Woodlane Windows Series: Kes Wilkie and Alicia Davies
In this series, writers from our School of Writing and Journalism react to new work by Falmouth’s Fine Arts students as it is exhibited in the windows of the Rosehill building on Woodlane Avenue.
This fourth installment brings the work of artist Kes Wilkie and writer Alicia Davies as Alicia responds to Kes’s electric kool-aid flight test exhibited in the Woodlane Windows on February and March this year.
Now Mariella was gone, and dinner for Eric consisted of cheese and crackers. Once, their shack had been decorated with papier mâché heads and car boot sale figurines. The place was alive, full of little eyes and fixed facial expressions.
He took everything away when she passed. Shoved into boxes in the garage. There was only one thing left, a painting of a smiling, rosy lady holding a chocolate bar to her lips. Quite hideous, Mariella, he had often said. They could see it from their bed, where they would lie like two curled up watchdogs. Now he lay in bed with nothing to look at but the painting, the rake by the front door and the trowels towards the back.
He woke up early every Sunday to go to the aerodrome. He always walked there, trying to catch the dew before it left the morning. He went along winding country roads with no pavements, brushing against the bushes. By the time he got to the aerodrome he always had bits of bramble stuck to his coat and leaves in his hair. This morning there was a new woman at security, and she eyed him up and down before waving him through.
The plane sat on the concrete. Its exterior was covered in little droplets. Eric patted the door ‘hello’ before climbing inside and taking his place on the passenger side. Mariella’s flight goggles lay on the pilot’s seat. A leathery smell came up from both seats and he sat back for a minute with his eyes closed, inhale, exhale.
He thought back to the time of The Great Debate: house or plane, house or plane? It had taken them six months to decide, with her saying house but muttering plane in her sleep. They moved into the shack behind her parent’s house. When her parents died, they stayed in the shack.
They named the plane Michael.
Michael was a quiet plane. Mariella would stroke the dashboard and mutter how shy he was, how soft-spoken. But then Michael would push up against gravity and take them up into the air and suddenly he was the one in charge. Things were different, up there, the possibilities endless. Eric and Mariella liked to sit back in the seats and pretend to be aliens, gods and everything in between.
Come winter, they put socks on the front propeller and took photos. Mariella said, Warm Michael.
Eric opened his eyes and stepped out of the plane. He walked around Michael, checking the wings, fuel, the oil levels. When he went back inside, he placed Mariella’s flight goggles on the passenger seat and took hold of the commands. The plane juddered to life, propeller starting to whir. Eric communicated his departure via the radio and drove to the stopping point. Engine to the max. Taxiway. Compass, brakes, check. Ready for the final radio call: Fox Golf Romeo Charlie on standby, ready for take-off.
Eric had been flying for three years now, but he knew he could never do this as effortlessly as Mariella.
Fox Golf Romeo Charlie, came back the static, authorisation to take off.
Along the airstrip, faster, faster, flaps out, fastest, then up into the air. Up vertical, then nose down a bit, flaps away now.
He became level with the clouds and started on the flight path he took every week. His stomach was all flipped over from the ascent and adrenaline rushed into his fingertips. The low clouds rocked the plane until he found some stability for them both. He zoomed ahead.
Up now in the realm of possibility, freed from gravity, Eric shouted Hi Mariella! Mariella it’s me! until his cheeks were red. He had looked for her in the clouds, but hadn’t found her there yet, and now he suspected that she was maybe hidden in a star. Which direction do you think, eh Michael? Where is she?
There had been a song on their wedding day that neither of them liked. A plucky guitar piece with a cheery high-pitched voice. They’d clung onto each other’s hands, her in her second-hand white dress, and whispered that it was corny. Years later, though, they rolled cigarettes together on the front doorstep and hummed along with the stereo: you’re the sundae at the end of my day-ay-ay.
People on the outside saw his yellowing beard and the dark shadow on her top lip and thought they were best left alone. They never went to restaurants or the cinema or dinner parties. They had own parties, drinking cans of larger, spiked with something stronger on the weekends. They listened to tribal beats that made them clap their hands and stomp their feet. Mariella had once told him of a word in another language that meant: ‘the desire, when dancing, to take off all your clothes’. Sometimes she pulled off her top and waved it around, going woo, woo!
Now, Eric got to the point where he was supposed to descend, and he thought of the shack and the cheese and crackers. He thought of the hideous chocolate lady and the silence that reigned in the shack at dawn, dusk and everything in between. He remembered the moonlight that flooded through the window and illuminated the bedspread with an odd glow, shining pale on his washed-out pyjama bottoms.
He punched his fist on the dashboard and thinking himself alien or god, he decided to continue his search for Her.
Static on the radio in the plane, trying to reach Eric. Eric hummed along to the static.
She was buried on a Monday. He left a single rose on the fresh mound of soil and put a model airplane next to it. He had assembled it from one of those boxes bought in a toy shop, and the stickers had gradually unstuck with the rain.
The static was getting louder, and Eric could no longer hum along.
He always thought she had a loud soul, one of those souls that needed bursts of entertainment. She sought from life the extraordinary, and she had taken him on the ride. She brought light and colour to the shack. The little eyes of the figurines shone for her. Eric bit his lip. They had shared a life in which he was the passenger. He looked at his hands on the controls and felt his hair sticking to his head. Beads of sweat dripped down his neck.
Static bursting down the line, drilling into his head. He answered the radio call. A plane was approaching, the voice said, and he had to touch down now, touch down.
He looked at the flight goggles on the passenger seat and considered switching places with them. Letting them make the decisions. He put them on, feeling the pressure of the elastic band around his head. Too tight. He took them off, imagining it was Mariella’s hands and not his in front of him. Taking command, in control. He squinted enough to see his fingers blur into hers. The ruddy small nails that were always cut short. The dimpled knuckles. He heard her saying, good Michael, there we go, and he didn’t know how or why but suddenly Michael’s nose was dipping down.
When he landed, people rushed up to him and asked what the hell he’d been thinking, but he elbowed them away and they backed off, afraid to touch a man who was crying.
That night, Eric went back to the aerodrome, walking along the bushes and main roads with a torch. He slipped inside through a hole in the fence, a spot that he and Mariella had found when they went to stargaze from the cockpit. In his right hand he held a bucket and, in his left, a single rose. He went into the cockpit and sat down in the passenger seat. He placed the rose on the pilot’s seat. Then he sunk his hand in the bucket, feeling the warm, freshly dug soil between his fingers. The smell of earth took over the cockpit. Inhale, exhale. He took a handful of soil and threw it on the seat. Handful after handful, Eric emptied the bucket until there was a large mound on the seat.
He gripped her flight goggles to his chest, then slid them over his eyes. He got out of the plane, whispering goodbye to Michael.
He stopped to look up at the stars before entering the shack. Then, little alien with his goggles on, he went inside and took down the last painting. Quite hideous, Mariella. He gave into an impulse he’d always had and kneed a hole in the canvas. The chocolate bar tore away from the smiling lips.
He lay down in the bed and pulled the covers over his chest, now the only presence in the shack. The last one standing, cockroach of the apocalypse. His eyes flickered shut behind her goggles. He thought about tomorrow.
by Alicia Davies