[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was unexpectedly calm at the precipice. Chase studied the yellow-green blades of new grass that poked through the sparse soil that barely covered the jagged rocky edge of the mountain. Delicate and strong. Enticing and foreboding. The paradox of the natural world.
Sitting on the edge and dangling his legs, he noted how the soft, fragrant grass rubbed up against the sliver of skin between his pant leg and sock, and for a fraction of a second imagined it causing a tickle that would make him jump and fall—accidentally?—right over the edge and down, down into oblivion, or wherever one might go when falling off a cliff. It did feel closer to God up here, he thought, the clouds like marshmallow fluff against a sky bright as diamonds. Was the air actually thinner, or did something else cause his breath to catch, his heart to thump? What was this fine line between fear and longing? Chase looked down the vertical drop, thrilled by his terror of falling into the abyss. He held his lungs full of air, daring himself not to breathe, until dizziness overtook him.
Finally, his fear won, and he stepped back. Three times he had climbed the mountain, sat at the edge of the cliff, fought his fierce desire to experience the free-fall. He was inexplicably disappointed by his failure to take the leap, yet relieved, and unsurprised. The longing to know something bigger pulled him, but so did the insistence in his rational mind that his fear was a longing of a different sort—a desire for something concrete in his present existence. Perspiration gathered in his armpits and droplets ran down his back. He licked the sweat that dripped from the indentation below his nose. It tasted like tears.
Chase’s descent down the mountain was unremarkable. His day pack was light, the air tepid, and his mind increasingly occupied by the dull details of daily life. Having chosen once again to maintain his ordinary existence, he returned to where he had left his bicycle and began to pedal the eight miles back to the dusty town that boasted the small, liberal arts college he’d attended for almost two years. Chase studied philosophy, which meant, he told his few friends, that he read a lot of old stuff and expounded theories of the universe that sounded brilliant at three in the morning but empty at noon. It’s just beyond my grasp, he told his girlfriend Arianna, but I will find it. I will understand why we’re here, what it’s all for. Chase’s father did not approve of philosophy and threatened to withhold tuition payments unless he changed his major to something more practical, but Chase refused. The concept of a plan B was abhorrent to him.
Chase gripped the handlebars lightly. The wide road back to campus was paved and rarely traveled. It circled broadly around the mountain, and sloped so gently as to appear flat. The ride was effortless, and the early spring foliage so enchanting that Chase forgot that his own legs created the momentum—it seemed he stood still and the mountain moved past. The rhythmic click of the chain around the wheels of the bicycle croaked a song, and Chase got lost in the trance that enveloped him within the great Earth. The slight downward pitch in the road steepened, quickening his descent, and the breeze picked up, kissing his face. This was the dance—this, the moment of the free-fall, the joining of man and Earth, boy and God. Chase knew this with certainty, this beauty. He had no fear. He had no longing. He was whisked away.
Chase didn’t see the chunk of rock that had broken off the mountain and rolled to a spot just beneath his front tire, and he felt nothing but joy, as the bicycle lifted up in a somersault, careening crazily through the air before crashing heavily into the trees at the side of the mountain. Edges softened. Expansion.
“Softening Edges” was published in the Ginosko Literary Journal #14.