Caroline Giammanco: Wings of Glory

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Wings of Glory

By Caroline Giammanco

Enveloped in a sea of blue, the jet hurtled through the bright sky in a hurry to get to its destination. Tom Harper gazed out the window. Below him, city skylines and checkerboard farm fields passed by. Major cities looked like dots. Tom was amazed by just how much farmland was out there. He’d lived in the city for so long that he’d lost track of the agricultural base of the country. Little houses speckled the view, and farm-to-market roads crisscrossed the landscape. 

I can’t help but wonder about the people down there. Who are they? Are they happy with their lives? Would we be friends if geography didn’t separate us? Are they celebrating the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one? People from all different walks of life are going on about their days as we fly overhead. Do they ever think about who I am flying above them? I’ve stood on the street by my office building and stared up at the flights taking off from La Guardia, wondering about the people in those thin metal tubes. Flight still amazes me. 

The clanking of a cart brought Tom’s attention back to the flight he was on. The monotonous hum of the plane engines droned in the background as flight attendants made sure passengers were happy with their meals and beverages. The food was incredible, which surprised Tom. It certainly wasn’t the normal bag of peanuts he was used to on commercial flights. 

With radiant smiles, attendants checked on each guest, doling out pillows and warm blankets. The gentle flutter of movement as the attendants went about serving the needs of passengers was comforting. Real care was given each member of the journey, and Tom had never seen an entire flight receive first-class treatment before. 

I knew the perks would be good, but this goes beyond what the company rep told me. Everything from the friendly flight attendants to the food is amazing. New hires usually don’t get this kind of treatment, at least not in the jobs I’ve had in the past. I think this is going to be a good gig, even if it’s a long flight. Thank God there’s plenty of leg room. 

At 6’6” Tom Harper needed the extra room. He stretched his lanky legs and yawned. He gladly accepted one of the pillows and a warmed blanket as the attendant stopped at his seat. He was tired. 

While exciting, the unexpected string of events he was experiencing took a toll on him. On the one hand, Tom had an overwhelming sense of well-being. This was the most important job he’d ever taken, and he knew he was in the right place doing the right thing. On the other hand, he mulled over the whirlwind events from the past twenty-four hours and couldn’t fight off a sense of guilt. 

Just yesterday morning, Tom’s biggest concern was dropping his daughters, Lily and Hannah, off at school on time. His oldest had lost her homework from the night before, and his youngest had insisted on wearing her Cookie Monster slippers as shoes. It was chaos getting them fed, dressed, and out the door in one piece. Thanks to Michelle’s new work schedule, Tom was responsible for getting the girls to school and picking them up in the afternoon. He smiled. He didn’t mind the extra time with them. He loved being a dad, in fact. A wistfulness fell over him as he thought about the spring break plans he had with them. He was going to take them fishing at the family cabin in the Adirondacks. 

A dinging bell drew Tom’s attention to Mrs. Swenson in seat 4C. A sweet woman with a southern drawl, she asked for ear phones. The flight offered a variety of movies to break the tedium of the trip, and she’d chosen an old western to occupy her. Tom overheard her tell the blonde stewardess that she’d once met John Wayne. Mrs. Swenson became animated as she retold the memory. She was especially pleased when the attendant told her that she, too, had met John Wayne. 

Looking up and down the aisle, Tom noticed the flight was surprisingly full. Not a seat was vacant, and Tom marveled at his fellow passengers. 

This wasn’t what I expected. I’m impressed by the diversity on board this flight. I don’t know why, but I thought we’d all be a little more homogenous. 

People of all races, ages, previous professions, and political beliefs were aboard. Tom chuckled. 

Not that long ago, given today’s divided political climate, you’d never catch Democrats and Republicans getting along so well. 

Two rows ahead of him, proving his point, was a smartly dressed twenty-something having a charming discussion about fine art. This wouldn’t be unusual, except her companion was a man in his sixties who made his fortune as a venture capitalist. It was unlikely, before their addition to the company payroll, that they’d have been so fond of one another. 

Across from Tom was another odd pairing, at least from outward appearances. Sharice Davis, liberal councilwoman from the rougher neighborhoods of her hometown, talked and laughed about grandbabies with the man sitting next to her. Mark Perry, a red-headed police officer with years of experience patrolling Sharice’s same neighborhoods, told Sharice how sorry he was he’d arrested so many young people in her area. In reality, they weren’t all that different from her beloved grandsons. They’d just made bad choices and hadn’t had opportunities. He held her hand as he learned that Sharice still carried wounds from the loss of her brother. His death had fueled riots that made national headlines. Two days ago, both Sharice and Mark might have seen each other as adversaries. Now, common ground and empathy were apparent on their faces. Family meant a great deal to both. 

Tom’s thoughts returned to Michelle and the girls. He winced. 

By taking this assignment, do they think I’ve turned my back on them? Will they hate me? Will they ever understand that I had to take this opportunity? How afraid were the girls when I got on this flight and left them standing outside their school? Is Michelle angry with me that I accepted this job without talking with her first? She didn’t even get to see me before I signed the contract and boarded. 

Visions of his girls crying in the rain as he never arrived in the parent pick-up lane at Hunter Grove Elementary stung. Those wouldn’t be the only tears they cried. 

Yesterday’s storm had been fierce. Lightning flashed non-stop, and the streets were overcome with floodwaters. Driving conditions that afternoon were hazardous, and Tom was thankful he’d been the one crossing those treacherous intersections and not Michelle. 

Why do people have to drive like idiots when it rains? Don’t they know speeding up doesn’t get them home faster in those conditions? It just makes it more dangerous for everyone else.

Well, with his new job, neither he nor the other new members of the company would have to worry about their safety. No, they’d be on security detail for others, and there was plenty of worry involved with the job description. 

I still don’t understand why I was chosen out of all the other candidates out there. I mean, I’ve always worked hard, and I’ve tried to be a good man, a good husband, father, and friend. I never thought I’d be offered a chance at a job like this, though. 

Tom’s thoughts were interrupted by the brunette flight attendant who asked if she could get him anything—another beverage, perhaps a magazine?

Her name tag said “Christine.” That was Tom’s mother’s name. She’d have liked this Christine. Her warm smile and soothing nature would have appealed to Tom’s sweet mother. Beneath Christine’s name, Tom saw the company logo: Guardian Angel Express. As she handed him his soda, her right wing brushed his arm. 

Christine smiled sweetly and said, “Don’t worry, Tom. I know you’re nervous. You’ll make a great guardian angel. And your wife and daughters, they’re in good hands. The Big Guy takes special care of his employee families.”

Peace filled Tom, and he relaxed. Important work was ahead, and soon he’d be wearing his own wings of glory. 

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