Skip to main content

Amelia Earhart’s Coat: For Blair’s Grandmother

ISSUE:  Winter 1997

When she was in the fourth grade, Hettie saw her father kissing Amelia Earhart. Hettie wasn’t supposed to be at home, was supposed to be down at the beach swimming with her mother and the Fitzgeralds, but she wasn’t. She was cutting through the dining room on her way to the wide balcony that faced the ocean. She was angry at her mother for embarrassing her and had a sketchy plan to rest her elbows on the stone railing, her chin in her hand, and stare wistfully out at the ocean, like a prisoner in a story musing of home. But this was better. Both sets of French doors were open and the sail-white curtains were billowing back into the room and beyond the doors, in dreamy flashes because of the waving curtains, she saw Amelia Earhart in her father’s arms.

Not 15 minutes before, Hettie had been wading in the shorebreak with Baker Fitzgerald. She couldn’t actually swim, because she had a cast on her arm. Baker was a year older and they went to the same school in the city. He had jabbed a finger over Hettie’s shoulder. “Ahoy,” he said, “a white whale.” Hettie had turned to look and seen her mother in a bathing cap, floating on her back in the water. Her arms were spread like flabby wings and her was skin pale and doughy looking, bunched beneath her swimsuit. Her lips were blue with cold. She was as bloated as drowned man. Hettie threw a fistful of sand at him and stalked off down the beach. Her mother hadn’t see her leave.

Hettie took an apple, now, from the crystal bowl on the dining table and sat in her father’s place. Her father was the most handsome man she knew. A Panama hat was perched on his head, cocked back to show his dark widow’s peak and he had snappy little creases at the corners of his eyes and mouth. He was so tall that he had to stoop to kiss Amelia Earhart and she had to lift herself on tip-toe, her round, bare heels coming out of her shoes, to reach his lips.

Hettie was reading a book that spring in which spies had lived with deaf people for a year to learn how to read lips. Hettie was practicing. She watched her father’s mouth moving, then Amelia Earhart’s. She shifted the hard apple from hand to hand, thumping it against her cast, and concentrated on their lips. Unless she was mistaken, Amelia Earhart said to her father, “Peter Saxacorn, I love you more than anything in the world.”

This was Rye, New York, March 1937. A line of magnificent houses stretched along the beach like gracious actors preparing for a bow. The air was still wintry, but that didn’t stop summer residents from reclaiming their houses, bringing servants out from the city to open the windows, clean the linens, scrub the bitter salt smell from the floors. Everyone in Rye knew that Amelia Earhart was preparing to leave soon on another flight, this one around the world. Hettie knew everything about her. Born in Atchison, Kansas. College at Columbia. Summer school at Harvard, where she became friends with Hettie’s mother. She had already flown with Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon across the Atlantic, across the very ocean that stretched grayly away from the beach where Hettie’s mother had humiliated her. She had piloted a plane all on her own along the same route, setting a new speed record for the crossing: 13 hours, 30 minutes. And again, two years later, she had flown non-stop from Mexico City to New York—14 hours, 19 minutes—another record. She wasn’t just the fastest woman; she was the fastest anybody.

One thing Hettie could say in her mother’s favor was that she had brought Amelia Earhart into their lives. They were friends before Hettie was born, when her mother was still beautiful. Hettie had seen pictures of them together. Boston, against a plain brick wall. Their hair bobbed short, like schoolboys, their slender calves and narrow ankles below knee-length dresses.

When Miss Amelia—that’s what Hettie called her—would come to dinner, she would say, “Your mother was a wild one, Hettie. Every boy from Annapolis to Princeton was after her.” She would flash a wide, tipsy smile and laugh out loud like a man. “But Peter was the lucky one.” Here, she would touch the backs of Mr. Saxacorn’s fingers. “They were the most beautiful couple. The envy of the known world.”

He’d say, “I’m a lucky man,” and draw his hand away.

“Poor Peter,” Hettie’s mother would say. “I’m sorry I can’t be beautiful for you anymore. I never bounced back from carrying you, Hettie. I gave you all my beauty in that delivery room.”

Hettie’s mother was English and her voice squeaked when she was drunk. She’d try to catch Hettie and pull her into her lap, but Hettie was to old for that and besides the thought of being born made her cringe. Hettie would skip away, stay just out of her reach. Her mother was too heavy and too drunk to catch her.

“You’re still the most beautiful woman I know,” her father would say and his dishonest kindness made Hettie love him more.

