by Dawn Kelley Slifer
Fourteen thousand feet—too fast. Thick harness straps are tight against my thighs, my shoulders. I’ve had a lifetime of too tight, but this is supposed to be tight. The jump plane walls are bolted plywood, no chairs save for the ramshackle bucket in the front, home to a pilot more match-made for a pirate adventure than this, surely.
The jock tall diver clanks open the side door. I rear back, eyes squinting for a moment. The sky is a blazing hot blue cupcake, piled too high with frosting, impossible to eat in one bite. Too much sky, not enough earth. Fourteen thousand feet of sky straight down to the ground—forest, farm, mountains falling off the edge. It should be beautiful. Fourteen thousand feet.
It’s time, he says and sits behind me.
I kneel in front of him, worrying my fingertips like rosary beads.
You’re going to have to kneel right up in my lap, he says and chuckles. You don’t have much experience sitting in laps, do you?
I do as he says, a bit too heavily. Fuck him. He knows nothing. He grunts and clips the front of his harness to the back of mine. Too tight, too tight.
We hover at the doorway, hands braced on the frame. One last chance to turn back, but I don’t. I never do. And then we push off, somersaulting away from the plane into that empty blue frosting sky.
The plane’s belly is bulbous, her wings extended proud, a voluptuous bird in profile veering toward the sun—she is exactly who she needs to be, scars and all.
And then we fall.
My skin, my extra skin everywhere, is a plastic bag billowing around my skeleton plunging: two hundred feet per second. It cannot keep up.
I am going to die. And there is no one on the ground waiting for me. Sixty seconds of freefall before the chute deploys, a violent near-stop that capsizes my tummy.
I land on top of him with a thud. He groans in my ear, but it was not good for him.
Unclipping the harness is difficult with shaking hands, but I shrug off help and find my car. Perhaps two miles pass before I pull over. My retching is a lifelong violent battle cry, a muscle memory of generations past that pushes up into my vocal cords, screaming into the world no matter what I would do to stop it.
The sobs, in time, subside. The planes pass overhead, and I absently rub my belly, soothing away the sick, and sliding around the loose skin.
Never jump out of a perfectly good plane, he said before I left.
And I wonder if the same can be said for flesh.
Dawn Kelley Slifer is an Ojibwe (Crane Clan) creative nonfictionist by calling and assistant principal by vocation. She lives with her husband and daughter in Sylvania, Ohio where she is an avid board gamer and watercolor enthusiast. Recently, in support of the center of the known universe (yes, her tiny daughter), she has become the local Daisy Troop’s Cookie Manager–so the weight loss plan is out the window and the freezer has been cleaned out to store boxes of cookies, plus the budget for her upcoming trip to Alaska is clearly at risk. At this very moment, she is hovering on the edge of a career shift towards a future with much more space for writing words or preserving them–decisions, decisions. Her writing can be found in recent issues of Potato Soup Journal and Anti-Heroin Chic.