While attempting a non-stop transpacific flight, aviatrix Madeline Le Vin and her flight engineer, Dusty Worth, were forced to make an emergency ditch of their craft in shallow seas on March 9, 1921, after their starboard engine seized. Dusty and Ms. Le Vin climbed out on the wings of their surprisingly buoyant Lockheed MV20 bi-plane and hoped for rescue. While Ms. Le Vin tried to bring up help on the short wave, Dusty set up the hand-crank gramophone and made cocktails with the last of the gin.
Earlier in the day, nearly five hundred miles away, Mount Anatahan in the Marianas had erupted, making extinct an as-of-yet undocumented species of reed warblers, the Le Vin Nightingale, as the tiny, lava-entombed skeletons would be nicknamed by the Royal Ornithologists’ Union more than two dozen years later.
On the day of volcano, the winds blew westward, and by evening, soot and ash had filled the sky, making for a dazzling sunset, streaked golden and rosy. As the sun began to sink, and with no sign of rescue, Dusty held Maddie (as he privately called her) as they huddled under his mackintosh. He confessed, after all these years of flying together, that he was in love with her. Ms. Le Vin told Dusty that if she were to love a man, it would only be him, but he knew that she had given her heart years ago to her live-in-secretary, Enid Locke. The sun slipped beneath the horizon, waters darkened and shark fins appeared. The plane was taking on water, and the short wave signal was faint. Maddie allowed Dusty to kiss her once. Dusty could think of nothing but the kiss—taking in her mouth, her taste with a bitter hunger that stretched seconds into unknown time—the kiss which contained a infinite number of possible kisses finally blossoming, finally coming real. When it was over, his only regret was that it had taken this, a fatal trip, to bring his lips to hers.
To Madeline Le Vin, Dusty tasted of salt and juniper, and she recalled with sudden clarity a nearly forgotten summer’s day in Cape Breton when she was fourteen, when she and her cousin had lain in a sandy cove chewing juniper branches because someone had told them it would make their teeth whiter, and they had watched the seagulls skim the cold ocean, and she had confessed to her cousin that she someday wished to fly.