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Sunday Night Read: 'Weathered Wings'

This short story series submission is from Madison Hackman of Port Coquitlam.
"Weathered Wings" is a fictional story about growing old and the strength of filial love. | Nils Calmsund | Submitted by

Gus leaned into the foot long wrench like he would crank the yoke of his jet into a nose dive- hard, and like his life depended on it. The tool protested, but he kept pushing nonetheless.

Finally, it flew forwards, launching a bolt across the room. It hit the wall, rolled off one of the metal wings, and fell to the ground with a clang.

With a grunt, he returned to the riveted cockpit in front of him. Smooth metal gave way to a thick transparent cap as he ran his hand along the cockpit of the plane. The now absent bolt had granted him better access to the cockpit, but he was no closer to solving the malfunction. Perhaps just out of spite, he tried shutting the lid once more, only to find it springing back at him. Spite given, spite received. Gus growled, then returned once more to the guts of the contraption. Footsteps approached behind him.

“Sir,” came a voice from the doorway. A young man in military attire stood in the entrance in a firm salute before walking stiffly over to Gus.

“That thing giving you trouble again, Lieutenant?” he asked.

“Mhmph” Gus remarked, not looking toward him.

“Sir, may I offer a suggestion,” said the man.

Gus turned his head slightly, furled his brow, then returned to work.

“Sir, have you considered contacting central command for additional support? These repairs appear to be extensive.”

“Do not test me, sergeant,” said Gus flatly.

“Apologies, sir. I thought if you came out of the hangar for a moment, maybe the maintenance team could fix this for you? You need only tell them-”.

“Tell them what, exactly? That ol’ Gus has lost his gusto, and needs a helping hand from a spry hangar rat ready to wet himself on my bird? Hardly.” said Gus.

“Could be worth a shot, sir. You’ve more than earned your keep on these grounds. I heard the mess hall is serving your favourite,” said the sergeant.

Gus remained silent.

“So, can I expect you to be dining with the crew this evening?” asked the sergeant.

“...can’t leave his superior alone…just to be as he is for five minutes…” Gus mumbled.

The sergeant sighed and walked over. He peered at the hinge Gus was currently working on and after a moment, tapped him on the shoulder.

“You see there?” the sergeant indicated downward into the mechanics of the hinge, closer to the front of the plane, “You’ve lost a gear at the base. The hatch won’t shut because the arms can’t retract all the way.”

Gus paused for a moment, then looked up at the sergeant. His flawless uniform and the handful of ribbons adorning his chest made him snarl. The man even had the gall to sport the same type of black leather belt as his superior. What a brat, thought Gus.

“Damn child, telling me what to do. Go find a private to itch,” Gus growled, reaching down once again along the narrow arms of the cockpit door. Grasping like a child, he fumbled around in the guts of the plane for the spot the sergeant had indicated.

“Sorry, sir,” the sergeant said, “But, I did come here for a reason.”

“Oh yeah? Why don’t you put it on my desk like the rest of the battalion. Christ, it’s like it’s your first day.”

“Sir, the general insisted that you take a look at it,” the sergeant said firmly.

“Oh, did he now?” Gus mocked, “Listen boy, either this plane flies or there won’t be any more reports to look at, ya’ hear me, sergeant?”

“Yes, sir. He…uhh…he was very insistent, however,” said the sergeant.

Gus drew in a large breath as he continued tinkering away, each thrust of the wrench clicking another bolt loose. The sergeant sighed again.

“Sir, it seems to be missing. It probably fell off. I mean, you’ve practically run this beast into the ground. I’m surprised it hasn’t gone kaput already,” he said.

Gus’s arm had reached so far into the mechanics of the plane that he had lost his balance for a second. Catching himself with his other arm on the cockpit door, it closed slightly. The metal jaws of the inner gears of the door clamped down on his outstretched hand, causing Gus to pull back reflexively.

“Darn- stinking- goddamn- shit!” said Gus, howling in pain. He glared at the sergeant with the impending force of two missiles ready to fire, “it ain’t done until I say it’s done, sergeant!” he barked, still massaging his throbbing hand.

“Let me see it,” the sergeant said softly.

“Don’t you dare-” Gus retorted.

“I said, let me see it,” said the sergeant, forcing Gus’s hand into his.

Gus tensed, but eventually relented and let him inspect the damage. Nodding, the sergeant smiled.

“I think it’s time you took your break, Lieutenant. Your men are depending on you to be in working order, and a swollen hand and hot head doesn’t help anyone, wouldn’t you say?”

Gus yanked his hand free while seeming to shrink at the admonishment.

“My men will do just fine without me, without you and without any goddamn reports,” Gus spat, “Now, leave your judgments to the cadets, boy."


Gus’s nostrils flared for a moment as he observed the sergeant in front of him once more. They had a searching look in them, as if catching a glimpse of an old colleague, or friend, or…

“...Sir?” said the sergeant.

Gus’s hand tightened on the wrench.

“Nothin’,” said Gus with a tremble.

“Please just look at the report,” said the sergeant, handing over a heavy envelope. Gus yanked it from the sergeant’s hands and dug inside. A dozen or so pictures fell into Gus’s wrinkled hands.

“I…what is this…” Gus mumbled, looking at some of the small figures present in the photographs. The sergeant smiled as if he recognized something in his superior’s confused face.

“They were really excited when we told them we were visiting your hangar. You should’ve seen Augustus’s face when he saw the F-35 take off from the strip. Nearly knocked him on his feet. They even gave him a model to take home.”

Gus continued rifling through the photos as the sergeant talked. He glided over the pictures of various planes and airstrips before landing squarely on the two children present in one of the photos. One boy and one girl, both barely over five, were staring up at him. The boy was transfixed on the model plane he was holding, grinning like he had just gotten to ride in one. The girl was less than impressed, and didn’t seem to take too kindly to having her picture taken at this particular outing.

“Augustus,” Gus said, “and..”

“Marcy,” said the sergeant, “yeah, she wasn’t so thrilled about the theme for the day, so to speak.”

“And, you are their father?” asked Gus in earnest.

“Proud one at that,” the sergeant said with a nod, “do you know who I am?”

“You-” Gus blurted.

The sergeant gently put an arm around his shoulder, before steering him out of the room.

“Come on, Dad. I think it’s time to have dinner with the crew.”

Gus sniffed, rubbed his nose, and stared wide-eyed at the photos. They began making their way out of the shop, passing overgrown grass and discarded tools, before continuing through a rough, dirt path that led up to a wide front porch. Behind them, the cockpit, and only the cockpit, sat on its metal stand. Door hung open, with weathered wings piled against the walls of the small garage. The rusty metal husk was finally able to begin its well-deserved retirement.

- Madison Hackman, Port Coquitlam

You can follow Madison Hackman (@madisonhackman) across all social media channels.

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Looking to expand your story-writing abilities? The first-ever Tri-Cities Writers Festival is set for June 14 and 15, 2024, hosted by the Coquitlam, Port Moody and Terry Fox (Port Coquitlam) public libraries. You can visit the event's website for more information and a full schedule of events, including Q&As with 10 critically-acclaimed writers and a 19+ cocktail reception.