Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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 Chapter 4

Mental Health

The wedding, on the fourth of July, was a bit peculiar. Captain Hardy-Wemyss had a number of social engagements involving the American holiday, and there was yet another crisis in Czecho-Slovakia involving Hitler, the Sudeten Germans, and the British. If things worked out in a certain way, the ship would have to break off her cruise and hunt down German shipping in the Atlantic.

     The small wedding party nevertheless assembled on the after deck, right under the six inch guns of the turret. The captain, as good as his word, nipped in, said the right words, and left with a smile and a wave.

      In the following days, Viv had to think hard about her little sister. On the one hand, Liz was taller and prettier than she, actually very pretty. And, then, there was her amazing mathematical ability. Could she really be the little sister who put her dolls to bed every night in the shed and tucked their blankets around them? The one who adopted stray animals? Well, no, of course not.

     On the other hand, Viv remained the big sister in many ways. Her advice was still sought, and, most recently, she had played a hand in bringing about a marriage. Not only that, she was to play a continuing role in that marriage.  What would that role be? And what would the husband’s attitude be? Would she, Viv, be called on to mediate in quarrels? If so, tact in almost infinite quantities would be required. Perhaps she should read about Wordsworth in order to discover how their tri-partite household had been managed.

     Some of these questions could be put off, as David would be gone for some two months. But, even now, there was the question of just how much Liz should reveal about her relations with her husband. If there was to be a line of privacy, it would have to be drawn almost immediately.

     In the meantime, many arrangements would have to be made. She and Liz were to go to England, to join David’s family in time to welcome him home from his cruise. In this connection, Liz said to Viv, “I can’t imagine how David’s family is going to take this. He’s suddenly married an American woman they’ve never met with practically no warning.”

“But you met his father when he was here.”

“Only briefly, and I was only about sixteen.”

“However, David’s father did send his son around to meet us. He might not have done that in complete innocence.”

“Well, since the father is an aviation pal of Ivan’s, he probably is pleased. But, what about the mother and the relatives?”

“I’ve heard that trades of status for money are second nature to impoverished aristocrats. But a lot of those deals are for plain girls who couldn’t otherwise find a husband. Those people will be delighted when they see you.”

 “I hope so. Apart from that, I wonder what our stepmother thinks.”

“I have discussions with her on this and related topics. To begin with, she wanted to know what I thought. I’d hardly met David, so I was only moderately supportive. Since then, I’ve turned the approval rating way up.”

“Yes, it’s obvious that you and David get along well. Does Barbara like David?”

“I think he makes her nervous in some unspecified way. She might have wanted someone she could influence more.”

“That’s rather strange, Viv. With the possible exception of myself, she’s never had a great deal of influence over anyone above the rank of servant.”

“People who’ve been kept short of water may have a powerful thirst.”

Liz, laughing, replied, “That’s the strangest analogy I’ve ever heard.”

“Perhaps a little forced. It may just be that she doesn’t want you to marry a foreigner and move far away. Taking me with you, no less.”

“But Barbara and Ivan can afford to travel and spend as much time in England as they want.”

Viv said, “War could upset any arrangements that might be made. Trans-Atlantic crossings in particular.”

“Anyhow, is there anything we can do to mollify Barbara?”

“She wants help with Ivan. She thinks he’s going crazy again.”

Liz threw up her hands in a gesture of dismissal, and said, “Has he ever been really crazy?”

“Remember, back when we were living in the shack, he’d sometimes babble on and on about everything at once?”

“Yeah, I guess I just accepted that as part of Ivan. He had more ideas than he could express at once. He still does a little of that.”

“And, Liz, remember the propellers?”

“God, yes. It was lucky that most of them were two-bladed. They stacked better.”

Viv had a vivid memory of the shack, some fifteen feet by forty. The finished aircraft were anchored or tied up at the dock, and large chunks of unfinished ones were on the uncovered parts of the wharf. Inside the shack were engines and all manner of equipment. The living area was separated off by canvas, and the bathroom was a plywood cubicle with a good-sized hole in the deck. Liz had always said that it was humiliating to have the turds go plop in the water near the men working, but Viv had adapted to that. Unfortunately, the sudden invasion of dozens of propellers, bought at some sale, had encroached partly into their primitive living quarters. Having to climb over them, not to mention tripping over them in the night, had upset Viv to the point of having a nasty scene with Ivan. Even now, she had a residue of anger as she said,

“He bought a fantastic number of propellers, and only tried out a few of them.”

