Isa and Amelia Earhart
Originally published by Saint Julian Press
Beneath the layer the sun can reach, the glare from morning clouds in her eyes, Amelia drops the yoke and descends to eight hundred feet in search of the ship’s lights.
Her limbs tremble; she does not remember when she last ate. Her face burns from the South Pacific sun and whistling tropical winds. Her mouth is dry; there are no drops of water left to splash on her cheeks.
I’ve got to get back. She tries to count back through the hours and minutes, lightheaded from fuel dripping in the cockpit. At least reach someone out there, somewhere.
She reaches deep into her flight jacket pocket, the one she’s worn since the start of this journey, and feels a mass of dried out twigs—withered orchid stamens from those days early on in the Puerto Rican sun, most of their oil gone, the strands now twisted and brittle like the branches of those lace barks in Rangoon.
Her cockpit fills with aromatic vanilla—the scent from that stolen evening several weeks back, when she realized she might not ever go home.
Amelia focuses back on those first intentions: to carry the orchids secretly with her, replant their sensuous seeds then watch the blooms flower shamelessly toward her and her lover…
She repeats into the lifeless radio: We are on the line position 157-337.
Will repeat this message...We are running north and south.
The plane feels weightless now from the drop in fuel. The gauge hovers close to empty.
If she drops, how will they find her?
Who will hear my words?
Not able to see the ship, the island, or even the surface of the choppy Pacific through the dense morning fog, Amelia closes her eyes. She searches back through the days that brought her to this.
How did she get here?
It seems yesterday she was a thin woman of nearly thirty, pacing the tarmac and turning her back on an impending marriage. How did this happen? Will she make it back to her lover?
If I could only talk to my young self, Amelia looks out at the expanse of morning, what would I say?
Isa grew up searching for Amelia.
Each year, since she was four, Isa would follow July like it was a fleeting kite, counting hopscotch through the scalding sidewalk afternoons and waiting for the twenty-fourth—the same birthday she shared with the elusive icon.
In the morning, Isa’s father would stop everything, balance on his knee then with Sinatra-like charm, sing Happy Birthday and present a gold-bowed present from Saks Fifth Avenue or Gimbels.
In the evening, Isa’s family would slice a watermelon, share a chocolate cake and laugh in the dark next to the tiki lamps, counting out stars and planning the days that would come.
Before she fell asleep, her father would be packing his “back east” suitcase to leave in the morning. She almost never got to say goodbye as the taxi pulled away from the house through that dawn fog.
Each time he flew away, Isa’s father came back with something.
Her fifth birthday, it was a five-dollar bill she studied in the wind under the lemon tree.
Two years later, coming back from Italy, he presented a Florentine diary with an ornate gold lock. Her ninth birthday, it was a red bicycle Isa rode for hours. She would close her eyes, chase that summer wind, and forget everything was unravelling at home: her mother working more each flower-filled day, running more powerful enterprises, her father flying back to New York more every year that passed. It was there that his career called him; and after his late-night flight landed in San Francisco, he would rush home with stories of skyscrapers and weathery skies, of taxis and fine restaurants, of men and women passing by in elegant coats on bustling city streets—streets so busy, no one ever slept.
So when he left and while Isa waited, each of those Julys drew her closer to Amelia, Isa’s heroine born the same day seventy years prior.
People have always asked if Isa’s dreams are real. She doesn’t know if they actually are. But when Amelia shows up, it’s if she really is there. Everything makes sense.
And that is the only time that anything has ever “all made sense.”
This is what makes the dreams real to Isa. Except that lately, Amelia keeps showing up more and more, saying things like, “Isa, mistakes you make now can cloud the rest of your life.”
The dreams began that same year Isa’s father flew back to New York and the gray-lined skyscrapers for good. On Isa’s tenth birthday, he handed her a gold-wrapped book about Amelia, said let’s see you reach for the skies, then with hat tipped properly, back east suitcase in hand, Wall Street suit and polished wingtips, hailed down the taxi.
Isa drank much too-hot chocolate through a straw and burnt her mouth the day that Yellow Checker cab rolled away, leaving only a cloud of dust to fill the long gravel drive.
Isa’s mother sat on the phone late into that night wearing a patchwork gypsy skirt, consumed with something she refused to discuss.
Days later, when Isa learned her father’s plane had gone down, she wondered what she had done to
chase him away, to make it so bad he wasn’t ever coming back.
In the weeks that followed, Isa would walk the long gravel in bare feet at dawn to watch for signs of him. Her feet grew so rough that summer, she could run the entire forty-foot driveway in ninety-degree heat and never even notice the gravel—just whether she had made it on time to watch the Yellow Checker Cabs pass the house.
When she didn’t see a taxi, Isa imagined Amelia flying over San Jose in her small Lockheed Electra plane.
In Isa’s mind, Amelia still crossed the skies in her Electra, wherever she was. Whatever happened, Amelia could find Isa’s father. She carry the message to him to come home, or at least take Isa back with him to that city lined with skyscrapers, shiny storefronts, and the people in svelte coats rushing into the warmth of the finest restaurants.
One morning, Isa walked to the curb and sat out all day, not going inside even for dinner.
That night, shivering in the dark, Isa took a hot bath, went to bed late, and stared out at the moon before she closed her eyes. All she wanted was for her father to come back, as if she could somehow make him appear.
In Isa’s dream that night, Amelia walked a long windy runway. Her skin drenched with sun, she squinted her eyes. She wore all-white flight gear and studied Isa before she spoke. Then said slowly in her sober voice, He’s with the stars now, Isa. Not such a bad place to be...
Maybe it’s just that Isa wanted to believe her father had joined the heroes and heroines who crossed the sky. Or maybe whoever her father was, wherever he was, he always was a hero to her. Or maybe the dream meant something more.
But one thing Isa always knew: Amelia was out there somewhere.
Amelia would show up after the worst days and say: Give it time. Someday women will rule the world. or Don’t turn there. This way—fast! As if Isa’s father were still out there somewhere, saying everything he had always said, sending messages across the skies through Amelia.
Lately though, Amelia has been showing up in dreams, saying things Isa doesn’t want to hear—just as she is planning her wedding and move to Los Angeles with Adam: Are you sure that’s wise? or You can’t imagine that man’s going to fit with your life.
Isa doesn’t want to hear more. She shoves the long ivory veil back into its box, noticing she hasn’t even started dinner. It’s already eight.
But since Amelia has always been right in the end, she can’t simply let go.
Where is the voice coming from?
What exactly does it mean?
Copyright © Anne Tammel 2015
First published by Saint Julian Press, Isa and Amelia Earhart is a short segment about Isa, the Los Angeles-based writer haunted by recurring dreams about missing women. After signing up for a series of life-or-death adventures in faraway locales, Isa must now face her own worst fears, and risk everything in order to expose the women's unsolved mysteries and stop the dreams.