Blue Skies

by Rebecca Zugor



‘Thousand one, thousand two, thousand three, thousand four, thousand five - check canopy!’ I look up. Check canopy. It seems okay; no tears, no line-overs, nothing twisted. Just billowing red and white silk against a clear blue sky. Perfect.

Gazing down at the drop zone, I wish Bill was among the group of black ants at the edge. He’d wanted to film me.

‘I want to capture you fulfilling your dreams, Rosa,’ he’d said. I’ll show people what my crazy wife gets up to!’

The only clouds I can see are tiny cotton puffs miles away. Earlier, I’d heard skydivers saying ‘Blue skies, mate’, instead of ‘Goodbye’. Wishing each other perfect parachuting weather was like saying ‘Enjoy life’. They’re like one big happy family. And now I’m part of it; this weekend, at the grand age of fifty-eight, I’m on the beginner’s course.

When the doctor signed my medical certificate - a requirement for the over-forty parachutist - I didn’t tell him about my recent headaches and forgetfulness. I was scared it might be Alzheimer’s or a brain tumour. I can jump without bottling out - that’s all the organisers need to know.

The weather conditions are good. Blue skies indeed. This time, I’ll do it right. Third time lucky.

Yesterday’s training had been tough. Jumping off a high platform to practise landing rolls had hurt. I kept writing little notes during the tutorials, in case I had a memory lapse.

The first jump this afternoon was exhilarating. The slipstream that assaulted my nostrils took my breath away, so I didn’t manage to do the count. The other novices floated like thistledown, a slow, silent ballet. If only Bill could have seen it! I was so enraptured I’d forgotten what to do. When I’d found myself landing within yards of the target, I’d muttered, ‘Beginner’s luck!’ when someone congratulated me. I went back for another attempt a few minutes later.

Back at the clubhouse, I’d told them what had gone wrong with the second jump. ‘I was enjoying the view,’ I gabbled, ‘and I forgot to...er...steer.’

‘You were supposed to aim for the target, remember?’ Dave put on a mock stern expression.

‘I went a bit off-course…’

‘You missed the whole flamin’ airfield!’

Bill would have laughed if he’d seen me. Thinking about him, I’d had to blink to stop tears forming.


We live near the airfield, so we’d gone home for lunch but ended up arguing about Sally, his ex-mistress. He’d changed into a bright yellow shirt that she’d given him.

‘But it’s a different shirt, Rosa!’

‘Don’t make excuses!’ I shrieked. ‘She’s supposed to be out of your life!’


The sun reflecting off a car in the distance dazzles me and snaps me back to the present. Below me the runways form an elongated grey ‘X’ in the middle of a child’s playset. After the head-splitting noise of the plane, I’m floating in silence. I look back at the Cessna, which is circling upwards. I’m the only novice on this jump, so they let me out at 3,000 feet and then went higher with the others.

I’m floating gently towards earth, in an unflattering borrowed orange jumpsuit, which is two sizes too big. My back is sore and my thigh muscles hurt from the training, but nothing can spoil this feeling of serenity - except the knowledge that it can’t last.

Concentrate! Concentrate. Don’t make the mistakes you made earlier. Do it right this time, Rosa.

I re-check the canopy - it’s round, with no imperfections. I’d have liked one of those impressive rectangular ram-air ones, but I’m only a beginner. I grasp the steering toggles out of habit. The procedure has been imprinted on my brain after the intensive training; the instructors hadn’t let us slacken for a minute.

‘Look at the board, woman! You don’t have a God-given right to jump just because you’ve parted with your cash.’ Dave had glared at me. ‘If you don’t pass the oral exam...’

Fortunately, the question about wind-direction and steering had gone to another trainee.

I look down, trying to judge my altitude. I must be at 2,700 feet now and I’m directly above the middle of the airfield. I wish Bill was waiting for me with his camera, as he’d wanted, but wishes don’t come true. Not for Bill. Not for me. It’s too late, now.

I pull down on a toggle. I hope it’s the right one. It works; the canopy turns and I find myself with the wind behind me, speeding my progress towards the edge of the drop zone. They probably think I’m heading for the trees this time. I smile, despite the knot of despair in my stomach. This is it. A quiet corner; not too near the onlookers. To slow down, I turn the canopy to face into the wind.

This time, I mustn’t forget to read my list. I wrote a short ‘to do’ list on my left hand in black ink at lunchtime, before I left Bill for the last time. On the first two jumps I forgot to read it. I felt angry with myself. Angry that I’d enjoyed the jumps so much I’d been distracted from what I had to do. The first item is ‘capewells’.

Remember what you have to do, Rosa.

The capewells, positioned either side of me, connect my harness to the canopy. I put my fingers in both ring-clips and pull, making sure I face straight ahead. No sense in losing an eye as the straps fly upwards. The canopy gone, I adopt the freefall position. I’ve seen them do it in the skydiving videos. Freefall at last! I’m a proper skydiver now. Who’d have thought it?

Bill would be proud. If only I hadn’t killed him...


Our lunchtime row had escalated until, totally out of character, I’d hit him. He’d fallen awkwardly, hitting his head. I couldn’t find his pulse. Then I’d remembered; he bought the yellow shirt last year. And I’d accused him...

I left him there and went to the airfield, my mind in a daze. I’d killed my only love, my best friend. I didn’t deserve to live.


I check my left hand and see the word ‘reserve’. I bring myself upright.

Concentrate, Rosa. At the most you’ve less than ten seconds left. The Automatic Opening Device will go off if you don’t hurry. Get on with it.

I undo the left clip easily. I frantically grab the right clip, the panic rising within me. Swearing, I yank the reserve ’chute free and push it as far away from me as I can. I can taste blood from a bitten lip, but that’s the least of my worries. There are maybe six seconds left, not much more.

I’m no longer falling in silence. I can hear voices now. Shouts. Several people are sprinting towards me. It’ll do no good. I can think clearly enough to know that. They don’t understand. Bill was my childhood sweetheart. Without him, I can’t go on. I’m doing the only thing I can.

I imagine what they’ll write: Rosa Barrett, 1925-1983, wife, skydiver. And murderer.


I can’t see the fields now, or the sky. Just a swirling, dizzying mass of green and brown rushing up to meet me. I can hear shouting. Screams.

‘Keep your head up, keep your head u-u-u-up!’

I feel nauseous as I plummet towards the spinning colours.

‘Blue skies...’ I force the words out, but I know nobody can hear. ‘Blue skies forever...’

I spot another figure running. A man, wearing a bright yellow shirt, looking like Bill...

Icy fists clench my heart and stomach as, too late, I realise the awful truth.

©2007 Rebecca Zugor

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