Falling, by Sarah Nicholson
artwork by Daria Hlazatova

“Do you ever think about doing it?”

“Doing what?”

“Falling in love.”

“I’m scared of heights.”

“Do you ever think you’ll fall in love with me?” I asked again, on all fours. The rhythmic motions of him humping me began to take its toll. I couldn’t see his face but I imagined him wincing at the question – he always does. He was out of sync by now, but he tried to push himself inside me a few more times. Eventually, he sighed and his erection softened.  I rolled over on my back effortlessly, stretching out my arms to clear the pins and needles.

“You just never want to talk about it.”

“Because you always talk about it at the most inappropriate of times,” he said through gritted teeth as he started to put on his shirt. I wore a dress especially for the occasion. Accessibility if anything. I hate the awkward moment post-sex when I realise we’re both lying on a bed totally naked and it’s not really that sexy anymore. Especially when I have to get up, get dressed and avoid him looking at the rolls of fat I’d been strategically hiding for thirty minutes. No matter how much I was ‘in the moment’, I’d always put my tactical plan into action. My trousers would be ‘thrown’ onto the chair closest to my side of the bed. That way I could squeeze my fat under the waistband of my jeans in record time and then stroll around looking for my top in a sexy Marilyn Monroe-like strut. Not today though: we hadn’t seen each other for a few days and I figured accessibility was priority for Jack. I pulled down the hem of my dress and propped myself up against the headboard.

Whenever I asked him about falling, he usually mustered up some make believe story about three words not being able to change anything. I knew he was talking shit because he was an English teacher. Sometimes I even found him reading the dictionary on his own. He’d tell me not to believe the hype: ‘as long as we’re happy, who cares?’ But I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t believe the hype because I’d done it before. I had fallen, and I wanted to do it again, but this time I wanted Jack to be there to hold my hand. I didn’t want to queue up all alone. Not again. Jack would be with me when we’d tell my friends we’d done it. My girls would giggle about the position of their bruises over a bottle of wine and Jack’s boys will proudly show their scars like war wounds. No one would ask how it felt because we would all know. We’d all had the experience that can only be described with three words. On their own they easily slip into everyday conversation: they appear so common and not very special at all. Even if you want to string them together, the words just don’t come out right. If you haven’t physically fallen in love, it comes out stuttered and wrong.

Jack tried to make up for it by taking me to restaurants, buying me flowers and making other gestures he’d seen on television. I couldn’t help feel that, when we were at these fancy places, the waiters would laugh behind our backs in the kitchen and the other couples surrounding us would say ‘bless ‘em’ under their breath because we were only pretending. We were frauds. Jack wanted to talk about his day at work, or what he should get his Mum for Christmas, when he should be talking about us. About how we should save up to buy a nice big house in the country together and say things like ‘I hope this doesn’t scare you but I want to have a family with you.’ But he doesn’t. He always manages to cut around it. To act like it won’t happen.

I remember as a child reading fairy tales about love and living happily ever after. I asked my Mum what it was like when she fell in love with Dad and she said ‘painful.’ Love didn’t have any cushions at the bottom and I bet health and safety wasn’t so strict back then either. You have to perform the brace position now. She was always sad. I think that’s why Dad wasn’t around anymore – because his bruise from falling just didn’t heal.

Jack had now positioned himself next to me on the bed and we found ourselves in mutual silence. I knew he was thinking about getting me in the mood again because I could see a bulge in his pants. Lust. He could do lust.

“We should go on the training course,” I said.

“What for?”

“So we’re prepared when we fall, what if the bruises don’t heal?”

“What’s the rush, Bella? Can’t we just enjoy this moment?”

I didn’t reply because I was mad. I was angry that he didn’t understand the process. You can’t just turn up on the day and ask to fall in love. It’s not that simple.  You have to go to the training and pass the final exams and only then are you permitted to book a time to fall. Even on the day, you’re not guaranteed to fall in love. I told him this and he called me a worrier. He said I lived too much in the future and needed to chill out. I knew what he meant when he said that. He meant he didn’t want to fall with me.

We had started kissing again and he found his way on top of me, ready for another round. I moved my head to the side to avoid his breath and made the odd noise to assure him I was enjoying it too. He didn’t last as long, but at the end he looked at me differently. He didn’t just grunt and clamber off me, he stared right into my eyes. For a second, I thought his penis had snapped in two and was stuck. He nodded.

“OK.”

“It was just ‘OK?’”

“No, I mean, OK. Let’s book onto the course. I think I’m ready.”
I’d been waiting for so long for this moment, it almost gave me butterflies. Still, I made him repeat it. I had to make sure he was telling the truth, that it was happening. I gave him a quick peck on the cheek and sprang up off the bed, switching on my laptop. 

“Please, just come back to bed. It’s late.” He begged as he struggled to get himself under the covers.

When I next looked up from the computer screen, the clock on the wall said it was twenty past three. Jack was snoring. We were booked onto the ‘Introduction to Falling’ course which met every Wednesday for six weeks at the church hall. I found myself at my desk, writing mine and Jack’s names and surrounding them with little love hearts until my head started to drop and bounce back up like a puppet on string. I put down the pen and quietly snuck into my side of the bed. In his sleep, Jack turned around and draped his arm around me. I carefully removed it and placed it in between us instead. I get claustrophobic.

