Home > The Aviator's Wife(4)

The Aviator's Wife(4)
Melanie Benjamin

But at her age, I had started to dream of heroes, I recalled. Sometimes, I still did.

The cars slowed and turned into a gated drive; we stopped in front of an enormous, showy palace—the embassy. Our embassy, I realized, and had to stifle an urge to giggle. I followed Mother and Con out of the car and hung back as Daddy marched up a grand stone staircase covered in a red carpet. A line of uniformed officers stood on both sides of the staircase, heralding our arrival.

“Can you believe it?” I whispered to Elisabeth, clinging to her hand for comfort. She shook her head, her eyes snapping with amusement even as her face paled. The flight of steps seemed endless, and Elisabeth was not strong, physically. But she took a deep breath and began to climb them, so I had no choice but to follow.

I couldn’t look at the uniformed men; I couldn’t look at the landing, where he was waiting. So I looked at the carpet instead, and hoped that I would never run out of it. Of course, I did; we were done climbing, finding ourselves on a shaded landing, and Mother was pushing Elisabeth forward, exclaiming, “Colonel Lindbergh, I’m so glad for you to meet my eldest daughter, Elisabeth!”

Elisabeth smiled and held out her hand, so naturally. As if she was meeting just another college boy, and not the hero of our time.

“I’m happy to meet you, Colonel,” she said coolly. Then she glided past, following Daddy into the embassy.

“Oh, and of course, this is Anne,” Mother said after a moment, pushing me forward as well.

I looked up—and up. And up. Into a face instantly familiar and yet so unexpected I almost gasped; piercing eyes, high forehead, cleft chin, just like in the newsreels; a face made for statues and history books, I couldn’t help but think. And here he was suddenly right in front of me, amid my family in this unexpected, almost cartoonish, opulence. My head swam, and I wished I had never left my dormitory room.

He shook my hand without a smile, for a smile would be too ordinary for him. Then he dropped it quickly, as if it stung. He took a step back and bumped into a stone pillar. His expression never changed, although I thought I detected a faint blush. Then he turned to follow Elisabeth and Daddy into the embassy. Mother bustled after them.

I stood where I was for a long moment, wondering why my hand still tingled where he had held it.

COLONEL CHARLES LINDBERGH. Lucky Lindy. The Lone Eagle. Had there ever been a hero like him, in all of history?

Breathless, reeling from the blinding, golden brilliance of his presence, I could not imagine there had. Not even Christopher Columbus or Marco Polo in their time—a time when the world was different, larger; people, countries, entire continents hidden from one another. But suddenly the world was another planet entirely; much more compact, everyone now within reach. And it was all because of one young man from Minnesota, only four years older than me.

I had been in the library at Smith last May, writing a paper about Erasmus, when a total stranger grabbed me by my arm, laughing and crying both. “A man named Lindbergh flew across the ocean!” she shouted, and that was the first time I heard his name. She pulled me from my desk and we ran out into the quad, where the entire student body and faculty had gathered to link arms, whoop, and yell as we celebrated this person unknown to most of us until just half an hour before. It seemed incredible, like something from mythology, or from H. G. Wells; this boy flying across the Atlantic Ocean like a bird, like an eagle—and doing it alone. At the age of twenty-five, he had conquered not only the entire planet but all the sky above it.

I lived in a world of remarkable thinkers and dreamers; people whose greatest achievements usually involved the writing of books, the handshake of diplomacy, the paper chase of academia. Heroes were figures from history or from literature: knights errant, brave explorers crossing oceans fully aware that there might be dragons at the end of the rainbow. There were no heroes in these modern times, I had sincerely believed—until I found myself bumping elbows while doing the Charleston in a sea of collegiate humanity, shouting “Lucky—Lucky—Lin—DY!” at the top of my lungs.

And now, because I was the ambassador’s daughter—miraculously! astoundingly!—I was going to spend my Christmas holiday with him, this doer of all doers, this hero of all heroes, amen.

That first evening, he and Daddy left immediately for an official reception, while the rest of us unpacked on the second floor of the embassy; the “family quarters,” Mother explained, sotto voce, as she showed us all to our respective rooms.

“We have fourteen servants,” Con enthused, as she followed me into my grand suite, complete with a private bathroom. “Fourteen! Mother doesn’t know what to do!”

“I’m sure she’ll find something to occupy her time,” I said wryly. Our mother was as tightly wound as a bedside clock; gongs going off every hour as she filled her days with meetings and charitable dinners and fund-raisers and writing letters upon letters. I envied her energy, even as I resented it for taking her away from us. But it seemed to me that the hot, pulsating force of it affected me negatively when we were together, as if the two of us were a science experiment. It pushed me away so that I was always looking for dark corners and silences, space to think and feel and worry but never, ever, to do, despite—or, perhaps, in spite of—my mother’s shining, bustling example. Contemplation, rather than action; that seemed to be my lot in life, and I was ashamed of it even as I craved it.

“Oh, she does! There’s a party tomorrow, you know.”

“On Christmas Eve?”

“Yes, she says it’s intimate, just for the staff and all of us, but that probably means fifty, at least!”

“Oh, bother!” I sat down in a heap, putting the finishing disastrous touches to my crumpled traveling dress. A party. With Elisabeth. Old worries and doubts and paralyzing fears stole over me; no one would pay any attention to me, the colonel would dance with her, she’d look exquisite, I’d be a brown lump next to her, I wouldn’t be able to think of anything to say, maybe the colonel would dance with me, but it would only be out of pity…

But it wasn’t Elisabeth’s fault, I scolded myself. My sister was simply one of the golden people, like Colonel Lindbergh: effortless, graceful creatures, like unicorns. The rest of us could only look at them in awe, through no fault of their own.

“What are you going to wear?” I asked Con wearily. She wrinkled her snub little nose.

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