Today's Reading


MOM SAID DAD WAS DEAD, THAT HE'D FLOWN HIS BIPLANE JENNY OUT over the water and kept going until he ran out of gas—but Birdie refused to accept it, and now she had proof. She smiled ferociously at the paper clenched tightly in her hands. It wasn't the words on the flyer that had brought Birdie here, to the boardwalk of Coney Island on a sunny June afternoon. It was the grainy black-and-white photograph printed beneath those words.

Dad's Jenny biplane.

She had recognized it instantly, when she saw the flyer pasted up at the grocery back home in Glen Cove. That was Dad's plane, his Curtiss JN-4D, its name painted in loopy cursive on the side: Pretty Bird. She didn't need to see it in color—her mind painted the image canary yellow and bright blue.

Birdie stuffed the flyer into her pocket and shook her hair back—or tried to. She was beginning to sweat, and her long hair was sticking to her neck. A boy about Birdie's age, smoking a cigarette with a couple of pals, caught her eye and winked. She gave him a quick grin but spun away, before he might think her available. Even if she hadn't seen David in a few weeks they were as good as engaged, and she knew he'd come around once the bank uproar died down. By the time she saw him next, he'd be dying to kiss and make up.

Birdie pushed her way to the front of the boardwalk and peered over the railing. Though it was still early June the beach was teeming with bodies, most of them in bathing suits. Couples sat with screaming children, boys in groups furtively sipped from flasks, and girls with glaringly white skin packed onto towels. Farther down she spotted an empty patch of beach cordoned off, and a few planes lined up close to the low tide line where the sand was dark with moisture. Birdie bounced on her toes as she caught a flash of canary. She knew it! One of the planes was bright, bright yellow.

It was so like Dad to pull something like this. If one venture didn't pan out he would be on to the next, so fast that failure couldn't catch him. She was furious with him, of course, for taking off without a word to her. But maybe he'd thought she wouldn't want to come. Maybe he'd thought she'd prefer to stay while their whole life crumbled around her.

He'd better beg very convincingly for forgiveness when she found him.

She pushed her way down the boardwalk. The crowd thickened the closer she got to the planes, people jammed in elbow to elbow. After a block or so she shoved her way back to the railing and squinted down, and any lingering doubt vanished.

It always made her body feel light when she saw it. Her limbs anticipated liftoff, her lungs opening up to take in the rush of wind. Birdie loved Dad's Jenny as much as he did, maybe more. He'd flown her in it a thousand times. She loved the feel of the plane shuddering as the engine revved. She loved how her heart picked up when it accelerated. She loved how her stomach dropped when it soared. She loved damp air fogging her goggles, she loved the sun baking the top of her cap, she loved being so far above the roads and people and trees and buildings. She loved Dad roaring at her, "For the love of God, Birdie, sit the hell down!" and having the wind whip away the force of his words as she stood in the front cockpit, soaring, arms outstretched, just out of reach.

Two planes sat on either side of Dad's Jenny, one black with yellow stripes, the other red and silver. A few people milled around the planes, gesturing and smoking cigarettes. None of them was Dad, but no matter. Where 'Pretty Bird' was, he would be close by.

"It's twenty-five cents to see the show."

Birdie started at the voice behind her. She turned, and something about the dark, challenging eyes that met hers, one thick arched brow lifted, reminded her of Izzy. But this girl had tight curls piled messily on top of her head, not Izzy's sleek dark bob—and this girl was covered in tattoos. A sequined, dark-red costume with one shoulder strap and a short flounced skirt exposed arms and legs covered in images. Strange birds, twisting vines, sinister figures, palm trees, the devil, angels, the moon, the sun—the whole world, practically—marked her skin, all the way down her arms to her knuckles, down her legs to her soft-looking slippers, and all the way up to the strand of pearls wound three times around her neck.

Birdie couldn't imagine what Dad and Mom would do if she got even one tiny tattoo. Well, Mom would disown her. Dad, though—she couldn't remember Dad ever disapproving of her, but a tattoo might do it.

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