by R Ross Johnston
Vic now grasps the vast scale involved in this flight. Half a block north to Florida Street then Arcadia, Vermont Street, Virginia Street and a long block to Front Street and I-70. Allowing for the estimated angle to the point where his kite string intersects I-70 above the high bridge, Vic realizes that he is personally responsible for a soaring red kite which must now be visible to hundreds of people around the city. That tiny, distant red dot must have found a strong and constant air flow at altitudes seldom achieved by such craft. Vic has a very simple chore at this point. He must hold on tight and let out string at a steady pace into the warm breezes of this cloudless June day.
Mr. DeCollo lives nearby and has thoughtfully provided an old pair of work gloves for Vic to cover his bleeding hands. The gloves should help to prevent further injury from the cutting pull of the thin string. Vic briefly considers all of the usual problems which have often terminated previous kite flights. Such hazards include loss of wind, change of wind direction, broken strings, failed knots, running out of string, hitting objects and strong winds crushing the fragile spars across which the thin red paper has been carefully spread. None of these potential breakdowns has occurred.
“I don’t believe this!” Vic reflects, “What a tough kite. My little flyin’ machine. Nothing broke…of all the things that could have happened…nothing.” He has always been a philosopher at heart. Vic has lost count of the number of spools of string which have been contributed. Elizabeth, Vic’s buddy and sixth grade classmate, sits on the street curb directly behind him. She has faithfully assumed the responsibility to tie a series of square knots to join each new spool. She must then feed the string off toward Vic and on again to the main length of string which now extends high over at least seven blocks of the city. Vic tries to communicate with Elizabeth without being heard by the many spectators standing nearby.
“Lizabeth? Lizabeth, can you hear me?” Vic feels as if he is about to rupture himself from trying to scream in a low whisper while speaking away from where he believes Elizabeth to be. He decides that she can’t hear him for all the noise from the crowd.
“`Lizabeth, I know you’re back there somewhere. Help get me out of this!” Vic turns to look over his shoulder for Elizabeth.
He doesn’t see that she is seated on the curb behind him. Vic’s friends yell to him, “Hey! Keep your eyes on the kite. We want to see how high this thing can go!” Vic wants out and he has a plan. A plan that would get him out of the center of attention and still allow him to avoid the embarrassment of failure. All he needs is Elizabeth’scooperation, “`Lizabeth, help me here. Tie those knots so they’ll come loose.
At last Vic can hear Elizabeth’s voice behind him. His muscles shiver as he hears her deliberately and monotonously reciting out loud, “Right over left then left over right.”
Vic extends one leg to the rear. He hopes to gently and nonchalantly kick Elizabeth to get her attention. He is unable to locate her by this method. The crowd is growing larger and is pushing in tighter.
He can hear Elizabeth continuing to recite aloud, with sincere dedication to the task, her recipe for a well-tied square knot.
In quiet resignation Vic speaks to the open sky, “Those sound like real good knots, `Lizabeth.”
Mike Maloney is a little behind schedule for his afternoon stop to deliver a trailer full of new safety equipment. He is bound for a chemical plant, about 40 miles south of the next exit from I-70, directly off of the East Channel Bridge. He guides his Freightliner carefully in the slow lane of the bridge. With the I-70 tunnels closed ahead, detoured traffic is moving in short spurts while waiting to merge onto Main Street South.
An unidentified red object is tracing a tight circular pattern in the sky just above Mike. It catches his attention. Mike slows his rig, for just seconds, to a crawl to get a better look. Mike extends his head out the driver’s side window and looks up through the superstructure of the tall bridge. Despite the bright sun shining directly into his eyes he can discern the distinctive shape of a kite and its tail. Mike quickly returns his attention to driving.
“That was a kite,” Mike verbalizes into the otherwise empty cab, “a red kite out here in the middle of the river.”
Within a few more seconds, Mike is again rolling. He has lost interest in his UFO and, in fact, will soon forget the sighting entirely. Mike looks out to see that traffic has moved ahead more than he thought it would. He has fallen behind.
The car that he was following is already moving off the bridge. Mike increases his speed to try to catch up. The car ahead clears the intersection as Mike reluctantly stops his rig. The light has changed from yellow to red before him.
If traffic wasn’t so heavy, if I had kept up better, I could have made that light.”
Mike was only seconds short of making the light. After that, Mike got stopped at all twelve of the traffic lights between 10th Street and where he finally got onto the four lanes of Route 2 South.
At that point Mike knew that barely had enough time remaining, according to his recalculated ETA. As he traveled further south past Glenview, Mike came upon another long line of traffic stopped before a road repair site where a section of road known as `The Narrows’ begins.
