What a ridiculous thing it is to be pushed out of an airplane, Ted Grayson thought, as he was pushed out of an airplane.
Ted had been pushed because at the last moment he was frozen with fear and unable to jump. Now he was falling at 120 miles per hour and the feeling was one of unimaginable terror. The speed of the fall when he exited the plane took his breath away. His goggles sucked to his face, his eyes felt as if they were being pulled back into his head, the pressure tremendous. Ted fell and he fell and he fell and he felt that he would never stop falling.
It had been exactly two point five seconds so far.
It was a Sunday. He knew that. A Sunday in mid-April. Or was it late April? He wasn't sure. Strange to not know the date. It was late morning. He was fairly sure of that. The sky was very blue and he could see the ocean as the small plane climbed from the airfield on eastern Long Island. He sat in his jumpsuit, in the cramped quarters of the plane, Raymond next to him.
It had been cold on the plane. Colder still when Raymond slid the door open. The sound of the wind. The mistake of wanting to jump out of an airplane hitting Ted full force. So Raymond had given him a little nudge. Fine. He'd pushed him, full on. He'd had to do that a fair amount in this job. People got all excited and brave on the ground. Quite another thing to stare down from 10,000 feet with nothing between you and God's green earth but the thin silk on your back.
He was shaking. He thought he might throw up. He thought he might pass out. He thought he might already be dead. It was happening very fast.
He laid flat on his belly, just as they'd practiced, Ted and Raymond, arms out, staring straight down. How he'd arrived in this position he wasn't sure. He raised his head and saw Raymond, smiling, two fat thumbs up, just another day at the office, as if they were sitting across from each other at a Starbucks enjoying Pumpkin Spice lattes. Raymond, still smiling, tapped his over-sized outdoorsman watch. It was time. Indeed, it was, thought Ted. Raymond, the former Army Sergeant, who said he wasn't planning to go up today. Raymond who at first didn't recognize Ted. Raymond who had to call in his pilot, Alvin, from out in Greenport. Raymond wore a GoPro camera on his helmet. Filmed the whole thing. "Hell, we even send you a little movie of it," he told Ted. "Email it to you before you're back in Manhattan."
The three of them boarded the small plane, a 1982 Cessna 303T Crusader, according to Raymond. Miracle it still flew, he said, cackling, as Alvin pulled the stick back and launched them up over the air strip, banked left, out over the ocean, the empty beaches of eastern Long Island, climbing, higher, the noise of the engine drowning out Raymond's incessant talking, Ted seeing the ocean, a distant boat, and remembering Franny's words from the story.
Raymond held up three beefy fingers and pointed to them with his other hand, the agreed upon sign. He folded one down. Two fingers now. Time slowed down for Ted. It was taking an eternity. Raymond folded another down. One finger. They'd gone over this on the ground, again and again. "I like repeat customers," Raymond had said. "That's why we wear two chutes. Both chutes fail, well, the good Lord don't want you on Earth no more."
Here's what else went through his mind.
Screw Ted Grayson. This speck of a man falling from the sky. The world had handed him a microphone and asked him to tell them a story. Engage me, they'd said. Inform me. Thrill me. Enlighten me. And what had he done? Bore them.
Also the time he tailgated a person in a car because of a bad mood, because he was in a rush. Honking, flashing his lights, jumping out of his car at the stop light and pulling from the backseat a wood-handled Bancroft tennis racquet, waving it like John McEnroe, only to find an 80-year-old handicapped woman at the wheel.
And the time a diminutive homeless man reached out to touch him as he stepped into a limousine, Ted surprised and frightened by the man, a contorted face shouting, "Fuck off, bum!" And the time—fine, times—he'd been unfaithful to Claire.
The years of distance, of ignoring her, of assuming she'd always be there.
And the time, recently, after the incident, he'd ignored the pleas of the network's lawyers and PR department and left the house, only to find a photo of himself on the cover of the following day's New York Post, disheveled, unshaven, having forgotten to zip his fly all the way up yet again, making what appeared to be a Nazi salute, when, in fact, it was simply a harmless attempt to hail a cab and escape the paparazzi.
Mostly, he thought of Franny. And the words she'd used in the story. The world would see that she was lost to him. He couldn't reach her. His own daughter. He couldn't protect her now. And if you can't protect your children, what's the point of protecting yourself?
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