Feet First

By Nancy Tingley

Inez fought the desire to stop where she was and sit down. She needed to get past this turn and the turn up ahead. Dylan had gone on as he always did, charging forward, moving, moving, as if the destination were the end all. Not the trees, elegant in their contortions, or the wind, rustling and gusting, not even the outcroppings of rock, angular and aggressive. He hadn’t even noticed her hesitation, had left her behind, clinging to a branch that jutted out from the rock face, its roots tenuously grasping the meager soil.

She tried to find sense in her vertigo, her thoughts taking her back to that time when she was a child and her sister had pushed her into the water, off what had seemed a cliff, though she knew was merely a few feet. Could that be the cause of it, this fear?

“Inez,” he called, but she didn’t answer, hating him for bringing her here, hating him for trying to get her to overcome her fear, as if overcoming was what mattered. While he climbed breathless, scrambling over the scree, edging along narrow juttings – not even paths – to a peak. Let him go, she didn’t need this.

She wanted to sit, but to sit meant to let go of the branch that was above her head.

Feet First

Or maybe it was the flight from SF to LAX, the last flight she’d taken. The sudden lost altitude, the sickening drop that had caused her to rise off her seat, as if she were floating, and the rest of the passengers, the plane, were plunging.

But it couldn’t be that, as she’d experienced vertigo always – closed her eyes when she crossed bridges, stood on balconies, looked out windows from upper stories of skyscrapers, of apartment houses, of any building higher than one story.

“What are you doing?” he asked, returned from his forward march, balanced at the edge of the trail, the abyss below, balanced as if it were nothing.

“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t.”

“Sure you can. You’ve gone this far. You can do it.”

Such false confidence in her capabilities. She looked down the cliff, saw herself falling, tumbling, head first, then feet, rolling over the rocks, down and down. She shut her eyes, gripped the branch more tightly, edged her feet closer to the rock face, counted her breath, but it did no good, for the feeling she’d feared overcame her.

She leaned forward, imagining the jump.

“Hey, watch out,” Dylan said, extending his arm, though he was too far to grasp her.

Imagining the jump. That was it, the worst of the vertigo, the desire to jump, the overwhelming need to put an end to the fear, the height.  It overcame her, this certainty that she had to fall, had to tumble, had to plummet. And the only way she could do it was to jump. Feet first, arms flung wide.

Nancy Tingley is the author of the Jenna Murphy Mystery Series (Swallow Press/Ohio University Press). Her 2018 short fiction appears in Panoplyzine, 3Elements Review, and New Flash Fiction Review. She is a Southeast Asian art consultant and curator, as well as an occasional potter. She lives in northern California on a hill. nancytingley.com

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Digital image)

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