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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

Don't Look Down

The author was born in a city that changed 6 or 7 owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; it is hosting Euro-2012 soccer championships as he is writing these words. He learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is the fourth-most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency.
My body remembers what I cannot.
My hands move to the sides, legs move apart, knees bend.
A whistling in my ears: wind. It's called wind. I'm flying, flying in the wind, under the blue that's called the sky, toward the brown that's called the ground. I feel it push my hands, my legs, my face. I feel a weight against my back. Pack? Heavier by the second. "Ten, nine, eight…"
Mate. Late. Fate. Foot. Boot.
Shoot.
Para-chute.
A figure flies into my sight. She waves her hand. She is wearing gloves. She loves. She loves me.
Of course she loves me, she is my daughter!
The sky is blue, the sun is bright, the ground is brown. I close my eyes and all is white where memories should be. What is that droning noise? "De plane, Boss!"
White suit. White dress. Wedding.
Glasses. Rings. "To have, to hold, till dying do us part."
A man steps out of the white: black hair. A smile. And boots. Boots on the ground. Combat boots. Combat drop. Black op.
Stop.
Eyes open. Blue, brown, bright. My daughter who loves me is wearing gloves. A parachute. A helmet. A helmet is hard.
"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."
"Is that a crash helmet?"
"Oh, I hope not!"
To crash: to hit the ground with a sound.
The ground is brown. It's coming close.
Eyes close.
My daughter looks out of the white. Her face is wet. With water? Not water, tears. Fears? "What if you forget?" she says. "In your condition, what if you can't remember--?"
"Then that's the day," I hear myself say, "that should go on my gravestone. I won't be living then, just postponing the…"
Funeral.
Black dress. Black hole in the ground. My daughter's tear-wet face. Amazing Grace. "How sweet the sound!"
Mound.
"I'm sorry for your loss," I hear someone say. "He was my friend."
He was.
Eyes open.
My daughter is not in front of me. I look up, and there she is, above me, parachute open, floating away.
My hand remembers: a tiny hand in mine, warm. Squirm. Pull away. Run. Black hair waving in the sun. Toward a building.
School. Pull?
Wind pushes on my--
Breast.
My breast remembers: A tug of lips, a flow of milk. A warm squirming welcome weight. A quiet peace.
My body remembers joy, and a memory of a memory of pain.
My hand remembers.
It reaches for the ring.
Pull.
A tug, then an absence of sound.
Don't look down at the ground.
We walk, my daughter and I, toward a thing that's glass on top and brown all over. My feet remember, and I walk toward one side, but then my daughter takes my hand and leads me to the other. She opens the door. I sit. My back remembers the seat. My hand remembers a ring, pulls it down to a snap. Strap! The thing will go fast. We have to go far.
Car!
My daughter sits beside me. Wipes a small drop of water from her face.
"I thought I'd lost you," she says.
"I can't be lost," I say. "I'm here."
She seems to laugh, but why is there more water?
"Can we go again?" I say.
She does the thing to make it dry. "A month from now," she says. "As usual. OK?"
"OK," I say. I think I heard her say the same thing, once before. Or more than once.
She steps on something, and we go. Bright sun ahead, brown dust behind; and all above us, a blue dome.
We go home.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, October 22nd, 2012


The story was inspired by an online discussion about doctors as consumers of health care: by a huge margin, physicians declared themselves unwilling to opt for heroic life-prolonging measures when faced with terminal illness. One went as far as to suggest taking up solo skydiving at the first sign of senile dementia. The story pretty much wrote itself in a few hours once I saw that comment, and went on to gather a record number (for me) of positive comments on critters.org. I'd like to see if the comments on DSF's Facebook page follow trend.

- Anatoly Belilovsky

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