If it were a film, he’d be nursing a scotch on the rocks, unshaven, but dressed impeccably nonetheless. The music would be echoing through an empty house at a volume that had the neighbours calling the police. Seeing as this isn’t anything particularly cinematic, the music is at a reasonable volume, he’s drinking a glass of orange juice and he’s reasonably free of five o’clock shadow as well, having arrived home at around lunchtime. He is still wearing his uniform, tie loosened and jacket hung over the back of a chair but it just makes him look like a tired pilot rather than anything else.
“Just pour me a drink and I’ll tell you some lies.”
The line feels like it ought to be heart wrenching as he sings along, but it simply isn’t. It’s been a while since the last Mrs Richardson made her departure and time has taken away most of the sting. Time after all, doesn’t heal anything, but it does allow a measure of forgetfulness. Of all his ex-wives Helena had probably been the most understanding after all. She was the one who’d have made the effort if only he could have done as well, but then the problem hadn’t really been her at all. He’d just stopped caring quite so much after a while. He did care, still does, but not in the way that she’d really needed him to. Wives generally required a certain level of devotion that went beyond the trappings, and he’d become so use to going through the elaborate motions that somehow it had been all that he’d had left. He had loved her of course. In fact, he’d loved all his wives dearly. It’s just that he’d always felt the need to hold back, to give affection in that clichéd, prescribed way that was the stuff of silver screen romance. It always worked, for a while at least, and had, in particular, been something of a tremendous success with his first wife after all. He’d thought himself a perfect caricature but Julia had put him to shame. She had been the perfect fraud. He’s honestly surprised that she’d settled for a mere pilot for so long. A woman like that should have been married to a film star.
Apophenia or otherwise, he can’t help but suspect that its women whose names end in ‘a’ that are a problem. Julia, Sara and Helena. Each of them had been perfect in their own right and each of them had known, deep down, that he was a fraud. Julia because she’d been faking her way through life herself, Sara because she’d seen him more clearly that he could evidently see himself and finally, Helena, because she’d recognised the pantomime movements for what they were. Of course he’s well aware that it’s so easy to pretend that you’ve never been in love with anyone, especially after they’ve left you. At least his mother had passed on before she could see the end of his third marriage, and his father had passed away just before his second divorce. Sometimes it’s enough to make him wonder if I ought to have just become a country doctor after all. He could have kept the cottage, used his parent’s contacts to build up a decent practice and have lived out the rest of his live in Suffolk, surrounded by hedgerows, hikers and fields as far as the eye could see. Perhaps, even if he’d decided to skip out on a medical degree, he could have gone into publishing like his father. Perhaps, he could have gone into advertising like his mother. Perhaps he should have done anything other than take it upon himself to become a commercial pilot.
One of his oldest friends works for Boeing and has the glamorous job of being a commercial buyer. It’s a role that involves lots of high level meetings, international phone calls and cigarettes by the hundreds. Except, it doesn’t sound very exciting at all, the way his friend talks about it. It’s a mess of bargaining for incremental gains, pleading down phones and nervous smoking. Being a pilot is much the same thing. The image that he shows to the world, the image that everyone expects to see isn’t necessarily much like the reality. He might not do any paperwork but that still doesn’t mean he can escape updating the never ending revisions of airport maps or keeping a copy of the operations manual to hand. In fact, he’s surprised that he’s never done himself an injury with the weight of the thing. Many pilots have. That said, he does know one pilot who had to land an Airbus A321 with a broken arm, but then it had been an emergency landing, with a side-stick, by a woman who’s not all that much shorter than he is, so possibly he’s just being fussy now. He has spent years enjoying it of course. There’s nothing to equal the glorious sensation of a skilful takeoff through almost blinding rain, nothing more thrilling than a landing on a runway that, if you overshoot, will pitch you into the sea. There isn’t much call for canyon turns or mountain landings in general at least, but while he can manage one easily enough, he stills feels his stomach sink at the thought of the other. Piloting is a dangerous business after all, difficult at times, even for him. Even if Martin’s canyon turns are textbook precise by way of insult.
That’s the strangest part in many respects, that they’re rather perfectly balanced. Douglas is quite content to deal with whatever the forces of nature throw at them: it’s other people that cause him worry. Martin, on the other hand, prefers complicated airports with dozens of planes stacked up in holding patterns and dangerously overlapping flight paths. Other people, in the air at least, are something that Martin can navigate quite well. He does well with anything reasonably visiospatial, Douglas has noticed, to the extent where it’s quite possible that he’d be a natural at air traffic control. Other people are unpredictable and Douglas doesn’t quite trust them that much, which is why he does his level best to keep them at arm’s length. He shows the world a rather well polished facade and that’s as close as they’re allowed. At least that’s the way it’s been until recently, until, what might very well transpire to be the last Mrs Richardson. The one who gets the offshore, Jersey, bank accounts that none of his other wives even knew about.
Of course Douglas hasn’t proposed just yet. It would be much too soon and he needs to go out and buy a suitable engagement ring first, though he is finding that the lack of suitable male engagement jewellery is rather hampering his efforts at the moment. He could forgo the tradition entirely but he’s not about to have Martin walking about with bare hands, advertising his unattached status, for an entire year before the wedding. The fact that they live together might be enough to put the competition off but Douglas has been the competition in the past and he knows just how persistent he can be. They live together, Martin drives his Lexus, Douglas calls Martin ‘darling’ in public but even that might not be enough, and he’s seen the way that some of the older pilots look at Martin. There’s a rather obnoxious fellow who flies for BA that Douglas keeps an eye on the most. He’s about Douglas’ age, charming, established, openly gay and thinks he has droit du seigneur when it comes to the younger pilots who pass through Heathrow, which makes Douglas glad that they don’t pass through Heathrow all that often. He also refers to Martin as ‘that darling boy’ which is enough to set Douglas’ teeth on edge and make him wish that he wasn’t old enough to know better than to engage in a fist fight. It doesn’t help that these days, most of Martin’s friends fly for BA too and keep telling him to apply, because lecherous old Francis is sure to green light his application.