Now, lying in her bed, the dampness from her bathing suit soaking into the sheet beneath her, Hettie remembered Amelia Earhart’s hand on her father’s. She was glad for him. Maybe they had always been in love. Her mother would be angry when she discovered the wet sheets, sandy from her feet, but Hettie didn’t care. She closed her eyes, and she was in a Lockheed Vega with her father and Amelia Earhart. They were flying above Rye on a mad dash for Mexico City. Amelia was at the stick. The massive houses scrolled by beneath them one by one until they came to the house of Charles Putnam, Amelia’s husband, where they swooped down for a closer look. He was standing on his own balcony looking up at them, smiling sadly. He raised his drink; he was sorry to see Amelia go but he, unlike Hettie’s mother, understood that you can’t stand in the way of true love. They dipped a wing in salute, then looped away from him into the sky. A voice behind Hettie said, “Ahoy, a white whale.” She turned around and her father was gone. In his place sat Baker Fitzgerald, his skin already beginning to tan, his hair the color of a wedding ring. He was pointing out the window and she followed his finger with her eyes until she saw a surfacing whale, massive and sickly white with red-rimmed eyes and algae growing on its back, water rushing from its exposed flanks. Amelia said, “Hold on tight, Hettie,” and they dove again. The engines howled. Baker’s arms slipped around her waist. Gunfire broke the water like raindrops.

Hettie opened her eyes, walked over to the full length mirror. She studied herself close up. Her hair sticky from the salt in the wind, the constellation of freckles across the bridge of her nose. She stepped back and turned sideways, hiding her cast against her body. She had no figure yet, was lean and tall like her father, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t ever have one. There was hope for her yet. She would just be sure not to have children.

Her parent’s were having a party tonight and everyone would be there. The Whitneys and the Duponts, the Marchands and the Exleys. Neville what’s-his-name—the diplomat who had served with Hettie’s grandfather in the foreign service—he would be there too. Amelia Earhart would come with her husband. Hettie wondered what it was like for her father and Amelia Earhart, having to hide their love. Having to be nice to her mother and Mr. Putnam, having to kiss each other on the cheek, when what they wanted to do, Hettie imagined, was go running up the stairs and fall into each other’s arms. She ached for them.

Tonight, her mother would dress her up in one of the frilly, little-girl dresses with a low waist. She would put a bow in her hair and parade her around the house a few times to greet the guests, before banishing her to her room for the duration of the party. Everyone would ask about her cast, and her mother would tell the story for her, would get it all wrong. Hettie was running from her awful parents, her mother would say. She’d been sent to her room and was trying to escape. She would tell the story dozens of times, maybe changing it a bit once in a while, and everyone would laugh. But that wasn’t it at all. Hettie always obeyed her father. She wouldn’t have run from him. She had been standing at her open window on the second floor looking at the smaller houses across the cockle shell road, white as bones, and had suddenly realized that she could jump. She could ease out onto the sill and hurl herself off, give herself up to the air. And that’s exactly what she did. It was as if she couldn’t stop herself. It had been the most thrilling thing she had ever done, worth all the pain, when she pitched forward on the grass and snapped her wrist, worth the miserable, persistent itching. Only Amelia Earhart could understand something like that.

Hettie’s mother had big plans for her cast. Just that morning, sprawled on a beach chair, like something washed up from the sea, she had said, “Hettie, how does this sound? We’ll paint your name with nail polish on your cast. I’ll do it in calligraphy. I learned calligraphy in school and I haven’t tried it in years—it’ll be smashing—and we’ll tie a bow around it, a blue one like your dress. What do you say?”

Calligraphy. What a useless talent. Nothing at all like lip reading or disguise. Nothing at all like flying a plane. Even now, Hettie heard the servants downstairs moving furniture to make a dance floor, the caterers setting up. From her window, she could see sofas and end tables being carried across the neat lawn and loaded into trucks to be carted away. They would be stored for the night and returned in the morning. Hettie stripped out of her bathing suit and changed into dry clothes. She crept to the head of the stairs and listened for her mother. She could hear her voice, directing the caterers, drifting in from the beach. Her mother wouldn’t want her wandering off so close to the party.

“Hettie, what are you up to?” Her father’s voice behind her.

