Looking for Airplanes by Frank George

Hazel sat in silence. The Saturday evening was cold and empty and time wasn’t moving. She stared at the clock, which sat dumbly on the mantelpiece; its hands had not moved in almost two months. She sighed in frustration and smoothed her woolen skirt. Hazel was sitting on the window seat of the parlor front window, leaning against the rain-dotted glass as she looked up at the clouds, grey and heavy. Standing up and walking towards the door, she reached out and flipped the light switch. Nothing. Hazel missed the electric light. It had gone away the same day that the clock stopped ticking. Looking up at the mantelpiece, she stared blankly at the portrait of her parents that hung above the fireplace. He wore a khaki uniform, and she wore a fine floral dress with a lace collar. She held a simple, plain smile that barely showed through the oil and canvas. Beneath the painting, a small cross-stitch read, Bill and Jane, Forever in Love with two pink roses on either side. Hazel walked to the mantelpiece and checked the radio switch. Every house was instructed to leave their radio on. If the War Ministry needed to communicate, they would turn on the city power and broadcast over radio. Hazel missed the music that would play every night while she worked her arithmetic assignments. She missed Mama singing softly in the kitchen to the tune of A Boy in Khaki–A Girl in Lace.

She went back to the window and looked out at the street. No one was out that day. She missed playing on Saturdays with the other neighbor girls. She’d not gone out since the lights shut off, except when dark green trucks came in the dark of morning to take the children to school. The school did not have any lights either. Hazel’s eyes wandered down towards the end of their block. The signpost stood proudly, marking the sixth block of Freedom Street. The street sign was gone, now. In its place hung a bright yellow sign with black letters.

MANDATORY CURFEW: 8:30–OFFENDERS WILL BE ARRESTED AND QUESTIONED. The sun was going down, shadows puddling around the red brick house rows and their empty, reflective windows. The sign was becoming unreadable in the coming twilight.

“Hazel,” snapped a voice from behind her.

Before she could turn, Hazel felt a stiff, cold hand grip her arm tightly and wrench her from the seat, pulling her away. She looked into her mother’s eyes. They were empty and cold despite their alarm.

“What do you think you’re doing?” her mother yelled. “I told you to keep away from that window!”

She pulled Hazel further away from the window into the shadows of the parlor.

“I’m sorry Mama,” Hazel quivered. She looked up at her mother. “I was looking for the airplanes.”

Jane’s face turned to pale stone. She searched Hazel’s eyes numbly.

“Why would you want to do such a thing?” she demanded. “Why?”

She gripped Hazel’s arm tighter still, shaking her violently. Hazel began to cry, looking away from her mother.

“I was looking for Papa’s,” she whimpered.

Her mother stared blankly and her eyes softened. She let go of Hazel and stood up straight. Jane’s eyes shifted to the window, as if looking for the planes herself. She started after a moment of silence. She knew that his plane would never fly home again; Hazel did not.

She crouched to the ground, looking into her daughter’s eyes, and stared numbly at her. Reaching forward, she wiped Hazel’s tears away with her thumb and held her cheek gently. Hazel whimpered again and her mother hugged her tightly. Jane thought of the letter that had come from the War Ministry in September. She thought of the flames that had eaten it away.

“Don’t look for planes anymore, Hazel,” she whispered.

A sudden flash of light shined in the room; the parlor light turned on. A loud static pop sounded from the radio. Jane yelped frightfully and turned to the radio. The faint sound of a man’s alarmed voice could be heard, but his words were indistinguishable beneath the loud din of static. Jane held Hazel’s shoulders tightly. Above the static, she began to hear the quiet howling of sirens echoing across the city outside. She walked toward the mantelpiece and switched the radio off with finality. She felt Bill’s eyes staring down at her from the portrait, as if asking why Hazel didn’t know that he would never come home. Jane stared back at him. He wasn’t there. It wasn’t him. It would never be.

Jane sank slowly to the ground, resting her knees at the edge of the fireplace. Her hands settled into the bed of cold ashes and she wondered which flakes of the dust had born the print of her husband’s name.

“Mama,” Hazel whispered.

Jane turned. Hazel was looking out the window. Raising her hands, Jane rested her ashen palms against her face, tears streaming through the grey dust on her cheeks. She braced herself against the mantle and rose slowly. The light was growing darker outside, and the sirens were wailing louder. She turned and walked toward Hazel, who turned back from the window to look at Jane. Hazel’s eyes pleaded with her mother, but Jane’s had nothing to offer in return. Reaching out to her, Jane touched her hands onto Hazel’s cheeks, leaving dark clouds on her face. Without a word, Jane took Hazel’s hand and walked to the window, sitting down on the cushions and pulling her daughter close. The sirens rang louder and louder into the winter night, and they sat together, looking for airplanes.