Chasing Sunset

I wrote this for the Creative Ink Writing Prompt, but also for a special friend, my twin soul, who is forever chasing summer, and who turns 30 tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Twin xx

She had always loved sunset; the romanticism of one day coming to a close, with the promise of another soon to follow. Flying at sunset was the best, that feeling of cheating time. But it was all too fleeting. You could never cheat time, not really. And that was why she had to leave.

Liv’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She slipped her hand inside and pressed down on the power button until she was sure she had killed it. She couldn’t risk the onset of unwanted emotion. The only way out of this was cold stoicism. And when she got there, well, then she could deal with things once and for all. It would be over.

She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, but the red-rimmed sky had finally succumbed to the blackness of night. Liv rolled her neck from side to side, wincing as she cricked it back into place. The cabin was dark, save for occasional spotlights beaming down onto insomniac passengers like alien spacecraft.

Something brushed her hand, making her jump. It was the little girl sitting across the aisle. By Liv’s estimation she was four, maybe five. Tight black curls and fresh pink lips. Cherubic. Liv looked across at the girl’s mother. She too was beautiful, or at least she would have been were it not for the trail of dribble descending from her open mouth.

“Hi,” the girl whispered.

“Hi,” Liv whispered back, ignoring the tightness in her chest. Her heart.

“I’m Becky. What’s your name?”

“Liv.”

The girl regarded her with such a look of scrutiny that Liv felt unnerved. Of course she didn’t know her secret, she couldn’t know it. And yet.

“Can we be friends?”

Liv smiled. “Of course.”

Becky’s face shone from the inside out. Her lips parted to reveal a gap-toothed smile. Liv wondered if she was perhaps older than her original estimation. She watched as the girl reached into the pocket of her pinafore dress, screwing her face up in concentration as she tried to retrieve something. Eventually she pulled her hand out with a flourish, extended her arm and unfolded her fingers. In the centre of her palm was a turquoise stone. “Take it,” she said.

Liv picked up the stone and ran her finger along its surface. It was smooth and round, and though it was dark she could make out flecks of glitter in its swirling pattern. “It’s beautiful,” she said.

“It’s yours,” the girl replied.

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly…” She offered the stone back to the girl, but she shook her head and refused to take it.

The girl’s mother stirred beside her, opened her eyes and looked down at her daughter. She followed her gaze to Liv, and when her eyes alighted on the stone in Liv’s hand her breath caught in her throat. “Becky, darling,” she said, her voice measured but tense. “Why did you give this lady your stone? Don’t you want it?”

The little girl looked up at her mother and shook her head. Her mother smiled as if this meant something momentous, but Liv had no idea what. “Thank you,” she said to the girl. “I will treasure it forever. Truly.” The girl’s mother smiled, and Liv noticed she had tears in her eyes. She blinked and looked away. Nothing more was said.

When they had touched down and were waiting to disembark the plane, Liv found the courage to turn on her phone. It buzzed immediately. She had known it would. Before she looked at the message she went through the motions of passport control and baggage reclaim. As she stood at belt six, there was a tap on her arm. It was the girl’s mother. The little girl was playing with a doll several feet away, lost in her fantasy. “I wanted to explain what happened on the plane,” the woman said. “It must have seemed strange.” Before Liv could reply, the woman spoke again. “You see, Becky lost her twin a year ago. In a car accident.”

Liv felt her lungs deflate. “I’m so sorry. How terrible for you both.”

Despite her brightly coloured and expertly applied makeup, the woman’s grief was obvious. But Liv sensed something else behind the sadness, maybe a spark of hope? “It’s been the hardest year of my life,” she said. “And for Becky, well, it’s hard to imagine how deeply this has affected her. She’s only five, and the two of them were thick as thieves.” She looked over at her daughter. “The thing is, that stone she gave you on the flight. It belonged to her sister.”

Liv pulled the stone out of her pocket. “Please, take it back. I would never have taken it if I’d known.”

The woman smiled. “But that’s the thing. She wanted you to have it. For a year she’s carried it around with her everywhere, desperate not to let it out of her sight. Her therapist said it was part of the grieving process, that she would let go of it when she had turned a corner. And now, well, now it seems she has. I just wanted you to know. Whatever you said or did on that plane, thank you.”

