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U3A Writing: The Flight

...All these years she had managed to avoid flying anywhere since that one time when all her worst fears had been confirmed. Edgar, her husband, had been the only person who knew about and understood her terror of heights and confined spaces. The very thought of being shut in a plane, or watching a film of people balancing on precarious heights turned her legs to jelly...

Beryl Roper tells an encouraging tale about Anna, and her jelly legs.

She was falling from a great height into suffocating blackness, and then Anna awoke in a bath of perspiration - heart pounding - mouth dry - pulse racing. With a supreme effort she forced her eyes open, switched on the bedside lamp and looked at the clock. Two a.m! She hadn’t had this nightmare for years - why now? - and then she remembered. The History Group’s forthcoming trip to Italy by air. She drank some water and took deep breaths.

All these years she had managed to avoid flying anywhere since that one time when all her worst fears had been confirmed. Edgar, her husband, had been the only person who knew about and understood her terror of heights and confined spaces. The very thought of being shut in a plane, or watching a film of people balancing on precarious heights turned her legs to jelly. Nevertheless, she and Edgar had travelled extensively - but always by car, coach, train and boat.

She had been careful not to pass on her fear to her children, Judy and Ben, explaining that she preferred a slower pace of travel, going through, not over, foreign countries, and that she enjoyed sea voyages. Thankfully they had never suspected the deeper reason and, as they both lived in Britain, visiting was no problem. They were keen air travellers.

After Edgar died Anna had joined the local history group and made several good friends and had gone with them on all their coach trips as an enthusiastic traveller.

She had put her name down for the Italian venture some weeks ago and was looking forward to it. And then yesterday Frank the organiser had phoned to tell her that, because of a threatened seamen’s strike, the plans had been changed and the journey would be by plane. “It’ll be much better,” he said, “we’ll have nearly two days extra and I know you’ll be pleased about that, Anna. See you next Thursday and give you all the gen.”

What could she do? She knew that she should phone him, be honest, tell him that she could not come . . . and why. But she also knew that by this confession she would be left feeling ashamed and inadequate - out of kilter with her friends who flew everywhere. They wouldn’t be able to reconcile this with what they knew of her. She was thought of as a bit of a daredevil and she enjoyed this regard. She would be revealed as a wimp.

She couldn’t think straight now, but it must be possible to find a way around this. With her mind in overdrive she fell at last into an uneasy sleep.

Two nights later at the same time, two a.m. she again awoke abruptly, but this time to the persistent ringing of the phone. Half asleep, she picked it up.

“Hello…”

“Mum - oh - Mum, thank God you’re there!”

“Judy - what is it - what’s the matter?”

“I’ve just started the baby and it’s too early, and Michael is away on a field trip and I can’t contact him. The doctor wants me in hospital and he’s getting an ambulance. Jenny next door says there’s a plane that leaves Bristol Airport at 5.0 a.m. and gets to Edinburgh at 6.30. Oh Mum, you will come won’t you?”

Anna heard herself saying, “Of course I will, Judy. Try not to worry, love, you’re in the very best hands, and I’ll be with you in no time at all . . . And Judy, I love you.”

The next hour passed in a daze - so much to do. She found the number, rang the airport - there was a seat. She threw clothes into a bag and called a taxi.

Once there, a kindly official dealt with her, and then she was being escorted up the gangway and into the plane. Someone showed her to a seat.

The doors closed and abruptly she came out of the daze and into reality. Terror seized her, she felt sick, her ears buzzed. She was going to faint. She couldn’t stay here. She had to get up.

She half rose and then, through the nausea and giddiness, heard Judy’s voice, “You will come, won’t you, Mum?”

Judy, her so loved daughter. How could she bear it if anything happened to her.

She shut her eyes to bargain with the Almighty. “God, you just keep Judy safe and I’ll fly anywhere you like.”

She opened her eyes. The stewardess was saying, “You can undo your seatbelts now; we are airborne. Would you like some breakfast?”

Airborne! Breakfast! Bewildered, Anna looked around and then turned her eyes to the window. Dawn was breaking and the view was breathtaking. The emerging sun was transforming the sky into a changing kaleidoscope of awe-inspiring colour from palest rose to gold, amethyst and violet. She gazed, entranced. She had never seen anything so beautiful.

Daring to look down she saw shafts of sunlight sweeping across tiny fields and houses. An incredible feeling was spreading through her entire being. The fear had gone and in its place was an overpowering sense of release and anticipation. She was flying and it was alright and she felt fantastic. She also knew for certain that Judy would be fine. She wanted to shout out loud and tell everyone.

The stewardess spoke to her - “Are you alright?”

Anna smiled, “Oh yes, and I’d like the full breakfast, please!”

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