She turned to find him leaning out of the bathroom, just head and shoulders, hair slicked back with water. The left side of his face was smeared with shaving cream, the right smooth and clean. He had a cigarette between his lips. She stepped over to him on tip-toe and kissed his cheek. She wanted to smell him, that lime and soap smell with the smoke all mixed in. She stepped back, winked and pressed a finger to her lips. He said, “I get it. Secret mission. Mums the word. Aye, aye, captain.” Her father had been a navy man.

“Close your eyes,” she whispered and he did as she asked.

“Don’t hurt me,” he said, eyes squinched shut, a pencil line of smoke drifting up from between his lips,

Hettie nicked a cigarette from the pack on the ledge of the sink and trotted back to the landing, waited until two workman passed carrying a long striped sofa, then dashed down the stairs and threw herself into the cushions, pressed herself flat. They wobbled, a moment, under her weight but didn’t stop. She got off at the back of truck, thanked them for the ride, and headed off down the road toward the Fitzgerald’s. Maybe Baker would want to share her cigarette.

She knocked on the kitchen door and was met by a colored woman who sat her down at the kitchen table and asked her to wait while she went to fetch Baker. The kitchen was immaculate, smelled of bleach. Baker came in without the colored woman and stood in the middle of the room. He said, “Whaddaya want?”

She held the cigarette between the knuckles of her middle two fingers and raised her eyebrows. He found a box of matches in the drawer. They sat on the back steps and smoked, passing the cigarette between them.

“Don’t you want to take this down to the beach or something?” Hettie said.

“Don’t worry. No one’ll come out. They’re all getting ready for your party.”

He dragged and looked away, squinting toward the sunset. Very handsome. He didn’t cough. Beyond the line of scraggly trees, the sun was flaring out, the sky bleeding light. Hettie said, “I’d still rather be on the beach. My mom’ll kill me.”

“I can’t.” He passed her the cigarette.

“Why not?” Hettie said.

When he didn’t answer right away, she asked again.

“Breece Marchand is back home,” Baker said. “My parents won’t let us out alone after dusk. They’re worried that he’ll, you know, try something.”

“We could handle him,” Hettie said, but she didn’t press it. She knew about Breece Marchand. She could picture him. Broad, stupid forehead, tall with slumped shoulders. Breece was almost ten years older than she and Baker. He was the boy that had attacked—her mother’s word—Baker’s older sister. Hettie didn’t know exactly what that meant—with a knife? His bare hands? Something else?—but it sounded sinister enough. She knew that he had been sent “away” for a while. She remembered her parents having whispered arguments at the kitchen table about what had happened. She scanned the treeline for dark figures. She said, “What’s he look like now, so I’ll know if I see him? Does he look different? What exactly did he do, so I can tell the police if there’s trouble?”

Baker started to answer, then stopped. An odd, closed look came over his face. He snatched the cigarette and took a long drag, the ash crackling, then flicked it off into the dunes. He said, “We saved your ass in the war.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“If not for our boys, the Kaiser would have whipped you limeys for sure.”

“I’m no limey,” Hettie said. “My father was in the navy.”

“Your mother’s from England,” Baker said. “The English are notoriously fat.”

“Not me.” Hettie stood. She thumped her chest with her cast. “I was born and raised in Atchison, Kansas.”

She ran down the steps and kept running. It was almost dark and night was bringing cold. The trees were full of dangerous shadows all the way home.

Hettie skidded through the open front door and slammed into her mother, her face pressing into her mother’s breasts, her hands, in an effort to stop herself, digging into her mothers spongy stomach. She wrenched herself backward against the wall. Her mother said, “Good Lord, child, slow down. You nearly flattened me.” She touched a hand to her chest, took a moment to collect herself. “We’ve got to get you dressed.” Hettie knew there was no use arguing.

She let herself be led upstairs and sat on the bed, hiding the damp impression her body had left on the sheets, while her mother ran a bath. Her mother waited while she undressed, watched her, made certain she was installed in the steaming water, before she went downstairs for a glass of wine. “I’ll be right back,” her mother said in warning.

Hettie hated being bathed—children were bathed—but she had no choice. She couldn’t even wash herself because of the cast. Her mother had told her that her skin would go rotten beneath the plaster if she let it get wet. She pictured her decayed arm, saw it like the soggy driftwood that washed up on the beach. She could break it with her fingers, peel away soft splinters, as easy as pulling cooked chicken from the bone. Part of her, a small part, wanted to sink the cast, to hold her arm underwater, soak it through, to see if what her mother told her was true.

