Perhaps the engine was making a strange noise, or perhaps a gauge reading signaled danger. I don’t know. What I do know is that Hernando and his companion decided they had better set the little airplane down, and quickly. They did not try to reach an airport. They put down the best they could on a dirt road not far outside Casas Grandes, a place Hernando had never visited, but would visit again.
For it was here that he and his buddy thumbed a ride into town, and called someone to go repair their aircraft, and then retired to the village ice cream parlor. And it was here that Hernando locked eyes with the girl behind the counter, even before he could speak about ice cream, and began the preliminaries to a marriage that would last forty years.
The name of the girl was Margarita, and she was the same Margarita that I wrote about earlier in the chapter that bears her name.
Hernando progressed from trainee to commercial pilot, and logged twenty eight thousand hours of flight in thirty five years. He and Margarita adored each other, but were never able to spend much time together due to his career. They lived for the time Hernando would retire and come home to Margarita to stay.
About three years ago Hernando did retire, but he was not home for long. He promptly had a serious stroke. His doctor explained that among certain professionals, including airline pilots, there is a strong psychological dimension involved in stress-related events such as stroke and heart attack. As Hernando put it, “A pilot holds the lives of his passengers in his hands. He does not dare have a stroke in the air.” Nor, for many pilots, even on the ground between flights. A pilot keeps going until retirement, and then all that stress takes its course.
Hernando was seriously crippled by his stroke, but he applied himself to overcoming it. He kept his apartment in Ciudad Juárez, a couple of hundred miles away, to be near his therapists. And he recovered. By hard work and force of will, he recovered to where one could not tell he had ever had a problem. And he finally came home to Margarita.
It was during her absence that I got to know Hernando. He had not grown up here, knew few people here, and fewer with whom he could talk easily. I had met him earlier on one of his home visits. I met him again at the house of a mutual friend, Spencer MacCallum. Spencer, knowing Hernando was alone, frequently invited him to supper. Sometimes I was invited too. Hernando, being a commercial pilot, spoke fair English, that being the universal air traffic language, and he enjoyed speaking it. But when Hernando and I talked alone it was usually in Spanish. Have you read my story “Victrola”, about Spencer’s old record player? Hernando collected Victrolas, and had a vast supply of parts. A supply which we searched for the part Spencer needed, and found every part except that one.
Hernando and Margarita never did get to spend much time together. She came home a time or two but had to return to her doctor, and her infection gradually worsened. After a six month struggle she was exhausted and could not fight any more. She came home for the last time.
At the velatorio I stood before her body and looked into her face. Unlike most deceased people, she looked just like she did in life. She looked happy, peaceful, herself.
It was in Hernando’s eyes that I saw immensurable suffering. There were no tears. There were no contortions. His pain was too great for that. His face was relaxed and animated. But his eyes …
He spoke four words. He gripped my elbows, lifted his face, and looking deep into me said,
“My wife is dead.”
© 2008 Joseph Mansfield
2006.05.12 Margarita’s death
2008.02.11 first draft