Seán Kenny still occasionally pretends to be a journalist. His fiction has been published in Crannóg, The Irish Times and Wordlegs. He’s fairly sure that brevity is the soul of wit.
A documentary film
Interviewees’ testimony (non-chronological; questions omitted)
Danny Maguire to camera:
(Singing audible in background)
“Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away.”
Dad keeps crooning that, like the world’s worst Frank Sinatra tribute act. Does he always sing it when he’s about to go up in the microlight? He’s usually on his own, so I guess not. Or maybe he does. Actually, I have no idea what Dad does when he’s on his own. I mean, how would I?
It’s kind of making me nervous, though, because it’s like this countdown, like every time he sings it there’s less time before we take off.
Pete Maguire to camera:
Danny’s such a great kid. All fathers say that, I’m sure, but he’s 16 now and he’s turned out so well especially given that things have been pretty rough for him. Me and his mother separated when he was 8. Before that our house was a dangerous place to be a piece of crockery, let me tell you, and the decibel levels would put a Metallica concert to shame when we went off on one. Danny was our only child and I worried how growing up in a house of slamming doors would affect him. A kid exposed to all that conflict … can’t be healthy. But, honestly, he’s the nicest lad you could meet. Sure, he has his moody moments, but I forget he’s 16 sometimes. Aren’t they supposed to be one gigantic turbulent hormone at that age?
I have to admit that I haven’t always been the world’s greatest father. Danny gave me this card, not long before his mother and I split up [Pete displays a card bearing the legend ‘World’s No. 1 Dad’ and a picture of a grinning cartoon dad]. I keep it in a drawer and sometimes I take it out [brief pause as Pete turns away from camera]. I can never look at it for very long [Pete requests temporary suspension of recording].
I started building the microlight exactly 39 days after I split from Danny’s mother. That’s how long it took for the last parts to arrive. Do I think it was cathartic? It was a project. I’m an engineer. I need projects.
Ah yeah, I was thrilled when Danny suggested the two of us going up in the microlight. I’d thought about asking him before, obviously, but I didn’t want to impose on him. You have to give kids their own space to become whoever it is they want to be.
Danny Maguire video diary:
This was Dad’s idea. I let him think it was mine. It was kind of like the way a girl who wants you to score her drops all these flirty hints, but you have to be the one to make the move. Fear of rejection or something. At least that’s what my mate, Joey, says. I’m not that great with girls, to be honest.
Anyway, Dad’s always talking about the microlight. It’s his big thing. He built it from scratch and he’s even flown it across the Irish Sea to Wales. It’s pretty much an obsession. I suppose, as obsessions go, it’s better than hoarding cats or something. Just.
So one day after he’d spent about a century-and-a-half telling me about some modifications he’d made, I said, “why don’t we go up together some day?” He had this weird quivery expression like he was happy, but so proud he was sad too. So, before it could turn into the kind of embarrassing emotional display parents are world-renowned for, I said, “seriously, I think it’d be really cool to go up together.” He asked me if I was sure I was comfortable with it, because it was a very small aircraft and it could get pretty turbulent but I said it was cool, I might have been scared when I was a kid but I wasn’t a kid anymore. He was biting his lip, like really having a good gnaw on it. He turned away and pretended he wanted something from the fridge. I’m pretty sure he was on the verge of blubbing. Man, I would have been morto if he’d cried. He didn’t used to be like this, all crumbly like a Flake bar. I hope he’s not entering some kind of mid-life crisis meltdown mode.
Pete Maguire to camera:
I warned him. “Danny,” I said. “It’s not for everyone. A lot of people, well, they think I’m a bit mad for flying a microlight. Are you certain about this?”
They do too, think I’m mad. Wilbur they call me at work. That, or Orville.
I didn’t want to warn him off too much, though. Look, here I go, into Cats in the Cradle mode – seriously, please don’t put that on the soundtrack – it was something I really wanted to share with him. Still, I was surprised how emotional I felt when he made the suggestion. Don’t worry, I didn’t show it. Not showing my emotions is my specialist subject [Pete laughs]. After microlights.
Danny video diary:
Dad texted me a few times after I’d mentioned us taking the microlight up. Any idea when I’d like to do it (weather-dependent, of course)? Up to you, Danny. Take your time. I’ve just got another one. He’s sent me five messages in a fortnight telling me to take my time.
Pete to camera:
Yeah, well my own father died a few months ago. We knew he was going for a few weeks, so there was time for goodbyes. You could say we were reconciled at the end, but it’s not really true. We called a ceasefire, that’s all. A month of lopsided harmony, he was too weak to fight anyway, it pales against four decades of conflict.
No, I couldn’t cry for him. Back at home on the night of the funeral – I was loaded on condolence whiskies, to be honest – I thought about Danny burying me 30 years down the line with the same great gaping hole where grief should be [Pete pauses and exhales deeply]. That’s when the waterworks started. Niagra Bloody Falls.