When we woke the next morning, I went over the details with Jack as he made me breakfast. Our first meeting would be at half six this evening and we had to bring in a picture of us looking happy.

“We never look good in pictures though do we?” he said, turning over sausages in the pan.

“Well we’ll just have to, won’t we?” I smiled, my eyes still fixated on the pan. As soon as he put down the spatula I intervened, taking over his position. Jack took this as an invitation to wrap his arms around my waist and kiss the side of my face repeatedly.

“I can’t wait to fall with you,” he whispered.

When we arrived at the meeting, I soon realised this course was a lot different to the single, unrequited one I had been on previously. For a start there were no Kleenex on every table or a complementary glass of wine and bar of chocolate on arrival. Jenny, the course leader, had an average pitched voice and her smiles seemed more genuine than the pity-filled looks I used to receive. Behind Jenny was a flipchart board with the title ‘Your happiest memories’ written in curly handwriting. Already, there were a few pictures stuck on the board so I dragged Jack to take a closer look. I took our photo out of my bag: it showed us both in stitches as he gave me a piggyback in the park. It was only taken a few hours ago but we had changed our clothes since then, so no one would know. I placed it in the centre of the page to make sure it stood out from the rest.

“Oh how nice,” Jenny had turned around to look at our picture.

“Thanks,” I said, placing my hands on Jack’s chest in an over exaggerated manner. Jack just smiled; I’d already told him in the car to look all loved up but to let me do the talking.

“We’ll be starting soon, so feel free to have a little mingle beforehand.” She left before I could ask her any of my questions. Should I be reading any books for preparation? How exactly is the final exam marked?  And what time should we get there on the day of falling? I saw a pile of leaflets waiting to be given to the class, and I reached out to take a peek. Jack stopped me by rubbing my arm and winking.

“Just wait, Bella, it’ll start soon. Come on.”

The classes taught us the very basics, like how to comfort each other after a bad day and how to behave appropriately when meeting the parents. After the first few meetings, Jenny stopped picking me to volunteer or answer questions after complaints from some of the couples that she was showing favouritism. Jack made friends with a few of the couples but I focussed on the extra research and preparation for the final exam; they were our competition as far as I was concerned.

We were top of the class, of course, but I still had nerves as the exam date got closer.

“I’ve only ever had to fail three people, Bella. And that’s because they failed to attend the classes.”

Jenny always tried to reassure me, I wondered if she thought I was doing it for the attention and praise but I wasn’t. What if we were the exception? What if, at the graduation ceremony, Jenny told everyone we tried ever so hard but, unfortunately, we would not be able to carry on to fall with a mark of only seventeen percent.
That didn’t happen. We got a ninety two. I found myself asking Jack where we lost eight percent and he laughed and told me to relax.  We had got the highest score in years. During the celebratory drinks that Jenny put on that night, Jack couldn’t keep his hands off me. He whispered how much he couldn’t wait to fall and settle down and grow old with me. I smiled back and politely accepted the drinks that were bought for us throughout the night. 

On the day of the fall, we got there at dawn so we had the best chance of doing it by the afternoon. When we joined the queue, hand in hand, there were at least another few hundred couples in front of us, surrounded by the odd single looking so lonely in the massive crowd. A single joined the queue behind us and I avoided her gaze and held Jack’s hand tighter. Notices were placed at certain milestones so we’d know how long we had to wait. We joined the line at the ‘eight hours to go’ sign. As we moved further down in the queue, the place began to look all official and was cordoned off with barriers and tape. I was obsessed with moving to the next sign, knowing each one we passed meant we were just that bit closer to falling. Jack was getting apprehensive. I could tell because his palms were sweaty and he kept asking questions. I was too caught up in my counting to answer them though. We were at the final milestone now anyway. In only ten minutes we would have fallen in love.

Ahead of us was the massive pit and we watched as couples took a final look at each other with a mix of excitement and nerves as they took the plunge. Alongside was the escalator that transported the couples back to the surface, with a marshal at the top giving out plasters and bandages to those hurt badly.

“Will it hurt?” Jack asked.

“Probably,” I answered.

We stayed in silence as we were guided to take our turn. We were told about all the safety procedures which we had practiced countless times in the sessions. Before I knew it, I felt the rush of adrenalin rip through me as I fell. A hole in my belly appeared whilst everything else jumped up into my throat. I counted to twelve. That’s how long it took to fall into love. Twelve seconds. My feet hit the candyfloss bottom but I didn’t feel anything. The shine of a torch gently guided us to the bottom of the escalator. Jack took his first few steps but stopped once he realised I wasn’t following. He turned around and smiled empathetically at my body which was frozen with shock. He placed his arms around me and kissed me on the forehead for comfort but pulled back when I didn’t respond. Jack’s face turned from contented happiness to confusion.

Jack cautiously made his way to the escalator, looking over his shoulder, his eyes peering back at me as if he was scared he’d forget what I looked like. The moment he turned his back on me, I allowed my eyes to follow him up to the top. He collected his plaster and I was ready for him to turn around for one final look. He didn’t. The torch that guided Jack back up to the surface now shone against a door I hadn’t noticed at first. I turned the handle and entered the room.

I had fallen in love with love.





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