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You Remember the Planes

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You remember the planes, the supersonic jets roaring across the blue skies of summer, cutting through the firmament at such exalted speeds that they were scarcely visible, a flash of silver glinting briefly in the light, and then, not long after they had vanished over the horizon, the thunderous boom that would follow, resounding for miles in all directions, the great detonation of blasting air that signified the sound barrier had been broken yet again. You and your friends were thunderstruck by the power of those planes, which always arrived without warning, announcing themselves as a furious clamour in the far distance, and within seconds they were directly overhead, and whatever game you and your friends might have been playing at that moment, you all stopped in mid-gesture to look up, to watch, to wait as those howling machines sped past you. It was the era of aviation miracles, of ever faster and faster, of ever higher and higher, of planes without torsos, planes that looked more like exotic fish than birds, and so prominent were those post-war flying machines in the imaginations of America’s children that trading cards of the new planes were widely distributed, much like baseball cards or football cards, in packages of five or six with a slab of pink bubblegum inside, and on the front of each card there was a photograph of a plane instead of a ballplayer, with information about that plane printed on the back. You and your friends collected these cards, you were five and six years old and obsessed with the planes, dazzled by the planes, and you can remember now (suddenly, it is all so clear to you) sitting on the floor with your classmates in a school hallway during an air-raid drill, which in no way resembled the fire drills you were also subjected to, those impromptu exits into the warmth or the cold and imagining the school as it burned down in front of your eyes, for an air-raid drill kept the children indoors, not in the classroom but the hallway, presumably to protect them against an attack from the air, missiles, rockets, bombs dropped from high-flying Communist planes, and it was during that drill that you saw the airplane cards for the first time, sitting on the floor with your back against the wall, silent, with no intention of breaking that silence, for talking was not allowed during these solemn exercises, these useless preparations against possible death and destruction, but one of the boys had a pack of those airplane cards with him that morning, and he was showing them to the other boys, surreptitiously passing them down the line of silent, seated bodies, and when your turn came to hold one of the cards in your hands, you were astonished by the design of the plane, its strangeness and unexpected beauty, all wing, all flight, a metal beast born in the empyrean, in a realm of pure, everlasting fire, and not once did you consider that the air-raid drill you were taking part in was supposed to teach you how to protect yourself from an attack by just such a plane, that is, a plane similar to the one on the card that had been built by your country’s enemies. No fear. You never worried that bombs or rockets would fall on you, and if you welcomed the alarms that signalled the start of air-raid drills, it was only because they allowed you to leave the classroom for a few minutes and escape the drudgery of whatever lesson you were being taught.

To continue reading this article for free, go here. This story appears in Granta 125: After the War. To read other stories, articles and poems from the magazine, You can now buy the issue or subscribe and receive four issues a year of the best new writing.

Image courtesy of Paul Auster

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