Daredevil Daddy
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The war was over; Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini were taken care of. Daddy bought a battered training plane at a government auction, a tandem-seat, open-cockpit, Steerman bi-plane, khaki green. He patched the holes in the canvas skin, replaced the broken cables that linked the pedals to the flaps, and flew. He didn't take lessons.

One day, he took me. I was five. Daddy was God.

He swooped me into the front seat. I could see the skeleton of the plane. The pedals were way far away from my feet. Round gauges would show me how high and how fast we would go, he said. I had to be tied to the canvas seat bolted to the plane's ribs. The straps were too big, so he looped them around me twice to hold me in tight. He got in the back. Someone yelled something outside, and Daddy called back, "Contact!" and the motor, right in front of me, the loudest thing I'd ever heard, pulled us shaking and rattling along the dirt strip and up into the sky. I couldn't see anything but the inside of the cockpit and blue sky above me.

  
 
"Daddy!" I hollered.

No answer.

"Daddy!"

He couldn't hear me. There was nothing I could do but watch the spiky hands on the dials in front of me quiver and jerk from number to number.

My stomach flew up, and then fell down. I almost floated. Only the straps held me down. We leaned hard to one side and then, abruptly, to the other. I wished that I could see down, ahead.

Then I wished that my wish hadn't come true.

We leaned hard, harder and then tipped over.

I screamed. "Daddy!!!!"

I grabbed the metal frame of the seat as I went over, upside down. I jammed my eyes closed and screamed and screamed. The wind took the sound and the breath out of my mouth.

I was surprised. I didn't fall out.

I was hanging like a parachutist in the safety straps, free of the seat, the plane, the earth. Below me the world spread out farms, orange groves, skinny roads, cars creeping along, a tractor trailed by a cloud of red dust in a field.

Maybe Daddy had fallen out. Maybe he wasn't even in the plane any more. Maybe I was alone. He liked to play jokes. Maybe this was the biggest joke.

But he was flying the plane. He finally rolled her over to fly right side up, then took us down. We bumpity-landed. He laughed and laughed as he freed me from the tangled straps. "That's my girl," he shouted, taking a long gulp from his pocket flask. "Don't worry, I'll take you up again."

I didn't die, but I didn't believe in God anymore.

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