by Valerie Ngai, Age 20, United States
Artwork by Katie King
April’s prompt of the month was “falling.”
How she could possibly stand being up so high on this wall every day—sitting, standing, dancing—with the breeze threatening to pluck her off by her copper-coloured braids like an autumn leaf, he didn’t know. But perhaps it was her fearlessness that Juan found so compelling. Or perhaps it was because she always carried a calculator in her back pocket—he always did, too—and a girl who considered a calculator a necessity was at least worth the risk of him toppling off a wall and falling 6.25 feet to his death.
“Isn’t it amazing,” Camille said, after watching a leaf spiral down to the sidewalk, “that that leaf took eleven seconds to fall, but it would take a fraction of that time for us to fall off that same branch and hit the ground? And yet, gravity is always constant, always—”
“9.81 meters per second squared,” Juan finished for her. Camille grinned, and the fact that she seemed pleased made the ground seem less far away. However, Juan couldn’t help wondering how many pieces something could break into if it was set into motion from that branch and smashed on the concrete. “Uh, let’s not try that, though.”
Camille laughed and swung her legs, kicking her heels against the brick. As they both watched another leaf float to the ground, she asked, “Are you afraid of falling?”
Juan looked down at the leaves gathered in the gutter in front of Camille’s house—some orange, some red. He tried to ignore the tingly feeling in his fingers. “Sometimes.”
“You shouldn’t be.”
Camille stood up, easily balancing on the narrow ridge of the wall. Juan wondered if she was immune to gravity, and if that was why she wasn’t ever afraid that it would turn against her.
“We’re falling right now,” Camille replied. “The earth is falling through outer space, suspended by nothing but the gravitational pull of the sun.”
Camille closed her eyes and spread out her arms. “And we’re falling with it. Can’t you feel it?”
Camille swayed dangerously, lifting up one leg and then the other, teetering in a circle.
“Don’t—” Juan scrambled up and reached for one of her pinwheeling arms as Camille opened her eyes and straightened up. His fingers closed around her wrist and he could feel her pulse, bright and lively beneath his middle finger. “Don’t do that.”
Camille returned his grasp and smiled. “Try it.”
“No way.” Juan tried to pull his hand away.
“Try it,” Camille said again, hopping from one sneaker to the other. “Think about it. No one’s really afraid of falling. They’re only afraid of what can happen when you stop falling.”
Juan took a breath, hoping that she could feel his own heartbeat pounding into her fingertips and that she would at least just stand still. “They’re afraid of hitting the ground.”
“I prefer to think of it as a rapid deceleration at the end of the fall.” Camille shrugged. “But I’ve found a way to fix that.”
“You can’t defy gravity,” Juan blurted, though at this point he was only trying to convince himself.
He must have sounded panicky because Camille laughed as if he had just asked if you could divide zero by zero and reached for her backpack, which she had hung on the tree. She pulled out two white and red checkered bundles—picnic blankets.
“You don’t defy gravity,” she said, shaking out a blanket and handing it to Juan. “You work with it. Like the leaf.”
Juan took the picnic blanket, but asked, “What about after the fall?”
“What do you think I use my calculator for?” Camille asked. “You will not experience a fatal deceleration at the end of your fall.”
Camille met his eyes and for once, stood still, as grounded as a person six feet off the ground could possibly be. “I promise.” And then she grinned, shaking out her own picnic blanket. “On 3.14?”
Juan nodded and squeezed his eyes shut, imagining himself and Camille, two infinitesimally small beings tethered to the earth by gravity as it fell through space. He could feel the earth turning beneath them as it rushed past the stars hidden by the daytime sky.
Then he opened his eyes and jumped, letting gravity take over, both flying and falling at the same time, at 9.81 m/s squared.
Six feet didn’t seem so high when compared to falling through outer space.
Valerie is a student from Arizona who is an aspiring writer in teen fiction. She often struggles with coming up with ideas but they always do come—often too close to deadlines.