Is there a space in this cylinder of sky through which I descend, she wondered as she freefell, that has never been warmed by bird, beast, or man? There’s the sun, coming up, there, hello sun, lighting up Taima-Taima, appreciate that.
Shook her head slightly to tip the thought back toward the center of her mind: why should I pull this ripcord? Not wanting to die is not an answer. To sleep, breathe, fuck, eat—not answers. No biological imperative can be a correct answer. What is the meaning waiting for me in the forest below that will compel me to not become part of the forest? Why should I open this parachute? No biological imperatives! That most certainly includes death. First and last that includes death.
She turned around to put fast-approaching Columbia at her back and unclipped the urn from her belt. She unscrewed it and his ashes became the world all around. “I’ll see you when it rains,” she found herself thinking.
But she didn’t feel anything. Her mind was blank. Suitably blank? What is a person supposed to think at such a point in time? Goodbye? A bit late for that.
She spread her arms and legs out wide, stretched her fingers, invisible air at her back more real than anything, pressing up against her entire backside, curling her fingers forward, more real than anything. Like she’d never felt wind before. Had she just been numb all her life without realizing it? This could be the reason to pull the cord and return to Earth. To eliminate numbness from life. To forget about finding meaning and just embrace feeling. Learn to feel and only feel.
Pivoting again to put the sun at her cheek with her goggles toward Earth, she saw something proceeding her in space and time, showing her the way. In the dawning sky, it was hard to make out, so she streamlined herself and approached it in a few moments, brought her face right up next to it. It was some kind of seabird, a gull, and it was dead. The wind gave the red rim around its eyes a shape like a bird’s silhouette.
She pulled the ripcord and watched the gull fall away from her, there it goes, and she willed her guts into feeling something. Feel affected, guts. I’ll practice leading you for a while; then it’ll be your turn.
Franklin’s gull, from John Richardson, Fauna boreali-Americana, 1829-37.