“Aren’t inventors like that?”

Viv shook her head. “Eye-eye isn’t. He’s rather slow and methodical. And he’s always trying to calm Ivan down.”

“Sure. He’s the number one inventor. But Ivan’s invented a lot. He’s also made a lot more money than Eye-eye.”

“I think Ivan swamps people. They can see that he’s brilliant, and they then act on some of his ideas. They do a lot of the dog work, and Ivan gets a big cut of the profits.”

Liz admitted as much. Viv went on to point out,

“Barbara has a different perspective. She doesn’t understand or appreciate Ivan’s accomplishments, but she’s had to live with a lot of crazy household decisions. Like having the dining room walls built out of fish tanks with an elaborate system of feeding the fish.”

“That’s fun!”

“Sure, but getting the dead fish out of the tanks isn’t.”

“Henry manages to.”

Viv considered a moment, and replied, “Henry’s a bit of a genius in his own right, and he enjoys coping with Ivan’s innovations. Barbara can’t cope, and wouldn’t enjoy it even if she could.”

“Well, I see your point. But she may need Henry more than she needs us.”

“She thinks she needs all of us to cope with Ivan’s various oddities, and she’s scared.”

“Is it also because she knows he’s been talking with Eye-eye?”

“Very much so, but she doesn’t understand. She thinks Eye-eye puts Ivan up to things, when, in fact, he stabilizes him.”

“Yeah, I see that. Apparently, they have some new project.”

“Whatever it is, it’ll work.”

      The next morning, Viv was to play golf with her father.  They were up early, and Barbara got up earlier than usual to have breakfast with them. Predictably, she had a lovely nightgown and a matching robe with wide sleeves. These would have made impossible almost any productive activity in the kitchen, but she swept them wide as she gave instructions to the maid.

     There had always been a slight tinge of jealousy on Barbara’s part. Since Ivan was only nineteen years older than Viv, and looked younger, he could easily have been mistaken for her husband. Moreover, since Viv, in her teens, had been fulfilling many of the functions of a spouse, she understood Ivan better than did Barbara. They did make it a point not to speak Russian when Barbara was present, but she obviously felt linguistically excluded just the same.

     Now, however, Barbara looked at Viv with more warmth, and even complicity, than usual. Although she didn’t usually make it easy for Ivan and Viv to go off together, she now welcomed help. Indeed, she wanted as much help as she could get. Jealousy and competitiveness were long gone.

     Arriving at the course before eight, it was still cool with heavy dew on the grass. Their shoes and socks were wet even before they got to the first tee, but Ivan always liked to beat the crowd. Standing right in front of the golf shop was the pro, Mr. Peter Powers.

     Mr. Powers’ well-being depended on pleasing the finicky members. They had to be complimented on their swings and games even if, as he once admitted when very drunk, they often looked like monkeys fucking footballs. However, even if, as was likely, he was now suffering from a vicious hangover, he smiled broadly. Ivan and Viv didn’t need to be complimented, but, as now, Mr. Powers could produce cheery chatter for members before, a moment later, enthusiastically cursing his underlings.

     Prominent among those underlings, there were some forty or fifty caddies lounging in front of the caddy shack. These were professional caddies, often middle-aged, and their ranks had been considerably swollen by the depression. They lived almost entirely on the whims of rich people, and, unlike Henry, their morale had mostly been broken by many humiliations. Viv felt sorry for them, as for the Spanish peasants she had seen victimized. On the other hand, a mere glance disclosed that they were given to obscene jokes about women. Since she was the only woman in their view, she could imagine some of the things they were saying. She thought it must be easier for Barbara, who had no idea what such people were like.

      Viv would have much preferred to carry her own clubs, but it was expected that they would share a little wealth by each hiring a caddy. Since there was a rank ordering which didn’t allow for choice, they wound up with two who, hopefully, wouldn’t have much to say.

