art by M.S. Corley
Jumping Into The Sky
by Samantha Murray
Simon regarded the present his Gran had sent him for his fifteenth birthday. The little jar was filled with a sticky-looking grayish paste. He twisted the lid hard to get it off, and took a tentative sniff. The stuff smelled of old-person, although running underneath that was something faintly sweet, like lily perhaps. It reminded him of Laura--the lily part, not the old-person part.
Foot cream? That would be a new low in the present stakes even for Gran. Gran never forgot a birthday, and a parcel always turned up from wherever in the world she happened to be (this one was postmarked Patagonia), but her presents had become increasingly bizarre. Last year it had been a box of tissues, beautifully wrapped. Awesome. The year before she'd sent matchbox cars, obviously forgetting how old Simon really was. Gran was a hundred and five now, so Simon guessed it was par for the geriatric course. Maybe it was pimple-cream? Unfortunately, that at least would be a useful present.
Simon jabbed his finger into the jar. The ointment felt cool, and a lot smoother than it looked. His finger tingled, like something was buzzing under the skin. The buzz slowly spread up his arm, fading out by the time it was almost at his elbow.
Odd. Simon turned the jar over to look at the base and read in small, spidery writing: Invulnerability. And underneath, even smaller, Lasts one day.
Probably still foot cream. Yet Simon had the weirdest sensation that the stuff was doing something. He fumbled in his desk for a tack. Feeling self-conscious although he was alone in his room, he pushed the tack into his finger.
No pain. He'd felt something, but it didn't sting. He examined his finger. He couldn't see a mark, no bead of blood.
Maybe this was a cool present after all.
Simon stood on the edge of the cliff and looked at his arm. He'd lit a fire in the fireplace this morning, and held his arm in the flames for a good twenty minutes. It had tickled a little. His arm was perfect, unmarred.
He could see waves, crashing far below. He remembered Ben and Sean jeering at him the day the class had gone rappelling. "Oooh, it's so scary, little Si is scared of heights. Don't cry, little Si." Laura had been there, but he didn't know how to interpret the expression on her face.
He wasn't afraid of heights, not exactly. He was afraid of himself. When he was up high, near an edge, he always felt an incredibly strong urge to simply jump. He didn't want to die. As crap as his life mostly was he wasn't suicidal. He just had an instinct, somewhere deep and primal, to launch himself at the open space. It was the conflict between this urge and the sane part of his brain yelling at him not to be stupid, that made him go pale and shaky and like he wanted to sit down and clutch at the grass.
Slathering the ointment over his whole body had made Simon feel like he was full of bees. He took a deep breath, grinned, and threw himself to the blue of the sky.
Simon watched his classmates come out of school. The little jar was almost empty, and he had no idea whether the stuff would have washed off in the river when he'd plunged into it. He scraped his finger around the bottom and plastered the remains on the left side of his chest.
There she was. Laura. Surrounded by the popular group as always. When he'd met Laura, they had been in primary school. She was always looking out the window, like she was somewhere far away. The teacher often read out her stories to the class. She'd had glasses back then, and her hair had been brown instead of the highlighted blonde it was now. These days in class, even when he didn't know he was doing it, Simon's eyes would find her. She still stared out the window.
"Hi Laura," said Simon, not hearing the snickers he'd always imagined would accompany his approach. Perhaps they were there and he was just impervious to them now. "I was wondering if you'd like to go with me to see a movie?"
He felt a sudden hot pang of loss as he realized that he didn't much care what her answer was.
But there was tomorrow. He would care tomorrow.
This story was first published on Monday, June 10th, 2013