Maria sat in Newman's favorite rocking chair staring out the window, crying for a man she barely knew. She remembered their last meal together. She prepared his favorite dish of roasted chicken with mash potatoes and gravy. After dinner they saved the wishbone. Newman asked her to save it for his birthday. Maria recalled their last conversation; "There are little secrets in these bones." He said. "We all have our secrets I suppose. Don't we Dear?" She answered. He looked at her lovingly and speaking almost in a whisper said, "Yes, I know Maria, but some things are better left unsaid."
Livingston Newman was a wealthy man. He invested in the stock market consistently over the years and jumped on tech stocks when they first hit the market. This habit allowed him to squirrel away a sizable fortune. Not even his wife Maria knew this. He was a millionaire many times over. Despite this or because of it, he drove a well-kept ten-year-old car, lived in a modest middle class neighborhood and maintained a low profile.
He traveled only by car, bus or train. Newman was forty-nine and had never been on an airplane. Since childhood he fantasized about going up in a plane and seeing the world from a bird's eye view. This dream of becoming like a winged angel riding the winds and dancing in the sky was never realized. He didn't tell Maria or anyone else about this fantasy. This was a private obsession. Newman was a very proud man. Maria suspected his phobia of flying, even asked him about it once. He became annoyed and mumbled something about being in control. She never brought the subject up again.
The third weekend of every month, Maria would try her luck at the Seminole Indian casino. She played slots and bingo always praying for her numbers to hit. They never did. Newman considered gambling to be a suckers' game for people who lacked an appreciation for mathematics. He would go to the library. It was quiet there and he would read. He never checked out anything but this diversion gave him time for his own little secrets.
While on his way to work, he was thinking how profoundly predictable his life had become. It depressed him to think his best years may have already passed him by. His life was beginning to unravel and he had to make a decision. It was either now or never. He knew exactly what he was going to do. He turned his car around after passing the airport and headed straight for the Free Bird Sky Diving School. It was located at the east end of the airport.
He changed the classical station on his radio to a FM station. Ironically, an old Elton John tune played; "I'm not the man that they think I am at home, I'm a Rocket Man, Rocket Man, burning out a fuse up here all alone "
His car screeched into the parking lot with this tune blasting on the radio. Newman parked, took a deep breath, he walked confidently through the front door. As the door closed behind him Newman said, "Good morning, beautiful day for a jump."
"I suppose it is," the man behind the counter answered. He took a long hard look at him. "My name is Jack. I am the pilot and instructor here. Have you ever jumped before?"
"Jack, at midnight tonight I will hit the big five-o. I have been jumping out of airplanes since I was nineteen. Was with the 101st Airborne in Nam, have lost count of how many jumps I've made. It just gets in your blood, know what I mean?" Mac nodded, "Yea, but partner, I wasn't planning on going up today. How about coming back next Friday, I'll schedule you in first thing in the morning."
"Come on Jack, I'm flying out on business this afternoon. I really need to make this jump." He reached for his wallet and slapped an American Express Gold Card on the counter, "There is an extra five hundred on top of your usual fee if you take me up to thirteen thousand feet today."
Jack, paused for a moment and said, "Fine Mr. Newman, I'll take you. Got your own rig with you or do you want to use one of mine?"
Relieved but frightened he was determined to keep up his macho façade. "Jack, I usually like to pack my own rig but I'm going to have to use yours this time. Thanks pal; I really appreciate this on such short notice." Jack winked, smiled, and pointed to the Cessna parked out front. "Get yourself ready. There is a back room where you can change. Meet me by that plane in ten minutes."
Newman's heart began to beat harder. He could not believe what he just managed to pull off. He got his gym bag from the trunk of his car where he changed into a blue jumpsuit, black boots and red bandanna. He could hear the Cessna's s engine warming up. Jack waved him over. He felt numb as he walked toward the aircraft, knowing what to expect, but his confidence was waning. The fear was overwhelming. He breathed deeply as he boarded. He was relieved having made each step without stumbling. "Take her up," he said.
