathe on the beach. She notices Jeany toy with her cocktail stick while laughing at something the man has said. Even at the art gallery on a dull day she’d captivated the curator into giving her a private tour, Rachel in tow.
She places her phone down and fidgets on her bar stool, thinking about Mangere Mountain. Maybe it will be different this time.
Rachel grabs her friend’s bag. “Come on, Jeany, time to get to the gate.”
“Wait. Let me finish my drink first.”
“Go on, then.” Rachel pays the bill.
“I don’t know, Rae.” Jeany downs her cocktail. “Sometimes you act like we’re an old married couple.”
Last year Jeany had convinced her they should attend a fitness boot camp.
“Where is it?” Rachel fondled their cat on the sofa.
“Near the airport?” Her hand stopped stroking. “That’s miles away.” Rachel had expected a local gym or park, not the largest volcanic cone in the city.
“Come on, Rae, it’ll be a fun way to get into shape. Up there on the mountainside.”
“Okay.” Rachel knew it wouldn’t last long—another one of Jeany’s passing fads. “You drive.”
After the workout, Jeany decided to drag Rachel up to the crater’s rim. The rest of the group had already left the domain, going home to recover.
Rachel’s thighs burned, a sweat still on her brow. “Can’t we just go back to the car?”
“Soon. I want to make the most of the view.”
Her friend was right—there was a sweeping panorama of the city and harbour, and beyond to the ranges extending out to the west.
Standing on a grass bank Rachel—astounded Jeany still had some energy—watched her scale the face of a raised section of rock and perch on its edge. “You’re mad, Jeany. Get off there.”
Out of the clouds an airliner descended towards the airport, the sky thundering in its wake.
Viewing its flightpath for a moment, Jeany turned to Rachel. “Wouldn’t it be great to fly, Rae?” She stood up and stepped backwards, arms out, as if about to take a running jump.
Her friend laughed. “I’m only teasing.” She relaxed her stance.
“That’s it. I’m done.” Exhausted, Rachel slumped to the ground.
Having climbed down the rock, Jeany lay beside Rachel on the bank, their hands briefly touching. They gazed at the sky and watched another airplane ascend.
“Yes,” Jeany said dreamily, “I’d love to fly one of those.”
“As if, Jeany.”
“I could do it. You know I had a great-uncle in the air force.”
“Yes, well…” Rachel imagines Jeany in vintage aviator googles and a flying cap, standing next to a biplane parked outside a hanger. Helping Rachel to mount into the back seat. Taking off from the runway. Soaring through the sky, then circling the city before departing. Going over the ranges and crossing the coastline. Flying above the ocean. Rachel glancing down the side of the fuselage at the clouds and empty sea beneath them. Jeany in the pilot’s seat, the wide, blue horizon in front of them.
Travelling the skies together. Being free. Having Jeany all to herself.
Jeany sits next to her in the departure lounge. “So, can’t you see me as a pilot?”
“I don’t know.” Rachel crosses her arms. “Can we talk about this another time?”
“All right.” Jeany takes out her phone and studies it.
The young daughter from the family seated opposite them ventures up to the departure lounge window. Rachel observes the girl press the palms of her hands against the glass, peering at the planes outside on the tarmac.
Rachel scans the other passengers. All sitting, waiting, staring at their phones or books, some talking. Looks like the plane’ll be full.
The last time she and Jeany took a trip together they were on an evening flight to Christchurch. Jeany had asked Rachel to open her shutter to see if they could spot any stars. “Yes, there, Rae.” Lights clustered in the night sky. Her friend stretched her arm across Rachel’s seat and pointed, naming some of the constellations and explaining how the early Polynesian explorers had used them to navigate the seas. Rachel could smell her perfume up close.
Maybe Jeany could handle such a profession—she’d been fearless doing sky-jumping last summer. Rachel opens her mouth to say something but then changes her mind.
Over at another seating area a child cries out and the mother takes her on her lap. Rachel had earlier watched the same girl saying goodbye to her grandmother in the main hall.
“Jeany, I’ll be back soon—just off to the loo.”
“You’d better hurry, Rae.”
Passing by the adjacent lounge, Rachel sees a bunch of cabin crew waiting to enter the gate. Like the ones she’d seen from the bar, they’re all well-groomed. Pretty things. She’s heard that they get up to wild antics at overseas ports between flights. If Jeany did become a pilot there was every chance she’d join them in the hotel bars, their rooms. Having fun.
Rachel shivers, knowing she would hardly see Jeany any more if she flies. No longer be able to look after her, care for her. Be her Rae.
After washing her hands at the sink, she looks at herself in the mirror.
When her friend regretted quitting the dental practice, concerned about what to do next, Rachel had hugged her. “Don’t worry, Jeany. In time you’ll find something you really care about.”
Now she reapplies her lip-gloss. Deep down she knows Jeany can achieve anything—there’s a fierce, bright spark inside her. That’s what Rachel loves the most about her.
Opening the door to head back to the lounge, Rachel pauses. She’ll find her mate, and together they’ll fly off to Wellington. And when the moment is right—in the restaurant or on the waterfront or back in their hotel room—she’ll finally let Jeany know how she feels after all this time, hoping to be her plane girl.
Andrew Stiggers is a short fiction writer from Wellington, New Zealand. His work has appeared in Meniscus, STORGY Magazine and Gravel among others, and his awards include being the winner of the 2017 Global Ebook Awards (Short Stories category) and the winner of the Trisha Ashley Award 2017 for best humorous story.