Honourable mention in the 7th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.
We came across a man lying flat on his stomach, peering over the edge at the ground far below. I’m pretty sure it was at the Grand Canyon. My family was there and I was young. I remember contours, hills and cautious words.
“How’s the view?” My dad, good-naturedly. We thought he was lying down to get a better angle.
“I fell,” the man replied. “I tripped and fell and this is how I landed.” His head was dangling above nothingness, his body pressed flat to the hard earth.
Later that day I asked my dad what would have happened to the man if he had gone over the edge. “Would he have bounced all the way down, like Homer in The Simpsons?”
They exchanged glances. I was too old to be asking that.
My mother told me a story about my grandfather instead. “Your grandpa fell a long ways once,” she said. “He flew airplanes for Canada and the Allies in the war. One time his plane got shot at and set on fire. He had to jump out, so he opened his ’chute and floated down like a free feather.”
I grew up without skydiving or bungee jumping, but I gave my folks a few scares. We don’t talk about it. We don’t relive and reinvent those memories, they float above an abyss, just out of reach, stagnating.
Much later, my mother tells me the story of when I first met my grandfather. I had just arrived in Canada, jet-lagged and disoriented. I was afraid of most of the tall, fair people around me, but when I saw him I ran right up and sat on his knee. And he looked at me in some wonderment.
Can you imagine my parents’ relief? They probably thought we were in the midst of sharing something, something visceral and in the blood. Maybe we were. My mother gazes far off when she tells this one, and I know she thinks it is a story of familial destiny.
Who can say? He died when I was very young. Maybe whatever passed between us in that moment was just a flicker of residual instinct, a shared anxiety, a fear of flying and of landing.