Her mother returned carrying a washcloth and her wine. The wine she set on the edge of the tub, the washcloth she soaped and used to scrub Hettie, head to foot, her calves, the insides of her thighs, her stomach and chest, her neck. She washed her hair. Hettie sat frozen, waiting for it to be over. She was too humiliated to open her eyes. When the washing was done, her mother had Hettie step from the tub to be dried. “Keep your cast over your head,” she said. Hettie did as she was told. She could feel the water, cooling now, running down her arm, over her ribcage, could feel her mother hands pressing the towel against her.

“Can’t I dry myself?” Hettie said.

“You wouldn’t have to suffer so, if you weren’t such a daredevil.”

Her mother waited while Hettie tried on dresses, a fourth, a fifth, finally coming back to the second, light blue, ankle length, with a bow of darker blue satin at the waist. Her mother’s wine glass had long been empty.

“We don’t have time to do your cast, Hettie,” she said. “If you hadn’t disappeared all afternoon. . . .But I have to get ready myself.”

Hettie tried hard to look disappointed.

Downstairs, Hettie could hear the band warming up, random cymbal rattles, occasional toodling notes, and in between, the clatter of dishes. She couldn’t help but feel excited before her parent’s parties. And Amelia Earhart would be arriving soon. Amelia Earhart, the woman who would fly her twin-engine Lockheed, called the “Flying Laboratory,” not just across the ocean but around the world. After a false start in Oakland, not a month before—the plane did a ground loop, turned uncontrollably before it was ever airborne—she told reporters, “If we don’t burn up, I’d like to try again.” Hettie had saved the the newspaper clipping.

She wondered if her father was excited, too, if he was plotting a secret rendezvous, right under her mother’s nose. Hettie went to the window to watch for cars. Night had settled in, by then, and candles, sheathed in white glass, lined the walkway. It wasn’t long before the guests began to arrive, smiling faces streaming up the front stairs and into the house, and the band started up. The sound from below, music mixed in with all the voices, caused a tightness in Hettie’s chest, like she was sitting on the lid of a boiling pot. Finally, Hettie saw George Putnam’s ragtop Cord roadster easing off the road a bit away from the house, saw him in the light of the headlights-—tiny round glasses glinting, dark overcoat—walk around the front of the car and open Amelia’s door. Hettie ran to her door and stood behind it, waiting for her mother to call her downstairs. She imagined her father at his own door just down the hall, trembling with anticipation. How romantic, Hettie thought.

“Hettie, come down now. Miss Amelia’s here to see you.” Her mother’s voice, at last, from the bottom of the stairs.

Hettie found her mother and Amelia Earhart standing in the foyer, laughing. Amelia was beautiful in a black mink coat and the softest looking midnight blue dress with a low slung collar. She was wearing a strand of pearls, looped three times around her neck. The room was a dazzle of light. They turned to her and Amelia said, “Hettie, come here. Show me your cast.”

Hettie trotted over and gave her a hug. Amelia crouched beside her and held the cast gingerly, as if it were the most valuable thing in the world.

“I jumped from the second story window,” Hettie said.

Amelia pressed her lips together in appraisal. Hettie’s mother said, “An escape attempt, Millie.”

“No,” Hettie said, quickly. “That’s not it.”

Her mother laughed. “Then what was it, dear?”

“I just wanted to,” Hettie said. She searched Amelia’s face for a better explanation. Her hair was short and full of curls, brown with streaks of blonde that Hettie thought looked like moonlight.

“And so you did it, didn’t you,” Amelia said. “It’s a badge of honor, then.”

Hettie had known that she would understand. Her mother laughed again and said, “Please, Millie.” Then to Hettie, “Darling, will you take Miss Amelia’s coat to the guest room.”

She slipped out of her coat, draped it over Hettie’s arms and thanked her. Hettie said, “I know my father is looking forward to seeing you.”

Amelia Earhart looked at her curiously, head cocked, a slight smile on her lips.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him too, dear.”

Hettie carried the mink down the hall. The bed was already piled high with furs, but the mink was the most beautiful coat she had ever seen. She held it at arms length and shook it it out, the way she had seen her mother do at Saks. Something heavy shifted in the pocket. She slipped her arms into the cool, silk-lined sleeves, closed her eyes, wrapped the coat around her. She let it envelop her, pushed her fingers through the fur, pressed her face into the collar, smelled the perfume and cigarettes there. She couldn’t believe how soft it was. It tickled, made her cheeks tingle. She imagined Amelia Earhart wearing this coat in her father’s arms, her father rubbing his smooth cheeks on her shoulder. The music from the other room didn’t quite reach her, dissolved in conversation on the way and arrived in scattered notes.