The woman called her daughter and they turned to leave. As they walked away Liv heard the woman ask why she had given the stone to the lady on the plane. The girl replied: “She needs it more than me Mummy. Turquoise is for strength, she has to be strong for her daughter.”

The arrivals hall began to spin. Liv steadied herself on her trolley. She put a hand to her tummy and stroked it. How had the girl known? She couldn’t have known. Remembering the message on her phone, Liv took it out and read it. It was from Mark, of course. Just seeing his name on the screen choked her up.

Seven words.

The best she had ever seen:

I KNOW. I LOVE YOU. COME HOME. X

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2nd time lucky; making peace with the sky

Six years ago, the day before my 25th birthday (sob), I ventured to an airfield outside Oxford to do my first tandem sky dive. I should explain before I go any further that up to that point in my life I had been anything but a daredevil. Furthermore, I had a rather stubborn and borderline morbid fear of heights – in particular of falling. Which is why, when it came to thinking of what would encourage people to donate towards my impending volunteering trip to Tanzania, this came immediately to mind. Surely facing my most serious of fears would raise lots of cash? And you know what? It did.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. As I’d got confused over timings and had pitched up after everyone else I was relegated to the last slot of the day, which meant a whole day for my nerves to build into a terrifying crescendo. By the time we boarded the plane I felt physically sick, not that you’d know from watching the video as I grin inanely like a halfwit from start to finish (if you want to know what fear looks like, check it out – and don’t be fooled by the smile. Note that it doesn’t reach my eyes).

When we reached 12,000 feet I was rigid with terror, but by some miracle the instructor convinced me to inch towards the open door, close my eyes and leap into the unknown. For the first few seconds, as we flew through the air, I had no idea what was happening. But once we stabilised and I realised I was still alive I relaxed a little and tried to enjoy the experience. The problem came when the instructor moved my arm so he could pull the parachute cord and we began rocking wildly back and forth.

Now, anyone who has ever suffered from travel sickness will know a rocking movement whilst already in motion does not a nausea-free journey make. And sure enough, within seconds my mouth was watering and I began to realise there was a very real chance I would throw up – in mid air, on my instructor. After he pulled the parachute I became even more certain this would be our fate, and so when he asked if I was okay and I vigorously shook my head he cottoned on and sped up our descent as best he could. Fortunately I managed not to cover us both with my own vomit mid-air, but when we landed I lay face down in the grass for half an hour, my face entirely devoid of colour (the photographer had to physically lift me to film the final scene in the film, after which I lay back down, groaning).

Needless to say it was a rather unpleasant and somewhat scarring experience, which was a shame. And given that everyone I’ve subsequently met who has done a sky dive has said it was the best thing they’d ever done, I’ve always felt a bit short changed.

So you can imagine my delight when the opportunity presented itself to go back to the very same airfield – this time for a trial flight in a glider. A friend who is part of the Oxford Gliding Club (who are, incidentally, keen to get more members, so if you live in the vicinity and fancy giving it a try do pop down there and find out more – they’re a very friendly and hospitable bunch and they cook a mean post-flight BBQ) invited a few of us down last night and I jumped at the chance to have a go.

Before we arrived I hadn’t given much thought to whether my fear of heights was still alive and well all these years later, which I think was probably a good thing. By the time I was kitted out with parachute and having my safety briefing it was too late to back out, and within minutes we were being towed up into the sky on our breathtaking ascent. The first few seconds after the tow line is unclipped are just incredible; everything is silent and you feel a sense of weightlessness that’s hard to describe. Then you gently twist and turn through the air as you make your descent back to the ground – it’s probably the closest feeling to being a bird you could have, and it’s really, really special. I can’t deny the descent made me feel a touch on the fragile side, but it was worth every second of discomfort to have experienced that initial high.

It might not have been another sky dive, but I still feel in those few minutes in the sky I made peace with the air space that robbed me of what should have been an enjoyable experience all those years ago. And you know what? I might even be tempted to go back and do it again.