Looking back, a good deal has changed. MJA has prospered. Douglas and Martin live together, Martin is actually paid to do the job he loves and he’s gained a good deal of confidence in the process. He’s gone from being a young man who desperately wanted to be a pilot and let that colour everything he did, to being, more or less, the walking, talking stereotype of BA young blood. There are young BA pilots aplenty, within that group there are young, gay, pilots too, and within that selection again are that small cadre of confident, good looking, bitchy, twinks who think that they own the skies. The only attribute that Martin’s missing these days is the contract. Of course Douglas understands why they tend to close ranks like that. While nobody can be, officially, fired for being gay anymore, it’s hardly an easy ride. Air England, for instance, still wouldn’t take it too well and Douglas knows, from experience, that the central core of the Air England ‘in club’ is given to casual misogyny, homophobia and bad stereotypes of glamorous masculinity. He should know after all, he was once one of them. Air England have the reputation of being conservative in the extreme, though, if you listen to the rumours, they’re smugglers to a man. In contrast, if one believes the gossip anyway, Martin’s set are easier than most to get into bed, a reputation alone that makes Douglas glad that he stopped believing gossip a long time ago.
Of course he left Air England a long time ago, in disgrace. No charges were pressed but he’d used up all of his chances, so the official records state. In all actuality, he could have talked his way out of the suggestion he resign. They’d pretty much expected him to, which is why it had come as a surprise when he hadn’t. He’d surprised himself even, mostly because he’s always been one to take the path of least resistance. He hadn’t for a moment thought that he’d go through with it and take the chance to walk away from the meaninglessness that his life had become. Martin maintains that Douglas resigned because he is, at heart, a decent man and could do no less than leave with his integrity intact. Douglas tries not to correct Martin in those moments because that idea of who he is, of who he could be, is something that’s, perhaps, worth aspiring to. And somehow Martin always manages to reconcile the image of brave, honest, Captain Richardson walking away, head held high, with Douglas, who still transports the occasional small item or two of a certain monetary value, without the right custom’s documentation, and has had some very good divorce lawyers in his pay.
So many things have changed that sometimes Douglas wonders if the entirety of his past was just a very bad dream. Perhaps it was. He’d spent so much time trying to be what he thought he ought to be, that his real life had very nearly passed him by. After all, as Oscar Wilde so eloquently put it: one’s real life is often the life that one does not lead. Douglas almost missed his chance, and by connection, like dominos toppling, perhaps Martin almost missed his too. Then again, if Douglas hadn’t been the one to inspire confidence in Martin then certainly, someone else would have done eventually. Maybe it would have been suave old Francis, maybe it would have been Mark, with the dazzling smile, the closest of Martin’s BA friends and one who thinks he’s scandalous by flirting with a retired Air England captain from time to time, maybe, more realistically, it might have been Arthur, who’s lingering gaze always follows Martin adoringly. Eventually, there would have been someone to tip the balance and forge recompense for Martin’s long years of misfortune. Maybe, in another lifetime, it would be Arthur that Martin would marry, the heir to a successful business, a man with the sort of guileless charm that Douglas could only dream of possessing. Maybe, one day, far into the future, when there’s a Douglas shaped hole where once a skygod walked the earth, Martin might marry Arthur anyway. Maybe he’ll leave a trail of ex-husbands behind, each of them cursing at the memory of a man they couldn’t compare to. Or maybe, which for Martin might in fact be more likely, he’ll remain single and widowed and utterly loyal to the man he once, so very long ago, married. Douglas can picture that possibility quite easily: grey-haired Captain Crieff, still wearing his wedding ring, a dry smile tugging at his lips as he explains that his spouse has been gone for a good thirty years now.
If he was given to romanticised sentimentality, Douglas might wish that he’d met Martin earlier, but in all actuality he’s glad that he didn’t. Ten years ago he would have been an obnoxious shell of a man on the surface, radiating disillusionment and dissatisfaction for anybody who knew where to look. Twenty years ago he would have been trying his hardest to fit into the mould he’d made for himself. Thirty years ago he would have actually thought himself content. Perhaps now is the best time for it after all. He has a few good years flying left to him and the expected slow decline into retirement to come. By the time Martin is in a position to benefit from everything Douglas leaves behind, he’ll be decently established in his career and will be a position to put his accumulated wealth to good use. Douglas has a mind to leave behind very specific instructions for his lawyers in regards to his investments, so that Martin will be well provided for and won’t be in danger of jeopardising his financial stability due to bad luck. Perhaps, also, Douglas feels that he ought to have a quiet word with Arthur, in regards to Martin’s marital prospects once Douglas is gone. Certainly, he doesn’t quite like the idea of Martin ending up with someone, naming no names, who’s simply managed to outlive Douglas by a few years. Of course, in the end, it’s all a little morbid to be focusing on such things but Douglas has always found it rather soothing, to have at least a reasonably sensible plan for any situation. It’s simply an extension of his aptitude for turning events to his favour after all.