     It was a joke among their friends that people as adventurous as Ivan and Viv played golf so cautiously. They didn’t try for distance, but were content to keep their balls in the fairway.

     On the tee, Viv knew that the caddies were watching intently, hoping for an embarrassingly bad shot, particularly one that just rolled out in front of the tee and set the stage for a second embarrassing shot. However, she kept her backswing slow and, eye on the ball, gave the club head time to come through. The result wasn’t quite one of her best drives, but it was straight and got pretty far out. Ivan made approving noises, and hit his ball just past hers.

As they walked along, twiddling their drivers, Viv said, a little playfully, “Barbara thinks you’re going crazy.”

“No, no. It’s just that there are a lot of new ideas, and I haven’t slept well.”

Viv knew that it was the craziness that produced the sleeplessness, rather than vice versa, but allowed it to pass. Ivan then said, with great seriousness,  “I know all about Spain. Do you recognize that you’ll never fly combat again?”

“I’m there ahead of you, Ivan. I saw first-hand what happens to fighter pilots, and what eventually gets them killed. I want no part of it.”

“That’s a relief. From now on, we’ve got to be super-safe in our flying.”

“And you too?”

“Yes. Too much is going to depend on it.”

“Are you going to tell me about the new idea?”

“You’ll be helping test it, but not just yet. Eye-eye and I’ve agreed not to tell anyone at all. It’s basically a very simple idea, potentially very effective, but, unfortunately, very easy to copy. We’ve got to do the preliminary research to get a head start.”

“Okay. When am I likely to be needed?”

“Almost immediately.”

     Having reached their balls, they stopped to shoot. The first hole wasn’t very demanding, and Viv got a mashie shot on to the green. A little later, Ivan hit a mashie-niblick to the edge of the green. They both got pars.

     In the next half dozen holes they talked of all kinds of things, including England and the world situation. Viv was happy that the caddies were out of earshot when Ivan spoke with delight of the coming war. It would be a great boon for the aircraft industry. However, Viv knew that her father wasn’t really like that. When she reminded him of the danger Liz’s husband would be in, he stopped dead, as if it had never occurred to him. But he then collected himself and said, “We must make the war short and decisive.”

“By helping the English?”

“Certainly. You and Liz will have to go over immediately. We’ll buy a Supermarine Walrus right out of the works, probably without the machine guns. But with the attachment points for the bombs and depth charges. You must both learn to fly it and find out everything you can about it. If you can get hold of some practice depth charges or bags of cement, practice with them.”

     By this time, they had reached the eighth hole. Both kept their drives in safe territory, but with difficult side-hill lies. Viv had driven a little farther, so that Ivan shot first for the green. Suddenly laughing, he took a spoon from his surprised caddy for an almost impossible shot at the green. Even if it reached, it would bounce across into the water unless it was high with enough back-spin to stop on the green. As it turned out, Ivan hit one of his best fairway wood shots. But it had a slight hook and dropped into the water a few feet from the bank. Undeterred, he dropped another ball and shot. This time, it wasn’t even close. The third try was shanked and went down the hill into the water. Still laughing, Ivan shot seven more times. He then asked Viv for her spare balls, which she happily gave him. She wanted the game to end, and they couldn’t play without balls. While Ivan, shooting wildly, hit her balls into the woods and the water, she paid off the caddies with large tips, asking them to return the clubs to the clubhouse.

     As the caddies were hesitating to see if Ivan would relinquish the club he had, he nodded cheerfully to Viv, as if asking her permission, and ran up to the ball she was playing. With a running swipe, he grazed it enough to cause it to dribble down the slope. He then chased it, eventually hitting it into the lake. Viv wasn’t terribly surprised when he dropped the club, and, fully dressed, dove into the lake. As he started swimming, evidently with the idea of crossing the lake to their house, she also jumped in. Ivan was a good swimmer, but, in the state he was in, she thought it best to accompany him.

     Neither seemed overly encumbered by their clothes and shoes, and it was easy to follow Ivan as he swam straight for the other shore some three hundred yards distant. She was pretty sure that Barbara or Liz, or both, would have been watching, and hoped for some help with Ivan. When they were half-way across, she saw Henry coming down the hillside with large towels.


Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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