Skydive: Part Two

The stairs of the fire escape cast a fault-finding light.

L searches out the deep folds of Viv’s laughter lines, her profile, softening at the edges.

But the woman has disappeared. She is an apparition; she does not believe in queueing.

Then once she is at the front, she waves and calls: Darling, darling, which naturally, L loves.

Particularly when irate strangers make themselves heard:  

There’s always one.

To the back, back you go.

Streak of piss!

It transpired that L’s rangy figure and apologetic style were not conducive to skipping. He longed to retreat and join the mass of bodies, but Viv kept calling: Darling, Darling, and his face reddened. There could be no mistaking him.


This time, Viv’s call does not follow.

Lighter for it, he ushers the classically ugly man on crutches in ahead of him. Watches him travel upwards on the bannister, his meatless body shadowed beneath blue.

The nurse monotonously apologises to L and pulls the doors closed.

Silence unearths new depths and is for a short while pleasurable.

The three of them travel up the stairs in silence.

At a certain point, L asks the nurse where the liver unit is. The nurse answers: Third floor to the left, then right past the lifts, then second right, then left. You’ll see.


When he is alone on the third floor, he calls down the stairs: Viv? Viv?

It hits him then how much time he spends trying to feel things: outrage, guilt, a profound sense of impending loss. When in truth, he only recognises Viv’s feelings for her brother. She is inconsolable and often angry. She insists they say: I love you, and hug tightly before bed.

This is not Uncle’s first time with the disease. With his record, there would be no second transplant. Viv finds this hard to accept: How can they just let him rot?

L does not know what to think about this, which in turn, makes him feel like an invisible monster. One who does not automatically favour family. Who has a stronger reaction to rescued animals in clips. Distraught, flea-ridden dogs that make him want to skip forward to the end to see their grins. L has to force himself to watch the start, otherwise the explosion of happiness just isn’t the same.


When L emerges from the fire doors, he stands in the middle of a long corridor.

He walks across the terrazzo linoleum, past the polished walls of endless, irrelevant landscapes.

Hills and forests painted in pastel hues. Depths of colour missing.

A nurse rushes past him, her stout figure receding away in deep purple.

Above, vents burr like the low hum of a refrigerator.

There’s something else though. There, it’s less deep and monotonous. Like a low laughter that reverberates back to him.


L hesitates at the door.

They would breathe the same air. And in that moment, everything else would melt away.

You look lost, the man says as L enters. Sit down.

The corridor and the room exist in different hemispheres. The room is soupy and immuring. Calcified glass streaks natural light. In the bed, the man’s gown hangs loose like a blue cape.

Why were you laughing? L says.

The man gestures towards the TV.

What else can I do? I swell like a balloon at night.

The man is a frayed, faded yellow. The whites of his green eyes are yellow. He is bloated and brittle. A bowl of ice cream melts on a tray in front of him. Strawberry and chocolate. The prospect of vanilla suddenly seems absurd.

Want some?

L finds himself agreeing.

You don’t want any? L asks, taking a seat next to him.

The sight of it flips my stomach

The man lolls his head back. With the edges of his eyeballs, he examines L.

That should help, he says. You look pale.


L polishes off the ice cream and looks up at the bright, flashing TV. His lips sticky, saccharine.

The images on the screen appear hyper-defined. In the image of their corresponding bulletins: Popular politician killed after being shot in head – Law firm to investigate ‘forced hugging’ – Man critical after being pinned under lawnmower.

On mute, the O of the presenter moves so fast, as if he’s listing terms and conditions. As if he could say anything and nobody would even notice. There are no pores in his skin. From hairline to jaw, it’s just a smooth cream surface.

Are you in pain? L asks.

I can’t feel a thing. The man narrows his eyes.


I’m just vision, he says, staring out of the calcified window. A plane shadows, descends overhead. Over spindly trees that carry the weight of the skyline. L follows the line back to the man’s bedside, where there is a photo of him, arm in arm with a younger looking man. They appear tanned and relaxed in short-sleeved shirts. Their white teeth tell of a healthy holiday glow. Next to the photo sits a stone-grey bowl full of untouched fruit. Bananas and grapes and other, less recognisable ones. 

People really want to feed you fruit when you’re sick, the man says.