Traffic was fully stopped in both directions. He got on the cell and was soon informed by a northbound trucker that a coal truck had caused an accident at the road repair site just minutes previous to Mike’s arrival. He could not believe his bad luck. Traffic waited for the road to be cleared. Mike became furious at his loss of time. He leaned on the horn for two short blasts. Then, realizing that there was no choice, Mike sat and waited.
“More string!” Mr. DeCollo announces to the crowd. “Jon Taylor just brought more spools”, Mr. DeCollo excitedly advises Vic.
Vic calmly looks to Mr. DeCollo. He can’t manage words so he shows a weak smile. Vic is exhausted and sick with the idea of flying a kite.
Mr. DeCollo starts to shove Elizabeth aside and to take her place on the curb, “This is getting to be too much for you little girl. Better let me help out here.”
Vic is not happy anyway, but this is too much. Instantly, Vic finds the energy to bark at Mr. DeCollo, “Hey! This is my kite and `Lizabeth is doing just fine. Back off!”
Mr. DeCollo is obviously flustered, “Look, kid, I just called the newspaper and …”
The gathering of people speaks a collective, “Ahhhhh….”, then becomes still. All eyes turn to watch as the tiny red dot sinks slowly behind a tree line near the horizon. The thrill is gone. Suddenly, Vic is left holding a hundred yard fragment of kite string which is tied to absolutely nothing.
“I don’t think the newspaper is going to be very interested now, Mr. DeCollo.” Vic is so relieved and so elated at the sudden turn of events that he can barely maintain the forced frown that he is struggling to show to the crowd.
Vic turns to look at Elizabeth for the first time since they were running down the street together trying to get that red kite to take flight.
“You OK?”, he questions as he sits beside her.
“I’m tired and I’m hungry”, says Elizabeth, turning her head to look at Vic. She studies Vic’s face for a moment and then asks, “Vic, why did you yell at Mr. DeCollo when he was trying to help?”
“I dunno. He was gettin’ all excited and was makin’ me nervous. I suppose he didn’t deserve the way I got mean with him.” Vic turns to Elizabeth to add, “When he started messin’ with you…
Well, when I heard him say he was takin’ over, I thought he didn’t have any business makin’ like you weren’t helpin’ me right or something. I dunno.”
Elizabeth stands to walk. She reaches to relieve Vic of the fragment of twine which he is still clutching tightly in his gloved hand. She slowly begins the task of winding that last length of loose twine onto a spool. Vic walks slowly beside her. “Vic, I wouldn’t have minded if Mr. DeCollo had helped. I was really getting tired. Maybe he was trying to push me around. I don’t think that he meant it that way … Thanks, Vic.”
Vic gives nodding acknowledgment to what Elizabeth has just said. “Right now I’m just waitn’ to see if I’m going to be in trouble for leavin’ kite string hung across the city. And I don’t know where that kite landed either. Let’s go home.
I’ll just wait an’ see if anyone comes knockin’ at the door.”
“You know, `Lizabeth, I’ll bet we set some kind of kite flyin’ record today.”
They walk together for several blocks without speaking until they come to the place where they must part.
“Vic, do you want to study together tomorrow evening”
“Sure, `Lizabeth, next week is the last week of school.
Then we will be seventh graders.”
With that comment they look to each other with a mutual acknowledgment of satisfaction.
“See you tomorrow, Vic”
Vic waves good-bye and slowly walks on toward home.
Mike Maloney pulls his rig up to the receiving gate at the chemical plant just to be sure that it is closed. Indeed, the gate is closed and no one can be found in the area. Mike turns his rig back onto Route 2 heading north to look for a motel.
He is thinking that he must call his mother to inform her that he will not be home in Buffalo by early morning as she is expecting. It will be late afternoon by the time he gets home. He had promised that he would drive his mother to her sister’s funeral. Now she will not be escorted by her only son to the ceremony.
Within a few miles of the chemical plant, Mike finds a motel where he can park his rig. He isn’t happy about the unplanned lodging and meal expenses. Now he has an extra 15 hours to spend while waiting for the plant gates to reopen tomorrow morning.
Mike checks into the motel and makes his telephone call from the lobby. He then dumps his stuff into room 16. Feeling restless, he immediately heads out to find a bar. Mike ends up in a small drinking establishment near the motel. As he sits at the bar, Mike notices that the place is almost empty.
In fact, the only other customer that he can see is an attractive woman who was seated at the other end of the bar. She is now walking toward Mike with a smile on her face.