Petroleum and leather. It reminded me of my other love: aeroplanes. Before the outbreak of the second world war, Eric and I made our livings as ground engineers, although we both possessed pilot licenses. I had transcended the contemporary conventions of gender and class to enter a man's world, but my fellow engineers ridiculed me. Eric didn't.
Eric admired how determined and stubborn I was to surpass all the male engineers' abilities. I wanted to show them that I, a woman, was capable of doing much more than needlework and childbirth. I could survive the male dominated job.
I did not feel affectionate towards Eric from the word go. Initially, I found him incredibly annoying; he would look at me and then laugh. I would then ask him, quite irritably, what he found so funny, which would make him laugh even harder. It was only until he saved my life that I realised that he loved me and I him.
One morning, before any of the other ground engineers had turned up to work, I decided that I would take to the air. It had been so long since I had last pulled on the goggles and brought an aeroplane to the sky so I felt incredibly giddy. I climbed into a beautiful De Havilland Moth, which had a fresh coat of bottle green paint. It looked new... I was the first to fly it! I was just about to start its Gipsy engine when I heard a man shout. I turned to look in the direction where I heard the shout and saw Eric running towards the plane. He was going to stop me from taking to the air. He was going to deny the place where I belonged.
I started the engine. The propellers gradually sped up and the wheels began to roll down the runway. Eric placed his palms against the glass. Panic rose in his eyes.
“Get out of the plane! Marilyn, get out!”
“Move out of the way, Eric! You can't stop me!” I shouted over the noisy propellers.
“You don't understand – the engine doesn't have enough fuel and suffered extensive damage on its last voyage. It's not ready to be flown!”
“You can't stop me, Eric!”
“Please, Mari! I'm not fooling around here! Get out of the plane!”
Then it struck me. Eric was usually cool and collected. I had never seen him so afraid.
He was not panicking about getting into trouble for allowing me to fly; he was actually terrified at the prospect of watching me die. My pride evaporated and I killed the engine. The plane slowed down until it became stationary. The whirring of the propellers had not yet ceased when Eric helped me out of the plane. He pulled me to his chest.
“Oh god,” his voice shook, but his arms tightened around me. “I thought that you were actually going to go up in that thing.”
“Wha-” I began to ask what was actually wrong with the plane, but Eric's mouth came down on mine, stopping my speech and my trail of thought.
When we broke away from each other, I slapped him across the face. Hard.
“What was that for?” Eric said, his voice and face full of disbelief.
“I am one of the rare women engineers with a pilot's license,” I grinned. “I want to remain in control.”
“You're unbelievable,” Eric shook his head and a smile slowly stretched across his face. “But amazing.”
Later, we checked the engine of the plane that I had aborted. I had felt as though someone had not only punched me in the stomach, but had twisted my gut too. The engine was in such a bad state that I would not have lasted a mile. My impulsiveness almost got me killed. Eric saved my life.
And now my hero was dead.