by GJ Hart
Jason was sitting in his underpants, on the battered Chesterfield he’d dragged off the street last summer, sucking vodka through an empty biro and staring at the only thing—a plate of reconstituted shrimp—that stood between him, a saturated night’s sleep, and what he was certain would be his last day on this good, green earth.
He’d always suspected his drunk self was a masochist and when he’d woken a month back and read the posturing status updates, Jason realised, with a heavy heart, he was right. Armed with a bottle of absinthe, this imposter had decided that—to aid a questionable charity advocating a dubious cause and despite being barely able to climb a foot stool—it was time he did a parachute jump.
Appearing to possess many qualities he lacked, Jason had to admit there was much to admire about this pretender: In a single night, the jump had been paid for, a fund-raising page created, a public invitation posted across all his social media sites, (including MySpace) and with a final flourish, a professional photographer hired to document the whole thing.
The next morning, pulling into the aerodrome’s car park, Jason saw the photographer unpacking her equipment and wondered if it wasn’t too late to change the stakes. Perhaps she could film him sniffing something irredeemably harmful or screaming his way through a bucket of Carolina Reapers. So long as he humiliated himself and people saw he was happy to do so, he doubted they would mind.
“Come on,” mouthed the instructor, knocking on his window.
“But,” said Jason stepping from his car and pointing at a solitary cloud traversing a perfectly blue sky.
“Don’t worry, my friend, we’ve checked the forecast, we’re good to go.”
And so, after a disconcertingly brisk prep and before he could zig-zag in obscurity, Jason found himself strapped into the passenger seat of a Cessna 182 and heading straight toward the sun.
As his instructor gave the signal, Jason saw his relaxed smile and realised with regret, he would never despise anyone so absolutely again. He edged toward the open door and, as his unconsenting heart made a last frenzied bid for freedom, he pushed off.
He was falling, but not falling at all and so full of air he no longer needed to breathe. He was the discarded hypothesis, the outtake, the protean mind atop the grizzled physique. He was a money spider, a dandelion seed, he was youth and death combined. He spun through time scales, triple speed against a glacial sky, until like a mother cat, like a car horn, like that advice he took just in time, the static line tore at his chest and deployed his chute.
Hanging like a Serrano ham in a shoe shop window—Jason felt ridiculous, which although not ideal, was at least definitive proof he wasn’t dead. As he floated slowly down, his fear dissipated and he found himself gifted with new vitality and an unnatural clarity of vision. He looked east toward the rigs, then west, to the slurry of grey prefabs descending to the supermarket where his childhood home once stood. A happy place before Uncle Denis moved in.
Uncle Denis had a false ear and the first time his mother left them alone, he’d removed it and pressed it against Jason’s head.
“Listen,” he said, “you can hear secrets.” Then, assuming a bizarre falsetto, he explained how peacocks were bashful and puppies were spiteful and butterflies just after your money.
“The universe is burning,” said Denis, re-fixing the grubby appendage, “the universe is burning and you are inconsequential—my beer can will leave more of a mark on history than you ever will.”
“You’re less than a stain, Jason,” he said, disappearing into the kitchen for another drink.
That night Jason woke from familiar dreams to strange noises. He crept from his bed and watched from between balusters as Uncle Denis threw down a smashed Culebra and pulled a battered 45 gently from its sleeve. The lounge smelt of roast pork and shellfish and shimmered with tea lights as uncle Denis began to dance and his mother sat so still she hardly seemed alive. Jason edged further down, knowing she needed him, but losing his nerve, turned and scuttered back to bed.
As time passed, his dreams became stranger and the noises far too familiar.
Panicked from his memories by a commotion below, Jason began to tear at the risers that anchored his chute. He kicked against the empty space beneath him and longed for a knife to cut himself free. As the ground rushed up, he twisted in a bid to disrupt his dynamics. He wanted to hit the earth like a satellite, like a raging asteroid, diving through dirt like water. People would travel miles to stand at the crater he created.
His instructor was already down and seeing Jason’s distress, rushed to meet him as he landed still clawing at his harness.
“You’re down man, you’re safe now,” said the instructor, embracing him.
“Again,” said Jason, gulping for air.
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GJ Hart lives and works in Brixton, London and has had stories published in The Airgonaut, Jersey Devil Press, The Harpoon Review, 99 Pine Street, The Jellyfish Review, Foliate Oak, The Eunoia Review and others. He can be found arguing with himself over @gj_hart.