A novel by Bronwen Welsh
The sequel to 'A Foreign Country'
It's been a week since I returned home and I really thought I would have heard from Melissa by now. I don't feel it's appropriate for me to contact her because it might appear pushy. Perhaps she hasn't discussed the situation with John or her psychologist yet. It will take a deal of courage to do so, particularly if her final decision is to go back to being Mark.
There's an old saying 'be careful what you wish for.' Late this afternoon the telephone rang and when I answered, for a moment I didn't recognise the voice, so distorted it was by emotion, but then I realised it was Melissa.
“Melissa, what's happened?” I asked.
“Oh Lesley, it's John, he's disappeared. He had a day off work and went swimming, and he hasn't come home.”
“Have you called the police?”
“Yes I have,” she replied, “but they say that most people who go missing return home within a couple of days, so they are reluctant to put on a full-scale search yet.”
“But you think that something has happened to him?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I went down to the beach where he always swims and his towel, shirt and shorts were there on the beach. Oh Lesley, what should I do?”
She wasn't asking me to come to Brisbane, but I knew it was what I had to do.
“I'm coming to Brisbane,” I said.
“Could you? Oh Lesley I feel so bad about ringing you with my troubles, but I have no-one else to turn to,” she said. “The police are probably right and he'll turn up in a day or two. They've told me to stay home in case he turns up.”
I knew she didn't believe it would happen, and frankly neither did I. I also presumed she had discussed their future, but now was not the time to ask her.
“Will you be able to come down tomorrow if it's not too much trouble?” she asked
“I'm going to fly down right away. I should be there in about three hours,” I said, “If you are not at the flat, please leave me a note to tell me where you are.”
The sky was rapidly darkening outside, and I don't often fly at night, one reason being that the station's landing strip doesn't have lights, but I have my instrument flying licence and of course I've taught other people, especially women, to fly. I phoned Jack to put him in the picture. Fortunately Jack is one of those people who doesn't need chapter and verse. I merely told him that a friend in Brisbane needed me urgently and I was flying down right away. I would be in touch in a day or two to let him know what was happening and deal with any important decisions. Then I hurriedly piled some clothes into a suitcase, having no idea how long I might be away.
Jack immediately organised to bring the Cessna out of the hanger. Fortunately I had been planning to fly to Townsville on business in a few days, so the aircraft was ready to go. Jack also contacted some of the men to light the runway for me.
By the time I had completed my pre-flight checks and lodged my flight plan, it was dark. I slowly taxied away from the lights of the hanger to the head of the runway and then contacted Jack on the walkie-talkie. In the bush you learn to be resourceful. Suddenly the runway was lit up as eight utes and trucks lined up at intervals to the side and facing down the runway turned on their headlights. We had done this before and worked out the distance apart for each vehicle and also the point at which, as the lights of the last truck faded out, I would be airborne. There is one possible hazard, and that is the risk that kangaroos, startled by the lights might wander onto the strip, so each of the men had a rifle with him, not to shoot the roos but rather to scare them off if they appeared.
When I had the 'all clear' from Jack, I pushed forward the throttles and released the brakes, and the Cessna accelerated down the runway. Just as I passed the last truck I eased back the stick and was airborne. Over the radio I called Jack and asked him to thank the men who had interrupted their evening meal for me. “We'll have a barbecue when I get back,” I promised.
Behind me the sky was still a faint purple, but ahead of me it was black. I climbed to ten thousand feet and levelled off. I really quite enjoy flying at night. The faint glow of the instruments does not affect night vision. Below me the land was dark, apart from the occasional pinpricks of light indicating the presence of human habitation. Now and then I could see a vehicle's headlights as it moved along an invisible road. I contacted Archerfield and gave them an estimate of my arrival time, promising to update it when I was closer to Brisbane. One possible danger in solo night flying is that the steady hum of the engines and the darkness could easily make a pilot drift off to sleep. I have a system of avoiding this by turning on my small cassette player with favourite songs recorded and singing along with them. I don't have a great voice, but then there was no-one else present to criticise it!
Flying solo also gave me the time to think about Melissa and my relationship with her. For some time I have realised that I have grown to look upon Melissa as the daughter I can never have, so I have developed a kind of love for her. It's strange that the English language, so rich in words has only one word for 'love', whereas the ancient Greeks had about four. The Greek word that most describes my feelings for Melissa is 'philia' – the virtuous love, the sort one has for family members or close friends, but in admitting that I also have to consider that there is a danger of my advice to her being coloured by my feelings for her. Now John had disappeared, so what would it mean if he didn't return? My thoughts were starting to swirl around my head and I decided that they were best left until I was safely on the ground and could find out more about what had happened.
Soon a glow in the sky ahead of me showed that I was approaching Brisbane, so I radioed through to the tower and began a slow descent. Air traffic control acknowledged my approach and directed me to the lit runway. Soon the runway lights were rushing up to meet me and a few moments later I felt the aircraft wheels touch the runway and I began to slow the Cessna with reverse thrust on the engines. Then I taxied to the apron in front of the hanger where I normally keep the Cessna while I'm in Brisbane and switched off the engines. I was pleased to see Norm, one of the mechanics coming out to greet me as I alighted from the aircraft.
“Good to see you Mrs Brodie,” he said 'we didn't expect you today.”
“Hi Norm, it's good to see you too. I wasn't planning to come to Brisbane today but a friend rang and needs my help.”
“I thought something must have happened,” he said “I've ordered a taxi for you. He should be here soon. You're not to worry about the Cessna, I'll see to everything and have it ready for when you want to fly home.”
“Bless you Norm,” I replied “You think of everything.”
He beamed his pleasure at my words and I meant every one of them. Norm is a real treasure. Sure enough, as soon as I walked into the terminal, pulling my case behind me, the taxi driver was waiting at the desk for me, and in less than fifteen minutes I was knocking on Melissa's door.
She opened it instantly. Her face was smeared with tears, but there was a look of relief on it as we hugged and then walked into the kitchen.
“Lesley, thank God you've come,” she said.
“I'd love a cup of tea,” I replied. I am a great believer in the restorative powers of a hot cup of tea – perhaps it's something I inherited from my mother; also it gave Melissa something normal to do, and that was important too. Once the tea was made we walked into the lounge room and sat on the sofa.
Obviously there was no news about John yet, so I said “Now tell me all that's happened since I last saw you.”
To be continued.
Image credit: Australian cattle station by Harris Walker reproduced under Creative Commons licence with attribution.
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