It had taken the two boys an hour of hot, dirty struggle to grapple the last piece of aluminum up the slippery hillside to where they were building the glider. Finally, standing together, the rising sun revealing the glistening sweat on their bodies, they looked down at their encampment far below.
The cross where their mother was buried could clearly be seen, but the hut where their injured father lay in pain was still hidden in shadows. As their breathing slowed, they turned to each other, nodded, smiled, and then turned towards what they hoped would carry them off the deserted island.
The glider had been their father’s idea. He had built the yacht that the family was sailing the South Seas on when it wrecked against the reef surrounding their little island that wasn’t on the charts. Their father had survived, as had the two boys, but their mother hadn’t.
And for the first few weeks, as their father lay in pain from his back injuries, the two boys had scoured the island for food and water. When they told him one evening that they had discovered a wrecked airplane not far from their campsite, he got excited and asked them all sorts of questions about the debris. The next day he got them together and told them about his idea, using a stick in the sand to explain how it might work.
His idea was to use the salvaged material from the plane wreck to build a glider high up on the little island’s main hill. Their father had been on watch the night they stranded on the reef and he knew that they had passed an inhabited island some twenty-five miles to the southwest sometime during the night. There was a chance, a slight one, that under the right conditions, one of the boys could fly a glider that far, land it and bring rescuers back. He told them that flying a glider wasn’t that much different than sailing a sloop and each day when the boys returned to the campsite from their construction duties, he would explain how he thought it could be done. He even fashioned a scale model of the glider out of driftwood and palm fronds to use in his flying lessons. He used a small rock to represent the weight of the pilot.
Their father was an uneducated mechanical genius. He could build and fix anything using whatever was available at the time. So the boys knew that the glider would fly and they named it ‘Maureen’ after their mother whose grave was behind the campsite. And while neither of the boys had inherited their father’s innate skills, they could follow instructions and they both had his competitive drive, which showed up from time to time .
“Dad, I figure that I’m the one who’ll fly ‘Maureen’, right?” the older one asked one evening around the fire. “I mean, it just goes to figure. I’m older and more experienced. Not by a lot, but whoever flies will need every edge he can get.”
The younger one was mature beyond his years so he didn’t respond right away. He wanted to give his father a chance to respond to his brother’s argument before putting in his two cents worth. The father, in great pain from is injuries, propped himself up the best he could and explained, “Your brother weighs a lot less than you. And he’s stronger in his upper body than you and he was always the better sailor. He’ll be doing the flying.” And that was that. The subject never came up again.
Their father brought them together late that one afternoon after they told him the glider was finished. He grilled them hard about how each joint had been fashioned, about the exact dimensions of the wing, and about how much they thought the damn thing weighed. Then, flopping back down on his makeshift bed, he explained to the younger boy, “You go tomorrow at dawn. The weather conditions will be in our favor. Get some sleep. I’ll wake you up when it’s time, boys. And remember to watch the birds!”
He didn’t wake them. Sometime during the night, he died without a sound. They woke up late and immediately knew something was wrong. They buried their father that morning next to their mother and then sat down together on the log next to the campfire. They didn’t say a word for quite a while until the younger boy reached out and grabbed his brother’s hand and told him emotionally, “I’ll fly the glider, but we’re both going. I’m not leaving you behind.”
The older boy reached down for the model glider their father had built and held it in his hands for a moment as he put the stone that was supposed to represent his brother’s weight under its wing. Then, he picked up a slightly larger stone, added it to the wing, stood and launched the model into the wind towards the beach.
Both boys watched intently as the small glider struggled and wobbled into the onshore wind. It would rise for a moment, then drop down as if to crash, then suddenly rise again, wobble some more until it cleared the shore break and slowly flew on its own gaining some altitude until they couldn’t see it anymore.
With that, the boys rose and without looking back started up the hill together.