The crew members of MJN air were adamant that this would be a turning point in their career – or, well, Douglas was certain this would be a turning point in Martin’s life. He had slipped it into their traditional pre-flight conversation that Martin might be able to get a tan once they arrived at their destination – or, at the very least, a bout of sun burn.
Arthur entered the cabin and promptly interrupted. “Wow! Australia! Imagine all the kangaroos and koalas we’re going to see, chaps! You know –“
The captain and first officer interrupted with a strict “yes, we know”.
Arthur pouted and placed the two mugs of coffee in their rightful spots. He opened his mouth to tell his two best friends that they were out of coffee now, and that he had to run down to their storage room to get some more. Unfortunately, the other two men had gone back to their bickering. Arthur smiled at the familiarity and slipped out without them knowing he had gone.
Carolyn was doing her own pre-flight rounds. She was conversing with their six clients – a group of young British heiresses, all very excited to be going “down under”. They annoyed her to no end, blabbering on about their ponies and their princess lifestyles.
In a particularly intense conversation about nail products and their effect on the cuticle, Carolyn was aware of Arthur hastily waving at her from the doorway. One of the girls was looking at him, her face crumpled into a look of annoyance. Carolyn could see what the girl was thinking of her son, and she was right. He was an idiot. He really was.
“Mum!” He also looked like he wanted to ask a question. Arthur was always asking questions.
She flapped her hand at him, mouthing “do it, whatever it is”.
They weren’t scheduled to leave for another twenty minutes, so Arthur ran down to the storage room. He stopped and made sure that the airfield officers knew that the plane couldn’t leave without him.
“I’m important,” he said in his most serious voice.
The officers laughed. Arthur frowned, but brightened shortly afterwards.
He made it to the storage room and found three big cans of coffee within ten minutes. He still had ten more minutes to spare, but with the cans piled in front of his face, he was finding it hard to walk at more than a snail’s pace. The cans would teeter dangerously on occasion, forcing him to stop and realign them. It was slow work, but when he felt his toe clip the edge of the metal stairwell, his face broke into a grin.
He had made it! The plane was still here!
He looked at his watch; there were four minutes left.
Step by step, he made his way up the case. It was dangerous. There were twenty-one steps in all. Twice he slipped, and he dropped the top can at one stage, quickly picking it up and noting that the dents looked like a smiley face.
Douglas was reclined in his chair comfortably, smirking at the captain. He had made a particularly brash remark about the style of the captain’s hair. Instead of its usual sleek, professional look, Martin had opted for something a bit more modern. The ginger-browns curls at the front of his head were loose, while the rest of his hair was slightly ruffled. If Douglas hadn’t known better, he would say that Martin was trying to impress one of their clients.
“Stop it, Douglas,” said Martin.
Still smirking, Douglas stopped, recommencing the last check of the controls. They would be in the air within five minutes.
Noting the time and the particularly dull conversation she had somehow found her way in the middle of, Carolyn stood and engaged the seatbelts light. No doubt Douglas and Martin were doing their last checks, but where was that idiot son of hers?
She checked the gully, where he could usually be found. Empty.
Carolyn shook her head. At one point in the near future, she hoped that Arthur would realize that he was not allowed in the flight cabin during take-offs.
Arthur was on the seventeenth step, just over three meters up. His foot was tentatively feeling for the next step. The top coffee can wobbled. It inched towards the sheer drop, peeking over the edge. Arthur let out a small sound of surprise and moved to the left sharply to compensate the move. He toppled.
For the briefest moment, he was suspended in air with three cans of coffee floating around him.
He landed head first.
“Three minutes overtime,” Carolyn said through her teeth, her arms crossed and toe tapping. She was standing in the doorway of the cabin, staring down at Martin and Douglas.
She had checked the gulley, the bathroom, the flight cabin, hull; she had checked everywhere. She had even spent a minute standing on the metal stairwell, looking out over the airfield. She had looked up to the roof of the plane, called out her idiot son’s name. He was nowhere to be found.
“Carolyn,” Martin said now, his voice persuading. “Maybe it would be best to just leave him here. You could always serve the girls. We’ll only be gone for a few days. Arthur could probably manage to feed himself for a few days.”
“And, Martin,” Carolyn replied. “How do you propose he gets home? He usually has twenty pounds on him, but that’s not enough for a cab, and he doesn’t have a house key.”
“You could always get one of the air officers to drive him home,” Douglas said in his deep, isn’t-it-obvious voice. “They could probably break a window for him.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Douglas,” said Carolyn, her voice wavering slightly.
Although she would never admit it, she was actually beginning to get worried. Arthur had been trying to get her attention earlier. Might he have asking whether he could go home? Was he asking whether he could go to the storage room? That seemed to be the most likely reason.
She inched her way out of the cabin and checked the stock. No coffee. There were usually two cans in the first cupboard. Arthur had always said that coffee was vital in any good aircraft. The crew couldn’t function without coffee.
“Five minutes overtime, Carolyn,” Martin called.
“I’m going to the stockroom,” replied Carolyn. Her heels were already tapping down the stairwell.
Twenty minutes overtime.
“Where is she?” Martin asked.
He and Douglas had already been through a game of traveling lemon, before one of the girls had sought out a knife from the gulley, and had added it to her glass of water. Douglas had been looking for three minutes before the oldest of the passengers had made a pass at him.
“She did say she was going to the stockroom,” Douglas said. “Could it be that she’s in the stockro—“
He was interrupted by a shrill scream.
For three minutes, Carolyn had searched the stockrooms. No cupboard was left unexplored. Arthur wasn’t there.
Eventually she exited the group of buildings that made up the airport, and wandered back onto the asphalt that surrounded Gerti. Something caught her eye.
Arthur was surrounded by a pool of blood and congealed coffee. His head wasn’t his, and his eyes – open and unseeing – were lacking their usual light. His lips were slightly parted, revealing white teeth. There was an air of peace surrounding his body, but his face looked sad. His muscles had relaxed and dropped, the trademark smile gone.
Occasionally, his mother’s face would cover his own; her desperate lips trying to kiss him back to life.
“Mummy loves you Arthur. Arthur, Arthur. Come back, Arthur. Arthur, come back. Arthur, come back to Mummy. Arthur, Arthur, Arthur. You’re not an idiot, Arthur. You’re a good boy, Arthur. Arthur, come back, come home.”