Jack nodded and proceeded down the runway. Newman made more small talk while the plane lifted and gained altitude. He mentally reviewed all he learned from the books he read. Once he jumped, there would be one minute of free fall and approximately five minutes of canopy descent. At five thousand feet he would pull his ripcord. By then he would be falling at about 125 miles per hour. Fleetingly, he thought about Maria, when Jack interrupted, "Sir, we are approaching our drop zone, we are now at twelve thousand five hundred feet."
"Let's do it Jack, I'm ready, I'll meet you back at the shop in about forty-five minutes," Newman said. Jack waved, smiled, and then motioned toward the door. "Happy Birthday Mr. Newman."
Newman froze for a few seconds. He positioned himself looking back at Jack giving him the thumps up. He jumped. Checking his watch he began his free fall. Feeling the wind's resistance against him, he was ecstatic. With his arms spread out like an eagle, he was actually flying. The panoramic view of the world below him was breathtaking.
He felt like a child totally alive and loving every second. If only his Maria could see him now he thought. He checked his watch noting he was almost one minute into his free fall; it was time to pull the ripcord. At five thousand feet he reached over and pulled. Nothing happened. He pulled again. It failed. He panicked. "What the hell did I think I was doing?"
The joy he experienced just a few seconds earlier turned into absolute terror. He started screaming, kicking and flailing wildly. "How could I have been so stupid?"
He glanced at his watch again knowing he was now well below one thousand feet. His logic told him if his chute were to open now, the force of his impact would likely result in serious injury, if not in death.
Newman saw himself that morning, rising as he did every morning precisely at six. He saw himself pulling back his sheets, making his bed, methodically surveying the room, making sure it was exactly as it had been the night before. His clothes already laid out, black trousers, neatly pressed white shirt, black tie and spit-shined penny loafers.
In the bathroom, he splashed water on his face, applying a thick coat of shaving cream, then the careful shave. He methodically studied his face in the mirror, noting enlarged pores, a receding hairline and double chin. He even noticed how his gum line appeared to be retreating. Still felt the shower, on his aching shoulders, reflecting on how tired he was all the time.
He thought about Maria, knowing in his heart, she never pulled a one-arm bandit or played a game of bingo in her life. He remembered her calling out to him as he walked out the front door, "Honey, why don't you take I-95 to exit 26 this morning. You will probably save fifteen minutes and avoid all the traffic." She said. He pretended not to hear her and took his usual way to work.
Then remembering his reserve chute, he put his finger on the ripcord. His fingers felt frozen. Newman waited all his life for this moment. Just a few more minutes, he thought to himself. His time for decision had come. With all the strength and mental fortitude he could muster, he intentionally removed his finger from the cord. He threw his arms back and determinedly faced the wind.
Suddenly an inner peace, a quieting surreal like calm comforted him as he came to a profound realization. Newman was not going to allow himself to go down kicking and screaming. He would float down like a butterfly. Once again, he began to focus on the beauty of the world below him losing himself to wonderful sensation of flying. He was finally free, willingly and deliberately deciding to enjoy the last few minutes of his life. He continued his free fall with no regrets, smiling just before impact.
His coworkers gathered around the morning paper. The local headlines read: "Millionaire Dies as Parachute Fails." Sky Diver, Livingston Newman falls to a premature death after his parachute failed to open on the eve of his 50th birthday.
"Imagine that," one of them remarked, Newman sure had everyone fooled around here. I just can't believe it. Why that man wouldn't even play the office lottery. He said he didn't believe in games of chance."
As a gentle breeze blew through the open window and with the mid-morning sun coming through, Maria noticed the wishbone on the corner of the windowsill. It had hardened into a wing-like shape. She closed her eyes took a deep breath and put the ends between her two index fingers applying equal pressure until it snapped. It made a clear and crisp sound that broke the silence in the room. Happy Birthday Love, she thought smiling and said aloud, "I know now you finally got your last wish."