The Jacket with Wings

by Beaulah Pragg 

John was a rescue helicopter pilot. When he looked in the mirror, which wasn't all that often, he barely noticed the new lines around his eyes or the peppering of grey in his ruffled brown hair. Every day, before he left the house, he gave his wife a kiss and she made him promise to come home. Her scent lingered on his jacket throughout the day, the smell of lavender and sweet apple pies.

It was early morning when the earthquake hit. China clattered on the side board; the vase on the kitchen table shattered on the floor, spilling roses and dirty water. John rolled out of bed, hardly thinking. Soon, his wife and daughter were safe, beyond the house and out of harm's way. Moments later, he was in the cockpit of his Jet Ranger, going over the pre-flight checklist. His wife looked on with sad eyes, knowing she couldn't talk him out of leaving. There was a heavy fog, but to John that only served to heighten his sense of urgency.

Flying just above the mist, it was hard to see anything. He cut along the riverbed, only a few yards out from the treeline. His radio blurted cries for help between severe static. A fishing boat had capsized a couple of miles from shore. The cold barely touched him at all that day as he worked to find people hurt by the quake. Some he managed to save, others he didn't. None of them forgot the kind face and the bomber jacket with wings so lovingly stitched into the lapel.

For many years John kept his promise to his wife, but they both knew his luck would run out eventually.


His granddaughter Jesse has his scruffy brown hair and when she smiles you can see his humor shining through her eyes, but she doesn't smile much these days. What is there to smile about, stuck in the middle of nowhere with a crazy old grandma while her mom and dad settle their stupid divorce?

The house creaks at night. It is difficult to sleep sometimes, especially with the nightmares. Jesse often sneaks out, cradling the bottle of gin stolen from the medicine cabinet and a pack of cigarettes bartered for a kiss at school.

Today it is freezing. Her blankets do nothing to keep out the cold, and the house is creaking more than ever. She takes her fags and gin and tries to warm up in the barn. It is strictly off limits. Grandma would have a heart attack if she knew Jesse was in here. When Jesse finally picks the lock, fingers frozen to the bone, she realizes why. This place is some sort of sick museum. Photos and letters cover the walls; people Jesse has never heard of before. There are medals in between the spanners and spare parts. A bomber jacket hangs on the back of the chair over in the corner. She pulls it on without thinking and then lights up. The jacket smells nice, like old leather and lavender and apple pies. She snuggles down into the hay and pulls one of the old rugs over her. She is asleep in minutes, the still smoldering cigarette dropping from her fingers onto the dusty, hay littered floor.

The fire scurries along the floor and crawls up the walls. Photographs curl and old newspaper clippings brown. Jesse wakes up coughing, thinking she swallowed the cigarette. She is surrounded by flames and the sinking knowledge that it is her fault. Then there is a yell from the door. Grandma is standing there, eyes wide. She yanks one of the blankets off a spare Jet Ranger engine and wraps it around her head and shoulders, hurrying through the blaze to haul the shocked Jesse to safety.

Outside, they cough and huddle together, watching Grandpa's memory crumple and burn. Tears stream down Grandma's face.

"I'm so sorry" is all Jesse can say, over and over.

Grandma looks at her and says, "John woke me up, honey. He said you were in trouble."

Many years later, Jesse is a rescue helicopter pilot. Some she manages to save, others she doesn't. No one forgets her kind smile or the angel wings on the lapel of her old leather jacket.

© 2010 Beaulah Pragg.  All rights reserved.

Beaulah Pragg is a twenty one year old writer who recently graduated from Canterbury University.  She has completed the draft of her first novel and one of her short stories, Bastet, received an honorable mention from the online magazine Allegory.

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