by Rebecca Zugor
‘Thousand one, thousand two, thousand three,
thousand four, thousand five - check canopy!’ I look up. Check canopy. It seems
okay; no tears, no line-overs, nothing twisted.
Just billowing red and white silk against a clear blue sky. Perfect.
down at the drop zone, I wish Bill was among the group of black ants at the edge.
He’d wanted to film me.
‘I want to capture you
fulfilling your dreams, Rosa,’ he’d said. I’ll show people what my crazy wife gets up to!’
The only clouds I can see
are tiny cotton puffs miles away. Earlier, I’d heard skydivers saying ‘Blue
skies, mate’, instead of ‘Goodbye’. Wishing each other perfect parachuting weather was like saying ‘Enjoy life’. They’re like
one big happy family. And now I’m part
of it; this weekend, at the grand age of fifty-eight, I’m on the beginner’s
When the doctor signed my
medical certificate - a requirement for the over-forty parachutist - I didn’t tell him about my recent headaches and
forgetfulness. I was scared it might be Alzheimer’s or a brain tumour. I
can jump without bottling out - that’s all
the organisers need to know.
weather conditions are good. Blue skies indeed. This time, I’ll do it right.
Third time lucky.
Yesterday’s training had
been tough. Jumping off a high platform to practise landing rolls had hurt. I
kept writing little notes during the tutorials, in case I had a memory lapse.
first jump this afternoon was exhilarating. The slipstream that assaulted my
my breath away, so I didn’t manage to do the count. The other novices floated
like thistledown, a slow, silent ballet. If only Bill could have seen it! I was
so enraptured I’d forgotten what to do. When I’d found myself landing within
yards of the target, I’d muttered, ‘Beginner’s
luck!’ when someone congratulated me. I went back for another attempt a few minutes later.
Back at the clubhouse, I’d
told them what had gone wrong with the second jump. ‘I was enjoying the view,’ I
gabbled, ‘and I forgot to...er...steer.’
were supposed to aim for the target, remember?’ Dave put on a mock stern expression.
went a bit off-course…’
‘You missed the whole
would have laughed if he’d seen me. Thinking about him, I’d had to blink to
stop tears forming.
We live near the airfield,
so we’d gone home for lunch but ended up arguing about Sally, his ex-mistress.
He’d changed into a bright yellow shirt that she’d given him.
it’s a different shirt, Rosa!’
make excuses!’ I shrieked. ‘She’s supposed to be out of your life!’
The sun reflecting off a
car in the distance dazzles me and snaps me back to the present. Below me the runways form
an elongated grey ‘X’ in the middle of a child’s playset. After the head-splitting noise of the plane, I’m
floating in silence. I look back at the Cessna, which is circling
upwards. I’m the only novice on this jump, so they let me out at 3,000 feet and then went higher with the
floating gently towards earth, in an unflattering borrowed orange jumpsuit,
which is two sizes too big. My back is sore and my thigh muscles
hurt from the training, but nothing can spoil this feeling of serenity - except the
knowledge that it can’t last.
Concentrate. Don’t make the mistakes you made earlier. Do it right this time,
re-check the canopy - it’s round, with no imperfections. I’d have liked one of
those impressive rectangular ram-air ones, but I’m only a
beginner. I grasp the steering toggles out of habit. The procedure has
been imprinted on my brain after the intensive training; the instructors hadn’t let us
slacken for a minute.
at the board, woman! You don’t have a God-given right to jump just because you’ve
parted with your cash.’ Dave had glared at me. ‘If you don’t pass the oral exam...’
Fortunately, the question
about wind-direction and steering had gone to another trainee.
look down, trying to judge my altitude. I must be at 2,700 feet now and I’m
the middle of the airfield. I wish Bill was waiting for me with his camera, as
he’d wanted, but wishes don’t come true. Not
for Bill. Not for me. It’s too late, now.
I pull down on a toggle.
I hope it’s the right one. It works; the canopy turns and I find myself with
the wind behind me, speeding my progress towards the edge of the drop zone.
They probably think I’m heading for the trees this time. I smile, despite the
knot of despair in my stomach. This is it. A
quiet corner; not too near the onlookers. To slow down, I turn the
canopy to face into the wind.
time, I mustn’t forget to read my list. I wrote a short ‘to do’ list on my left
hand in black ink at lunchtime, before I left Bill for the last time. On the
first two jumps I forgot to read it. I felt angry with myself. Angry that I’d
enjoyed the jumps so much I’d been distracted
from what I had to do. The first item is ‘capewells’.
what you have to do, Rosa.
capewells, positioned either side of me, connect my harness to the canopy. I
put my fingers in both ring-clips and pull, making sure I face straight ahead.
No sense in losing
an eye as the straps fly upwards. The canopy gone, I adopt the freefall
position. I’ve seen them do it in the skydiving videos. Freefall at last! I’m a
proper skydiver now. Who’d have thought it?
would be proud. If only I hadn’t killed him...
Our lunchtime row had escalated until, totally
out of character, I’d hit him. He’d fallen awkwardly,
hitting his head. I couldn’t find his pulse. Then I’d remembered; he bought the
yellow shirt last year. And I’d accused him...
I left him there and went
to the airfield, my mind in a daze. I’d killed my only love, my best friend. I didn’t deserve to live.
I check my left hand and see
the word ‘reserve’. I bring myself upright.
Rosa. At the most you’ve less than ten seconds left. The Automatic Opening
Device will go off if you don’t hurry. Get on with it.
undo the left clip easily. I frantically grab the right clip, the panic rising within me.
Swearing, I yank the reserve ’chute free and push it as far away from me as I
can. I can taste blood from a bitten lip, but that’s the least of my worries. There are maybe six seconds left, not much
no longer falling in silence. I can hear voices now. Shouts. Several people are sprinting towards me. It’ll do no good. I can think clearly enough to
know that. They don’t understand. Bill was my childhood
sweetheart. Without him, I can’t go on. I’m doing the only thing I can.
imagine what they’ll write: Rosa Barrett, 1925-1983, wife, skydiver. And murderer.
I can’t see the fields now, or the sky. Just a
swirling, dizzying mass of green and brown rushing
up to meet me. I can hear shouting. Screams.
‘Keep your head up, keep
your head u-u-u-up!’
I feel nauseous as I
plummet towards the spinning colours.
‘Blue skies...’ I force
the words out, but I know nobody can hear. ‘Blue
I spot another figure
running. A man, wearing a bright yellow shirt, looking like Bill...
Icy fists clench my heart
and stomach as, too late, I realise the awful truth.
©2007 Rebecca Zugor
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