Tulsa summer buzzed and simmered and slunk along in 1948. When school was out, Pete Winslow was ecstatic, as were most of the kids. But it got boring pretty soon, especially when you realized you needed transportation and money to do anything fun, like go to the Oil Exposition or the fair. Even going downtown required bus fare and if you wanted donuts and Orange Julius you had to have a buck, so you'd have movie money and bus fare home. Milk Duds and a Coke at the movies. It all added up.
He caddied at Southern Hills Country Club sometimes but he hated it. They always chose the older guys and some days you'd wasted a trip out there. Setting pins at Utica Bowl wasn't much better. The older kids again, quicker, better. So he'd shine boots and shoes at Utica Square. At least the oil men would tip you well. And he learned to buy a copy of the Tulsa Daily World at the newsstand so they'd have something to read while they stood there, one shoe up on his shine box. It gave them something to do, and kept the uncomfortable small talk to a minimum, the bullshit about when they were his age. If they were forty now, that meant they were born in 1908 and were his age in 1920. Kee-rist, like the older pin setters said. They had more horses than cars then. It was embarrassing to think about even. They probably said thou and thee back then.
He rode his bicycle to the hardware store, looked in the window at the Daisy Red Ryder bb guns, roller skates, various power saws and drills, a lawn spreader. Usually he'd go in and put a penny in the bubblegum machine, wander the aisles looking at stuff. Or go to the Five and Dime, intent as a rooster looking for corn among the gravel. Yoyos, little ball bearing rolling dexterity games, glass rockets with red hots in them. Nothing interested him today though. The lassitude of midsummer had hit him full bore.
A moving, fluttering reflection in the glass changed his view from inside the window to behind him. Then more joined it. Leaflets from above. He looked up and saw the source; a small biplane overhead was emitting little clouds that broke apart and floated down like helicopter seeds from a maple tree. He chased some that had fallen on the sidewalk and grabbed one before the breeze carried it away. With one foot on the ground he sat on his bike and read it.
GRAND OPENING! MYERS PHILLIPS 66 STATION! Are you holding the winning number? Head over to Myers 66 Friday, August 12! Free Orchids for the ladies. Free soda pop and hot dogs. (While they last) Bring in the winning number and win a new 1948 Whirlwind gasoline powered lawnmower with grasscatcher!
A poorly reproduced black and white photo showed a woman in pedal pushers standing behind a mower, delighted with the results of a mowing or happily anticipating one. At the bottom of the small sheet was a number sloppily printed in red ink, 62118. Pete leaned his bike against the building and hurried after some more leaflets, noting others were doing the same, snatching them up and scanning the surrounding street and sidewalk for them.
The second leaflet he grabbed showed number 64111. A third had 62055. No telling what the winning number was, but the more leaflets he could capture, the better the odds. He mounted his bike and headed the way the airplane had flown. People in the vicinity of the hardware store had already cleaned up the leaflets. As he sped through a residential area he saw several and braked, dropped his bike and ran through the yards gathering leaflets. He continued this way for half an hour, finally ending up in a pasture. He dropped the bike again and waded a small creek to the other side where he'd seen some scraps that looked like they could be paper leaflets.
Smoke rose in a thin column in the still air. He shaded his eyes and he saw what was causing it. The leaflet plane sitting cockeyed in the pasture. The biplane wings were drooping. He ran toward it, and as he approached, he could see that the pilot was still in the open cockpit. He tripped on the uneven ground, got up and ran again. As he neared it
he yelled, "Are you okay?"
The pilot turned groggily, mumbled something. Pete was on one of the damaged wings now, using the struts to pull himself to the cockpit.
"Cut me out of here. Quick," the pilot said. It was a female voice. Did she say cut? he wondered. He dug his Boy Scout knife from his pocket and started sawing on the leather rigging that seemed to hold her in. The plane was nosed down somewhat and he saw that the upper wing had a fuel tank in the middle of it. One of the hoses had ruptured and a trickle of fuel was running toward the engine and broken prop.
"Oh shit. Oh please. Oh shit," he prayed aloud. Finally he cut her free. She said, "Pull me out. I'll scream, I'm hurt, but keep pulling, hurry."
He did and she did scream. He almost dropped her back into the cockpit but managed to get her free and dragged her off the bottom wing. She fell into the grass, and passed out. He dragged her away as far as he could, then fell to his knees, gasping. The fuel caught in the trickle to the hot motor, sizzled, and ran back up to the tank, which went up in a small fireball and a "whoomp." Flames caught the fabric and the cockpits were burning. He removed her leather helmet and goggles, saw she breathed heavily. Some black and white cows had come to watch.
She came to, said, "Ribs I think. One arm. You got me out." Her hair was long and lustrous.
"I'll get help," he said.
"Wait," she said. One arm was limp, but she reached into her shirt pocket with her other hand, pulled out some folded leaflets like the others. "Listen to me. The winner is one of these. You can have them but you can't tell anyone you saved me. Or you can be the hero you deserve to be but you can't cash in the ticket, the number, understand? It would be too much of a coincidence."
"How...how do you know it's one of these?"
"I saw them copy the number down and toss it in the bag. I took the top ones out, so I'm pretty sure..." She grimaced with pain.
"I'm going to get you some help." He started to his bicycle, stopped. A head appeared over the rise. A tractor was moving toward them. The tractor stopped, the man jumped off and the cows milled around nervously.
Pete yelled, "Hey! Help!" waving his arms, causing the cows to thunder away a short distance.
The story was in the Tulsa World, pictures of the biplane, him, the pilot in her hospital bed smiling. And the grand opening was just a week away. He couldn't win. She was right, it would look like it was rigged. But the lawnmower was his ticket to summer money. Too bad. Looked like he was "hey, shine" for the rest of the summer. Fame didn't pay very well, he observed. He gave the winning leaflets to a pin setter he knew at Utica Bowl.
The day of the drawing, he decided to go, watch the kid win the lawnmower. A crowd had gathered for the free hot dogs and soda. When they called out the winning number there was a flurry among those who had leaflets. The kid from the bowling alley dropped his in a trash basket. Nobody had the winning number. Then the man said,
"In the absence of a winner in attendance, Myers 66 is presenting the mower to the young man who saved the pilot from a fiery death, Pete Winslow. Is Pete here?"
Guinotte Wise writes and welds steel sculpture on a farm in Resume Speed, Kansas. His short story collection (Night Train, Cold Beer) won publication by a university press and enough money to fix the soffits. Three more books since. A Pushcart nominee, his fiction and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals including Atticus, The MacGuffin, Santa Fe Writers Project, Shotgun Honey and The American Journal of Poetry. His wife has an honest job in the city and drives 100 miles a day to keep it. Some work is at http://www.wisesculpture.com