Soar

[]

"Dad, whose airplane's this?"

"Please don't touch it."

"Is it Valentine's? You wouldn't even let me get the Albatros, why does he get a Fokker?"

"It's not Valentine's. It's a gift for a patient who's been working very hard. A bit of a joke to make him smile."

"Is it for that boy you let finish my Curtiss? The one whose dad wouldn't let him build models at home? You could bring him round to our house. We could work on them together."

"That's a very nice idea, Antony. I think he'd enjoy that. I only wish it were appropriate."

[]

God Save the King.

For years it's been the phrase that Lionel has repeated silently to himself when he's needed a moment to compose himself, to control his temper, to stop and think.

He's angry enough to catch his son smoking a cigarette. But when he tries to calm himself down before speaking, the inner recitation has the opposite effect. Suddenly he's shaking with fury.

"Dad?" asks Laurie. "Are you all right?"

"Never again," Lionel says. He isn't speaking of the cigarette, already dropped, forgotten.

It won't ever be so easy to forget Bertie, with cigarette in hand, striding away.

[]

It wouldn't rankle so much without all the reminders. The name mentioned every time one of Lionel's boys turns on the wireless. The hastily printed new portraits on the wall of every shop. The chatter of neighbors. The posters declaring "Stand By the King."

It's like being pricked by pins, always in different spots, a dozen times or more a day. Neighbors, pupils, Lionel's own family may mention the monarch. He can't guard against the sting without cutting himself off from everyone. Even fleeing back to Australia wouldn't make it stop.

He'll have to bear his pain alone. Like Bertie.

[]

Cold, dismal rain. A last-minute cancellation. A scratched phonograph record. A leak in a window, a puddle on the floor.

An empty milk bottle hides a hole in the tablecloth. The engine sputters like it needs work again. The boys are too busy, or too restless, for Shakespeare.

They're small things, easy enough to overlook, yet they weigh on Lionel like punishments.

The ring interrupts while he's with a patient. He nearly ignores it. He is not polite when answering.

"Yes? What is it?"

The name. The request. The schedule. The confirmation.

And quicker than sunrise, all fixed, all forgotten.

[]

The final rehearsal has concluded. The next morning, Lionel will be the only common colonial seated in the royal box, while Bertie will be crowned King of England.

"Wear this tomorrow." Bertie opens a drawer in his desk. From it he takes a medal of the Royal Victorian Order. The Sunday Express editor had told Lionel that his name was on the Coronation Honors List, but Lionel hadn't believed it; most of the honorees are nobles.

"Thank you," he says humbly.

The King smiles. "Not at all. You have helped me. I am going to reward those who help me."

[]

Lionel bursts through the door in alarm. He hadn't thought he was late.

Bertie sits cross-legged on the rug beside Lionel's youngest son, studying a book of airplane diagrams. Behind them, Lionel's middle son slumps in a chair with his homework in his lap, mocking them for using the wrong screw on a propeller.

"Dad," Antony greets him. "Bertie says we should build a Sopwith Baby."

"Because you're a baby," Valentine grouses.

"Shut up," Bertie says, elbowing Valentine in the leg. He looks perfectly content.

Valentine stalks out, muttering. "Who does he think he is, the bloody King of England?"

[]

When his family sits down to dinner, Lionel refuses to switch off the wireless. The BBC will eventually report on the King's trip to America. If Bertie has spoken in some public venue, Lionel might even get to hear his voice.

Bertie had asked Lionel to come along, but Lionel had declined, citing Bertie's need for independence. His real reason was more complicated. He feared becoming too attached to following Bertie around.

"You're moping," chides Myrtle. "He'll be back soon, and ring you up to tell you about it.

Even the boys tease. "He's not your sweetheart, is he, Dad?"

[]

It's an old fear, probably foolish now, yet rainy afternoons trigger it nonetheless. Lionel can't forget the misery that struck him that awful day at precisely the same moment as the first drops fell on his coat, when he realized that Bertie had no intention of speaking to him again.

Bertie has since apologized, of course, and welcomed Lionel warmly each time he's arrived at the Palace. But when the sky is so dark, Lionel can't escape the desolation of the memory... the cold face of Bertie's Equerry dismissing him, the finality of the steward shutting the door behind him.

[]

Bertie finds Lionel with three BBC technicians, rerouting the wires in the little room Lionel redecorated. They won't remove the equipment. Another speech, soon, will be inevitable.

"I'll finish," Lionel tells them, hiding a microphone behind a drape as they scuttle out of the King's path.

The Prime Minister has gone to plan for war. The Queen has taken the girls upstairs. The King, too, has work to do, but waits to speak to Lionel alone.

"Thank you," he says, clasping Lionel's hand.

Lionel smiles. "You've already thanked me."

"Not properly." And before Lionel can disagree, Bertie kisses his cheek.