L is on the verge of asking. The words form, but he does not say them out loud. He decides he would rather not know. What are these? He instead asks, picking up a green, bobbly fruit. 

Custard apples, the man replies. We had a tree in our garden when I was a child.

L leans in close, drawn to the deep reverberations of the man’s voice.

But I fell out of the tree and shattered my leg and my father had it cut down.

He pauses with effort before continuing with his speech: I’ve booked a skydive. I don’t know why. I don’t mind flying, but I’m terrified of heights. Michael says it will be different though. Because I will no longer be afraid, he says, trailing off and reaching for a glass of water.

L puts the glass to the man’s cracked lips.

He swallows and smiles, If I went now, I reckon I’d float without a parachute.


Where L found this information he could not say; it was part of a mad, clicking trail.

He read that it was once believed that the touch of a king could cure this disease. Miraculous and as simple as skin on skin. L is no king, but the man is connected to a large machine laced with a mess of tubes. Intersecting red, blue, yellow, two in his arm, two under the blanket.

Can I tell you something, the man does not ask.


I’m not proud of it. But sometimes when I see the breaking news come up on the screen, an accident, or, something like that. My heart flutters.


Hope. It’s a kind of hope, it’s automatic, the man says. I never used to watch the news, and now I’m watching, waiting for someone to die.

And if they don’t?

At first, the man clearly dislikes the question, and brusquely replies, I don’t think I need to explain that. But then he scrutinises L’s large grey eyes and asks, Will you hold my hand?

His palm is dry and his hold firmer than L is expecting.

Mysterious blue veins protrude and run up his arm. L pictures him landing awkwardly from the tree. Splayed, but young and light enough to take the force of the fall. To get back up again. 

There is so much wasted energy. The man turns to L, Would you turn it off?


L rises and presses the power button. The images invert to a dot, blackens.

The room suddenly feels still, emptied of the world.

With his back turned, L discerns the words: Do you normally browse hospitals like this?

I was looking for my Mum, L says, but does not move for the door.

He can hear the icy, swerving winds rattle at the window.

He wants to get under the covers with the man and wait it out.


Viv sinks into the square-backed leather seat.

The phone continues to incessantly ring. But she had not made it in time. And her goodbye had been what? She could not recall their last conversation. Just flurries of overlapping calls, his grasp gradually slipping. Gone. They had tried to call when she was in the air, somewhere over the Nevada desert, she estimates. He died while she soared over wild, arid lands where you might not see a face for days at a time.

Where on earth has L got to?

After speaking to the doctor, she stalked endless corridors of lustreless, irredeemable appearance. She wants to hold L and tell him everything will be okay.


The boy in the karate suit runs towards the automatic doors. He is seven but has a black belt. Breathless, he does not have time to pause for the automatic doors. Viv is keeping an eye on the boy. She would have agreed to anything to feel better. On the verge of screaming blue murder, the news of Uncle’s death killed her rage.

It’s utterly pointless, this rage, all of it.

That was what they talked about. Now she could remember. How she returned home from work that first day to find L asleep on his chest. He was in desperate need of a pee. He handed L to her, just as her son’s large, slumbering eyes opened.

When he came back in the room, he excitedly talked about all the boring, everyday things they had done together. He made the muddy park sound Babylonian.


The boy in the karate suit brought in the icy, swerving winds.

Visitors around Viv smile politely, flicking through sheeny magazines.

A woman on the phone says, dispassionately: If it crashes you only have yourself to blame.

Viv retrieves the unwrapped card from her handbag. She would not throw it away, but she also would not keep it. The doctor had said, matter-of-factly: He was a loner, they tend to die alone.

It hurt to admit the doctor was right.

More so the creeping idea that the same faces appear and disappear across generations.

Does she really believe that?

If she does, then there is nothing to be done about it. So, she lets the boy run.

Close-up of dried, cracked earth.

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About Alex Rourke

Alex Rourke is in training to qualify as a psychotherapist at Goldsmith's University. He is both a short fiction writer and poet. He lives by the sea in Brighton. His short fiction piece, 'A Business Trip' was recently shortlisted for the 2023 Bridport Prize.

Alex Rourke is in training to qualify as a psychotherapist at Goldsmith's University. He is both a short fiction writer and poet. He lives by the sea in Brighton. His short fiction piece, 'A Business Trip' was recently shortlisted for the 2023 Bridport Prize.

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