She scooted one inch closer to the edge, keeping her body back and her neck craned forward, attempting to see further down the cliff's edge. Sand and small bits of gravel made their way down the gradual slope of the massive rock she was standing on, slipping out of sight and down the impossibly long descent into the canyon. A peachy, yellow color, the wind-worn stone reminded her of a jaundiced child — a jaundiced pirate child, with weathered skin and a scowl.
Her left hand gripped the short lens of a camera, her right hung motionless, except when it instinctively splayed out, fingers wide, a subconscious defense to stop the fulfillment of her morbidly curious thoughts.
"What if I jumped?" The thought flashed to the front of her mind without warning. It surprised her usually overly-cautious, rational self. But more surprising still was her desire to find the answer.
"What if my foot slipped just six inches? There's nothing to grab onto. The rest of me would tumble over in an instant. What would that feel like?" She ran through all the possible ways she could find herself away from the sickly rock-edge, into the clean canyon air, through the biting winds, down to the valley floor. She could jump. Slip. Fall asleep and roll right over. Have someone push her. Handstand somersault.
Would she fall unconscious before striking the ground? Would she flip in the air, completing the cartwheel she could never master on solid ground? Would she hit parts of the canyon walls on her descent? Were there any jutting out to hit?
One more inch she took, eyeing her white rubber soles with intense concentration, almost as if telling them their job of gripping the ground was never more important than at that moment. "I'm only pondering this. I quite like the ground right now," she thought, directing the silent comment down to the inanimate objects around her feet.
"What if I didn't fall?" She continued, considered the possibility of flight. Skydiving was sort of like flying, and she'd been skydiving. "But that's really just falling," she said to herself, remembering the thrill of jumping out of the plane, the sharp air nearly pulling the skin off her bones, her eyes watering and her extremities yanked heavenward as gravity sucked her down to earth. "I want to fly."
Closing her eyes, she lifted her right foot upward ever so slightly. Her arms spread wide, she let the cool gusts of wind swirl around her trunk, twist down her legs, seep into her hair. "I want to fly," she repeated, this time aloud, barely audible even to her ears. She leaned forward, arms still wide, pushing hard off the cliff's edge.
Photographs by Elizabeth Gosney ©2012
Three things prompted this short story. First, traveling to Southern Utah this weekend and getting dangerously close to a cliff's edge (closer, even, than this photograph) 2. Listening to "Peter and the Star Catchers" by Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry and 3. Considering what it would be like to do just the opposite of what instinct tells me to do. Jump off the cliff. Don't turn with the curve of the road. Drink the soured milk. And that's the beauty of imagination and writing: You can make whatever decisions you want, wise or otherwise, from the safety of your desk.