Hettie let her hands drift down her sides, into the pockets, and her eyes snapped open. Her right hand closed over something metallic. She thought, even before she brought it out, that it was a pistol. She lifted it gingerly, held it with both hands in front of her face and blinked at it. Along the barrel she read, O. F. Mossberg & Sons/New Haven, Conn. U. S. A. She had never seen a pistol before, not counting Civil War relics at the museum. She closed one eye and squinted down the squared barrel. She could see four tubes, like smaller barrels, inside, but she couldn’t tell if there were any bullets. Hettie palmed the gun, tested its weight. She wondered why Amelia would be carrying a pistol. Was she in danger? Was she afraid that someone was trying to sabotage her flight around the world? Hettie’s heart jumped. She could hear blood hissing behind her ears. Hettie thought suddenly that Amelia Earhart was going to kill her mother. She was going to take this gun, this hard gun in Hettie’s palm, and creep up behind her mother and pull the trigger and run off with her father to Mexico. She could hear the pop and see the muzzle flash, like in the movies, could imagine her mother’s body crumpling heavily to the floor, could almost smell the acrid gunpowder smoke lingering in the air. Hettie’s mouth was desert dry. She thought of warning her mother; she had to do something. Her father wouldn’t agree to a murder plan. He wouldn’t let it happen, would he? The idea terrified her, but she didn’t want to stand in the way of his happiness, didn’t want to be the one to keep them apart.

Right then, there was a knock at the door, and she heard a squeaky “Hettie? Are you there?” Her mother, already nearing drunk. The door swung open and her mother appeared, leaning on the knob. Without thinking, Hettie darted under her arm and raced through the house, dodging guests, slipping through greedy hands, hearing voices say, “Easy there little girl. Slow down now. You’ll break your other arm if you’re not careful.” The makeshift ballroom was brilliant with noise. Hettie didn’t stop. She tore through the double doors and out onto the beach, where torches on metal stands flickered in the breeze. She would take the gun away from the house, until she’d had time to figure out what to do. She kicked out of her shoes and kept running, her feet throwing clumps of sand behind her. She ran until she was far enough down the beach that the light from the house was a distant glimmer and only then, doubled-over, panting in the sand, her broken arm throbbing vaguely, did she remember that she was still wearing Amelia Earhart’s mink coat.

The dark ocean was beside her, waves breaking as straight and white as lines of chalk on a blackboard. A chill wind snapped American flags up and down the beach. Hettie was alone, but she knew that someone would be along shortly to look for her. Not in a million years would her mother leave her alone on the beach at night with a gun and a stolen mink. Maybe her father would come looking with Amelia Earhart—she would, after all, be wondering about her things—and they would find her and tell her everything. They would sit with her in the sand and tell her not to worry, everything was going to be all right. They wouldn’t leave her when they made their break. The plane had room enough for three.

In the distance, away from her parent’s house, she could see a bonfire dancing, shadow figures moving in its light. She walked in that direction, wrapped the coat close about her against the cold. She stopped well short of the fire. Three boys, college-aged, were gathered around it—one sitting, two standing—passing a bottle between them. They didn’t see her standing there, just kept moving and talking in the orange glow. She couldn’t make out what they were saying so she tried to read their lips, but the light was strange and blurry and she couldn’t see them well enough to understand. Hettie felt she was witnessing something secret. She crept forward until she could hear them, their voices intent and serious. She didn’t make a sound.

“So you’re saying to me, let Mussolini have Ethiopia,” one of the standing boys said, the skinny one. “Just let him roll an army into someone else’s country and have it. We can’t do that.” His voiced was high-pitched and whiny.

“Why not?” This from the seated boy. He took a sip from the bottle, tossed a little sand into the fire, dimming it briefly. The light played eerily on his face. Hettie couldn’t take her eyes off of them.

“Whaddaya mean why not?” Hettie thought he sounded like he was holding his nose. She had to stop herself from laughing at him. “Are you some kinda pacifist? We can’t just let him have it. Didn’ya read Salassie’s speech in the paper.”

“Salassie’s a spade. It’s a spade country. I say he’s welcome to it.”

The boy standing closest to Hettie, the one who hadn’t spoken, suddenly snapped his head in her direction and said, “Jesus Christ, you scared me half to death, standing there like a ghost. What’re you doing? Come over where I can see you.”

