Free Fall at 10,000 Feet


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by Kathleen


The sporting goods store in Chicago fired Quinn after three months; not only was he disinterested in fishing and rock climbing but he hung around listening to his iPod and paid no attention to the customers.

Quinn’s best friend Winston had dropped out of college downstate to live in a trailer and work on an assembly line.

They hadn’t seen each other in months when Winston phoned. “I have two words for you, Quinn: sky diving.”

Having joined an aviation club, he whistled. “You gotta try it.”

“I do?”

“This rich guy Dowling will lend me his C-182 since I got my pilot’s license.”

Next Thursday, Winston called again. “All Dowling said was—don’t get caught. I bought him a beer and he handed me the Cessna’s keys. We’ll take it up Monday when the center’s closed.”

Quinn paused.

Winston said, “I’m telling you, Quinn, the rush is phenomenal.”

“All right.” Quinn had read in a sports magazine that sky diving was nowhere near as dangerous as people imagined.

He arrived at Winston’s Sunday afternoon.

“Turns out that because this is clandestine, you won’t have an automatic safety line, Quinn. But who forgets to pull the rip cord?”

Wearing Winston’s jump suit and helmet, Quinn practiced jumping from the trailer’s back door into bales of hay.

“Belly first, back arched,” Winston said. He would be both pilot and jump master. “The jump master’s essential,” Winston said. “He asks, ‘Are you ready to sky dive?’ and unless you say ‘yes!’ we fly home; no worries. Then I’ll ask again,
Quinn, are you ready to sky dive? And if you don’t answer, ‘Yes!’ both times, it’s no go.

“It’s easy,” Winston claimed as they drank beer and listed to the Foo Fighters. “Brace, reach, and release. Brace inside the plane’s open door; reach for the wing’s strut, and release. That’s all.”

“That’s all?” Quinn continued leaping belly first into bales of hay.

“Pretend the hay is the atmosphere at 10,000 feet,” Winston said. “The silence is amazing. When your altimeter reads 3,000, pull the rip cord. Then steer by pulling the guide lines.”

“Last thing,” Winston said. “Packing the parachute is critical. Never trust another guy with it.” That said, Winston packed the parachute. He demonstrated every fold and Quinn did it exactly as shown. Except Winston redid it.

Overnight, Quinn wondered about trusting Winston with his life. Winston had slept with Quinn’s girlfriend once. Back in Little League, he yelled, “Out,” when Quinn was safe. He copied Quinn’s homework and stole his CDs.

Small stuff. Even the girlfriend, because they were drunk and Quinn was home with the flu.

Monday afternoon Winston yelled the jump master’s questions from the pilot’s seat. Quinn answered, “Yes!” twice. Then he braced in the door, reached for the wing’s strut and released.


8 comments:

Ed Yates said...

Hi Kathleen,

this short left me hanging (pardon the pun) which is surely a sign of good writing.

I also did not dislike the characters as much as I thought I might when I first started reading. Winston seems to just want to have fun. Quinn just seems like he is easily led. Is this what you were aiming for?

Kudos for writing authentically though for men and particularly men of that sort.

Mike French said...

Wow - great - have you skydived Kathleen, it all seemed so real.

Clever that you seed the doubt as to motive right at the end.

kathleenmaher said...

Thanks Mike and Ed. Having slept on it, I can see this story needs more. Winston lives for fun but his fun demands dramatic risks.
Quinn follows him because he's lonely and has yet to face the boundary between loyalty and betrayal.
In five years (when the music changes, Ed) they will have grown up to where they hardly recognize themselves.
Knowing this, I probably ought to write more of this sometime.

PS. Mike, as a kid, I longed to go sky diving. But after having children, it seemed silly. From my long abandoned desire, I recalled details, imagined and studied. Beyond that, I was betting yet again that Wikipedia is never wrong.

Stella said...

Your usual quality piece of fiction :)

By the way, I've been meaning to ask you - how do you pick your character names?

Jane Turley said...

Oh no! Me thinks Quinn is far too trusting!

Ah yes Kathleen once you have children dreams of conquering Everest, circumnavigating the globe and discovering Atlantis fall by the wayside. These days I'm just glad to make to the end of the day with my sanity intact:)

Rousby said...

Reminds me somewhat of my own misspent youth. You capture well the glorious disdain with which young men regard their mortality.

kathleenmaher said...

Stella, I start stories only after discovering the characters' names. (The men in this story call each other by their last names but Quinn is Mark and Winston is Danny.)

Since to me names suggest how a character looks, acts, thinks, and feels--and from there a fate--imagine the challenge of naming my kids. They both ended up with family names I would never use in fiction. Or certainly won't now.

Jane, it's true. No aerial stunt compares to the thrill or risks of leading a child into (or at least towards) adulthood.

Rousby, This isn't fair, but your name (see my note to Stella above) suggests a man who loves a good dare and always will.
Bear in mind, however, I never said I was "right" about names.

Stella said...

That's interesting Kathleen because I also feel that the name shapes their destiny, but I usually do the opposite: If a name doesn't immediately come to me, I pick a temp name, which I replace once I get the hang of the character. When I see what suits them...

I guess that's paradoxical, but destiny is a paradox. Once you know - or think you know, at any rate - what your fate is, you let it shape your life. So the question is, is it really your fate or did it become your fate once you believed it was?

Or some tongue-twister to that effect.