Danny video diary:
So we set a date and that’s when I really started shitting it. I found some videos of microlights flying on YouTube. I mean, have you ever seen one of these things? It’s like trying to fly on a moped strapped to a hang glider. You think I’m joking? [Danny shows some footage from his laptop of a microlight bouncing twice whilst attempting to land prior to flipping on its head and bursting into flames. The party recording the footage exclaims, “Oh, fuck!”].
I was going to text him. Say something like, “maybe we could just go bowling instead?” But I knew he’d be all cut up, even though he’d try to hide it. He’s been giddy like a kid since we, well, he started planning this.
Pete to camera:
Tell you about the day so far? Well, okay. We arrived here at the airfield nice and early so we could make the most of the day. As you can see, it’s a lovely day for it, calm, nearly cloudless. I really think Danny’s excited about his first time in a microlight. He kept jigging his foot in the car. “Butterflies?” I asked him. “Just a bit,” he said and I told him it was normal. Even now I get this kind of jangling fairground ride sense of anticipation.
It’s hard to explain. It’s just, when I’m up in the microlight I’m untouchable. You can rise above it all, the whole shitstorm, for a little while. It’s a day pass out of the asylum. People just don’t get it when I tell them I do this [Pete shrugs and vigorously shakes his head].
[Pete impersonates unidentified others]
“Ah, here’s Howard Hughes now! Did you forget your goggles, Howard?”
“Do you think could you reach America in that yoke you fly? I’ve a parcel of rashers for the sister in Boston.”
I laugh along. They haven’t a clue. All I’ll say is it feels like freedom. Maybe a week in the sun does that for them. Lucky them.
Danny video diary:
So we arrived at the airfield so early it was virtually still yesterday. Except I don’t think it’s a real airfield. More like a field [Danny briefly pans around the airfield]. They just add the ‘air’ part to make it seem respectable, as if it’s something other than the place a bunch of mentalists start their kamikaze missions from. I puked in a corner of the ‘airfield’ while Dad was jigging around with the microlight [Danny looks away from camera]. Which he still is. I actually couldn’t believe I made the whole car journey without throwing up.
I haven’t been able to think about anything else all week, not even Cara Tierney (two rows up, one across, Geography class). When I’m not imagining whether Cara Tierney might cry at my funeral after I tragically plunge to my death in a microlight aircraft crash (probably not), I’ve been thinking “DVD, pizza and an awkward silence”. Because that’s how it usually is when I come to stay with Dad [Danny no longer looking into camera lens]. It’s what I keep reminding myself when I feel like wussing out of this. I just wish he had a non-insane hobby. My mate Joey, his parents are split up too, his dad’s hobby is drinking in the pub. Joey gets to drink shandies and watch football on big screens.
I get to go on suicide missions. I can hear him starting up the engine—“Just testing her, Danny”. Jesus Christ. This is insane.
Actually, wait, I want to cut that bit about Cara Tierney. What if she sees this? How do I edit it out?
Pete to camera:
There are certain smells and sounds and sights I love. Petrol and mown grass. That lovely eager thrum of engine and an unfolding runway like a red carpet to the sky. Except that it’s grass-green, not red. Look, I’m an engineer, not a poet [Pete is blushing slightly]. I understand the language of machines.
Yes, I do sometimes sing to the microlight. Come Fly With Me or Learning to Fly by Tom Petty. Just sometimes. Yeah, nutter alert, I know [Pete chuckles]. I suppose I feel like I understand the microlight, when it creaks and groans in discomfort, or purrs with wellbeing. It’s an easy language. Not like talking to a 16-year-old boy. That’s a whole other language. But we’ll get there, me and Danny. We’ll get there [Pete nods, looking away from camera lens].
Ah, there’s Frankie Brady arriving. He’s obviously taking his Pegasus 912 out today. Back in a sec; I just want to ask him about a new GPS he’s got.
Hi again. Frankie’s nicely set up over there. Beautiful piece of technology, that. Right, I think we’re nearly ready to take her out [Pete grins and rubs his hands together briskly]. I’ll just get Danny. Do you know where he’s gone? Danny! Danny!
Oh, Jesus! I don’t believe this. The engine should NOT be making that sound.
I don’t believe this.
[Pete’s participation in the film ended at this point]
Danny to camera
I didn’t realise sugar could mess up a fuel tank that badly. I thought it’d just stop us flying that day, not destroy the whole thing.
Of course I didn’t plan it. I got the sugar from this little hut place where the pilots go and have a cup of tea. I just panicked and poured it all in while Dad was talking to his mate.
How angry was he? Well, it was the first time I’d heard him properly curse since him and Mam split up. Then a minute later it was about the 147th time I’d heard him properly curse since him and Mam split up.
No, we haven’t spoken since that day. It was always pretty hard for me and Dad to talk.
©2012 Seán Kenny
Kenny story in Crannóg
'Family Christmas': flash fiction in The Irish Times
Story by Kenny in Wordlegs