Hettie said she was sorry and stepped into the light. She was glad to be noticed, grateful to be invited into their circle. She hoped the coat made her look older.

“Who is it, Breece?” The sitting boy again.

“It’s a little girl in a mink coat.” He smiled warmly at her.

Breece, he’d said. Breece Marchand. Hettie didn’t move any closer.

“I’m not little,” she said. “I’ve got a gun.”

“Hey, Richie,” the whiny one said, laughing. “The little girl’s gotta gun.”

“I heard her, moron,” Richie said. “She stood right there, where all of us can hear her, and said, I’m not little, I’ve got a gun. ‘Why do you have to go around repeating things all the time?”

“Be quiet, you guys,” Breece said. “You’re scaring her.”

Hettie drew the pistol from her pocket and held it, trembling, in front of her. This was the boy that had attacked Baker’s sister. Hettie didn’t know what he had done exactly, but she knew it was something awful, something that couldn’t be said aloud. She was terrified. What if he attacked her? Right here on the beach. The others, too. She couldn’t stop them, one ten year old girl, unless she shot them.

“Jesus, put that thing down,” Breece said. “You’ll hurt yourself.”

He took a step in her direction and she took a step back. She waved the gun at the other two then brought it back to Breece. She could shoot him, pull the trigger right now and he would be dead. A breakneck feeling washed over her, the feeling she’d had on the windowsill right before she jumped.

“I know who you are, Breece Marchand,” Hettie said. “I know what you did.”

“She’s on to you, man.” The whiny one laughed a little and shook his head. “What the hell’s she talking about?”

Richie didn’t move or say anything, just watched. Breece showed Hettie his palms and took another step. He didn’t look like someone to be afraid of, didn’t even look the way she remembered. He looked nice, actually, handsome, short hair, a blue oxford shirt untucked over khaki pants, barefoot. He had tiny, delicate looking feet for a man. He saw her looking at them and dug his toes into the sand.

“I think she’s talking about Delia Fitzgerald,” he said.

“That? Christ.”

“I know what you did,” Hettie said.

“Look, little girl, I don’t know what you’ve heard, but you shouldn’t be afraid of me. I didn’t do anything.” He spoke softly, sounding weary, a little embarrassed. “She made it up, the whole thing. I don’t know why.”

Hettie didn’t know what to think. What was it that he was supposed to have done? She kept the gun pointed at him, but she knew she couldn’t shoot. The wind whipped up, twisting sparks above the fire. Hettie shivered. Faintly, from way off down the beach, she heard her name. Her father was calling her. She looked at Breece Marchand and their eyes met. He was looking at her strangely, imploringly, as if he didn’t want her to go.

Hettie turned, feeling the warmth of the fire leave her face, and ran until she reached her father. He caught her by the shoulders, held her at arms length and shook her. He said, “Hettie what on earth is wrong with you? Running off with Amelia’s coat. Your mother’s worried sick.” She dropped the gun and let herself go limp in his hands. He picked it up, still supporting her with one hand, and blew sand from the barrel. “Where did you get this? This is Amelia’s gun isn’t it?” he said. “Stupid, crazy woman. Bringing a gun into my house.”

Hettie held her father tight around the waist. His chest was warm against her cheek, except for one pinpoint of cold where his tuxedo stud touched her face.

“Don’t be angry at her,” she said. “Don’t let her leave me when you fly off together.”

“What do you mean—fly off together?” He picked her up and looked at her face. She was crying, shaking with sobs and the cold.

“I saw you kissing. Don’t leave me when you go.”

Her father pulled her against him. “Oh Hettie,” he said, his voice gentle, soothing, almost amused. “Hettie.” He carried her all the way back to the house.

Two days later, Amelia Earhart left Rye, New York and she didn’t return all summer. She was preparing for her flight around the world. In June, Hettie listened to take-off reports on the radio. She spread a map on the desk in her room and traced the route in pencil. Miami to San Juan to Caprito to Paramaribo to Natal. From there, across the Atlantic, her third trip, to St. Louis. There was a St. Louis in Africa. Hettie thought that was wonderful. With the trail drawn before her, etched like smoke on the sky, it looked like such a long way to go. Calcutta to Akyab, Bangkok to Singapore. When the plane vanished, disappeared into thin air, between Lea, New Zealand and Howe Island, Hettie, crying, said to her mother, “You did this,” though she couldn’t understand how. “You made this happen so they couldn’t be together,” though she felt, with surprising certainty, that it could not possibly be true.


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading