Jack Hudson’s motor neurone disease had progressed aggressively. Day by day his physical activities were becoming limited. His wife of 40 years, the adorable Emily, had to help him into a shirt, and it bothered him that he couldn’t reach his shaky arm over to get the sleeves on.
It didn’t bother him now, in a windy hangar on a paddock near York, being strapped into a harness and parachute. In fact, he was enjoying the daring of it. The instructor, who had introduced himself as Bruno, perched him on top of the arms of his wheelchair and bundled him over the tarmac to the Cessna. He waved to Emily as they lifted him into the plane.
Jack knew she hated him for organising this jump, his first skydive ever, but Jack also knew that in a few weeks this adventure would be unattainable. He would have to work on his marriage after the jump, show Emily his gratitude for letting him do what she insisted was impossible.
‘How will you possibly reach the strap to open the parachute?’ She had asked. Jack told her it was fine, she didn’t know what she was talking about. He regretted the tone of his answer. He would have plenty of time after to explain.
The plane gained speed. Jack was surprised by the noise of the engines and the wind rushing in the open door. As agreed, Jack was in the position next to the door, to be first out. Adrenaline was filling his system. He could feel his feet moving for the first time in weeks.
The plane reached the height for the drop, and the pilot banked sharply to bring them back over the drop zone. Jack leaned forward, eager to see the view. He did not realise he was top heavy, and before he knew what was happened, he had fallen from the plane. The carabiner at the end of the rope had not been finally secured.
Jack was now 100 metres closer to the ground. He gasped at the sight of the paddock below, the hangars, the ribbon of road into the office. The buildings looked tiny and neat. The ground was green and lush. This was the experience of a life-time, the rush of wind in his hair, the sheer vertigo of the height. Jack was enchanted.
After 20 seconds, reason re-asserted itself. He reached over his shoulder for the pull-cord. He missed it. He tried again, and again, but he could not twist to reach it. Thrill turned to panic. He looked down at the shed and saw Emily, her hand guarding her eyes from the sun.
‘Emily,’ he thought. ‘I needed more time.’
Ted Witham's stories and poems have appeared in Studio, Eureka Street, and other journals in Australia and the U.S. He lives in the beautiful south-west corner of Western Australia with his wife Rae and lively Jack Russell terrier Lottie, all of which provide inspiration for writing.