My sister Kathy piles eggs onto a slice of toast and takes a bite. When she’s finished chewing, she drinks some juice, and looks over the rim of her glass at me while she does so. After she sets it down, she says, “Not eating?”
“Not hungry,” I say.
“Be a shame to skip on what could be your last meal.”
She jokes when she’s able. It’s her way of dealing with how things are now.
She collects the plates. After she quits the tap, she loads the dishwasher. Silverware clatters when she shuts the door.
“Ready?” she asks.
I grip the wheels and roll back from the table. One of my useless feet has slipped from the footrest. Roger, her cat, paws at it and gnaws on my toes. I wonder how long he’s been at it.
“Sure,” I say.
For utility, Kathy purchased the van before I was released from the hospital after jumping from my condo balcony six months ago. She found it on Craigslist. It’d been used by the high school for shuttling students who, like me, are confined to chairs. I hate the van. Sitting in the back makes me feel childish. I think of this while she drives north, toward the Missouri line, where the private airport is. NPR plays on the radio. Kathy’s window is down. The air coming in is thick and hot. The van doesn’t have air-conditioning. I maintain the opinion it’s criminal to sell vehicles in the South that don’t have air-conditioning.
“Why’d I agreed to this?” I say.
Kathy snaps off the radio.
“Because it’s my birthday. And I wanted to get out and do something for a change. Nervous?”
The sun rises, splitting the clouds. When Kathy parks in airport parking lot a half-hour later, there are only a few wisps of white in the sky.
“Beautiful day,” Kathy says, refolding the metal ramp. She closes the sliding door. “Would’ve been a shame had it not cleared.”
She moves behind me, starts pushing my chair.
“I can do it.”
“But I can hold wheelies longer.” She tips it back. I look up. Her hair has fallen down and dangles close to my face. It looks like we’re staring at one another from separate ends of a tube. She makes a face. I laugh. “Glad you do that still,” she says, bringing the wheels to the ground.
“I didn’t lose my sense of humor,” I say, “Just my chance of becoming a ballroom dancer.” She says nothing. “I can joke, too.”
“You’ll never do that again?”
“Too much effort now.”
She stops pushing. A short distance ahead, a glint of orange sunlight sparkles at the tip of the metal hangar; diamond-shaped, like an ornament.
“Can you stop for two seconds?”
“They’d been gone two weeks. I was drinking,” I say. “We’ve been over this. And no, never.”
“If they were alive—”
“Wouldn’t have jumped. Simple as that.”
“You know what I mean.”
“What about me?”
“We’ve been over this.”
“I miss them too, you know.”
Kathy sniffles. We start moving again.
“Sorry,” she says. “Nerves. Nervous. Maybe I’m nervous.”
Three men sit at a table in the hangar. They look up. Kathy introduces us.
The two younger wave; give their names: Patrick and Clint.
“We spoke yesterday,” a white-haired man says.
“Shep,” Kathy says.
“Follow me,” he says.
Inside, we sign waivers; watch a short video about skydiving, which points out several times there aren’t many dangers to it. I pay.
“My treat,” I say to Kathy.
In the hangar, Clint packs parachutes while Patrick demonstrates how to fall. He’s stretched across a padded bench. “Arch your back. Hold the straps.” His fists are touching his shoulders. “Chin up. Legs bent.” He looks at me without embarrassment. “We’ll tie yours together. I did this a couple days ago with a ninety-year-old guy. Worked fine.” He talks about harnesses, hand signals, goggles, when to yank the ball at the end of the cord. “That’s it.”
Then Patrick and Kathy help fit me into a harness.
The plane is a Cessna with Risky Business III painted on its side. Shep pilots it. I think about asking what happened to I and II.
Thirty minutes later, we reach 11,000 feet. During our ascent, Clint flirts with Kathy. Patrick’s been joking around with me. “If you reach back and grab something that’s round but doesn’t feel like a golf ball, don’t pull it,” he said earlier.
Kathy looks excited, even as Clint opens the door and air starts whistling loudly around in the small cabin. I expect her now to look panicked. But, if anything, she’s more excited. I realize in this moment she’s needed this, to get out and do something drastic. She hasn’t had much of a social life since moving me in.
Kathy’s now in front of Clint — their harnesses clipped together. She looks over his shoulder, gives me a thumbs up.
“See you down there!”
It is difficult for Patrick to maneuver with me connected to him. But, eventually, we get there. With his help, we swing my legs out of the door. He tells me to hold the wing strut. I do, tightly. Below, the ground is a collection of square patches of green, brown, and tan, like a vintage thrift store rug. It’s then I realize that I’m horrified. I wonder if it’s too late to back out, knowing it is. My heart crashes against my ribs. If they worked, I’m sure my knees would be buckling. I don’t want to jump. I don’t want to take this risk; even though I know now the odds of anything going wrong are low. I whisper to myself, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” And by the time Patrick nears the end of his countdown, I’m ready to be done with this, to be back on the ground where Kathy will be waiting for me. So I let go.
Nicholas John-Francis Claro is a writer living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His stories have appeared in The Idle Class, Existere: A Journal of Arts & Literature, Pithead Chapel, Gravel, and others.