A year after the disappearance, George Putnam, a.k.a. “Mr. Earhart,” stands by the dining room sideboard in his North Hollywood home. He lifts the silver chest but his hands are too large for the tiny handles. He sets it down. He rubs the circulation back into his fingers. It’s past dawn on the east coast. Any moment they will call. Any moment they will ask questions he cannot answer. He opens the chest and grabs a fistful of forks. He marches into the kitchen. Under the sink is the polish. He unscrews the lid, takes out the little white sponge, dabs it in the purple paste, begins.
He has to rub the silver polish off of his hands to take the first call. It’s Vanity Fair. Can they send a few people out for some pictures? An interview? He talks to them. He puts the phone down. He returns to his task.
The forks are always the trickiest. He works the end of the small white sponge through the tines. He feels his fingers bear down on the filigreed sections. He feels himself bear down. She was so plain. Would it kill you to wear skirts more, he had said to her. Would it really hurt you? He was thinking of how he would like to see her when she was alone with him. He knew she could dress when she had to, but this was what he was saying. He was saying something about their private life. He was saying something about his needs as a man.
He imagines America’s anger at this. It would be the women, mainly. Their eager faces had watched: Amelia boarding the plane for her first transatlantic flight; Amelia waving to the crowd in the ticker tape parade; Amelia leaving luncheons and concert halls. Some had been housewives and some, girls with dreams of loops and spins and dives, of hugging the curvature of the earth through a thin sheet of aluminum.
The phone rings. Representatives of his private search in the Pacific requesting the balance of the payments due them. “Fucking great timing!” he yells into the phone after they have hung up. The dial tone shouts back its uncomprehending nonsound. He slams the receiver back into the cradle. He will have to declare her dead to pay the bill.
He feels himself slump across the sink. His shirt is wet with perspiration. His head is light. He holds a damp cloth to his forehead.
He stands. He shakes himself until his limbs feel loose. He grabs another handful of silver from the chest and returns to the kitchen. Knives. A knife is straight. It can cut clean through, even though the more decorative knives required pressure and a light sawing. He examines the blade. The blades almost always seem to stay in good repair. They were of a different material. There had been times, to be sure, many of them, when she had stolen his breath, when she had become all woman and something else. She had said her eyes would be always watching him. Just look up, she had said. What other woman could say that?
The New York Times. “Yes, all theories are still possible,” he tells them. What are they expecting him to say? “Yes, I suppose she could have run away with Noonan.” This is the one they want the most, this one or one that she is simply still alive, living in America under an assumed name. Only the pessimists and warmongers prefer the one about the Japanese capture and assassination. This is what happens in a bottomed-out economy. This is what they think about. This is what they dream.
The dark ink of the sky is lightening. He puts the knives and forks he has polished into warm soapy water. A good soak is what they need.
He will drive to the beach. He puts on a bathing suit, his favorite guayabera, his straw Havana, his canvas shoes, a dark pair of glasses. He slips into his car. He turns the radio dial to a weather report. Sunny with patches of clouds. No showers. On that day, far out to sea, it had been the same. She had told him there were places where the sky and sea seemed to merge. Perhaps she was right. Perhaps they come together in those spaces where planes disappear. Perhaps they close up to disguise that private moment when passionate women, drunk with the sun, melt their wings.
First appeared in Emprise Review