Laika Comes Back Safe

Maureen McHugh

There was a special program when I was in fourth grade where this photographer came and taught us. It was called the Appalachian Art Project and it was supposed to expose us to art. We all got these little plastic cameras called Dianas that didn’t have a flash or anything, and black-and-white film. The first week we took pictures of our family and then we developed them and picked one for our autobiography. Then the next week we took pictures of each other. Then the third week we took pictures of important things in our lives. The fourth week we took pictures of dreams.

Not hopes and dreams—we were supposed to take a picture of something that was like something we would dream about. I had a book from the school library about exploration in space. It was old, from the seventies, and it talked about the history of space exploration. It was really more of a boy’s book. My favorite books were horse books. All I remember from it was the part about Laika the dog. They trained this dog and they sent her up in space and they used her to see if people could survive in space and then because they couldn’t bring her back down they left her to die up there.

That really bothered me because I had a German shepherd named Lacey and I kept thinking about Laika up there all by herself and then just her bones going around and around. I had a bad dream about Lacey being taken to go to space. So when it was time to do the photograph of a dream, I took string and tape and I taped Lacey up with spots of tape on her chest and her head and I took her picture sitting there in the backyard. I had a parachute from one of those plastic soldiers you get that you wrap up in the parachute and throw in the air and hope the parachute opens and I taped that on Lacey, too, and had my mom hold the parachute—you can see her hand and a little of her arm in the picture—and then, while mom kept Lacey from pawing all the tape and the string off, I took her picture. It’s a good picture—she’s looking at me and she has her ears up. I titled it Laika




We put all the pictures on the chalk rail. I remember somebody took a picture of their steps down to their cellar. Nobody seemed to think anything of Laika Comes Back Safe maybe because you could see my mom’s hand and the parachute was really too little.

Tye Petrie stood behind me in the lunch line. “Brittany, is that your dog?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“She looks like a neat dog.”

That was more than Tye Petrie had ever said to me in my life. Even though he was my second cousin, we didn’t have picnics and family reunions or anything with the Petries. “Her name is Lacey,” I said, and then I said, “I love her more than anyone else on Earth.”

I thought it sounded like a stupid thing to say, but Tye Petrie just said, “Really?” in this way that made it sound like he thought that was good thing.

“Do you have a dog?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I’m not allowed.”

“You can come and pet Lacey,” I said.

We had a little white house on cinder block—my dad had built most of it himself. I was doing my homework and my dad was getting ready to leave for second swing, the shift he was working at the plant before he got messed up, and my dad looked out the window and said, “What’s that briar doing hanging on the fence?”

My dad didn’t mean anything by it, he called everybody a briar, but Tye Petrie had a real light head of hair and real pale eyes in a dark face and he did look a bit like white trash. He was waiting around by our gate. “He’s come to see Lacey,” I said, and went out.

By that time Lacey was barking her fool head off. I untied her—Dad said she had to stay tied up even though we had a chain link fence because she crapped all over the front yard—and she went bounding over towards Tye. She stopped when she got close to him, looking back at me with one paw raised like she wasn’t sure of something. Then she lowered her head the way she did when she was being introduced to another dog, tail sort of neither up or down and wagging just a little.

She was acting that way because Tye was a werewolf, although he wasn’t really, not yet. I didn’t know Tye was a werewolf, because he didn’t tell me for years and years. In movies, dogs are afraid of werewolves, but that’s not true. They just think they’re other dogs and if your dog hates other dogs, then they’ll hate a werewolf, too. I’m like an expert on werewolves, after knowing Tye all these years, but it’s not something that will ever do me any good. I thought about calling the X-Files people and seeing if they could use all that stuff for a movie, but I really can’t tell, and besides, I wouldn’t know how to get the phone number for a television show.

Tye and Lacey liked each other fine and we took her for a walk down the street. We hung out and he took me to the place where he’d made a fort in the woods. He came over pretty often after that and I think he went roller skating with my mom and me once. We never talked at school, because I was always hanging out with Rachel and Melissa and Lindsey and he was always hanging out with Mike and Justin or somebody.

When my dad was in the motorcycle accident and messed up his back and his leg and lost his job, we had to go on the county until he got his social security pension settled. We moved into town and I transferred from the Knox County school system to Barbourville City Schools and went to Landry middle school. We had to give up Lacey. The people down the street from our old house took her. I only saw Tye Petrie at church and we never said anything to each other.

I was in 4-H then, doing sewing stuff, and I ran into Tye at the Knox County Fair. He wasn’t in 4-H, he was just at the fair. He wasn’t hanging around with anybody and I was in the barn looking at the big draft horses. He walked up beside me like it was the school cafeteria lunch line and looked at the horse.

“Hi, Tye,” I said.

“I checked on Lacey last week,” he said. “She’s doing fine.”

When we gave up Lacey I didn’t get mad and scream and cry like they do on TV. I didn’t say, “You can’t have her!” and she didn’t run away and find me, but it really hurt me deep inside and I never ever got over it. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me, even worse than when my dad got hurt. I couldn’t say anything, because I was afraid I was going to cry.

“I meant to tell you at church, but I never got a chance,” he said. “I go check on her about once a week. They take good care of her. They don’t tie her up, they let her run around their yard.”

I took a deep breath and it was like a sob. “Thanks,” I said. It came out a little shaky.

“So how’s it going?”

I shrugged. “It sucks,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “It does.”

“You want to go on the Octopus?” I said. I don’t know why, the Octopus always makes me sick. But it was the only ride I could think of.

We hung around the whole day. My mom had to take my dad home because his back hurt so bad, it gave him a migraine and Tye’s mom and dad said they’d take me home. Tye’s mom had the same coloring that Tye did, pale hair, a dark face, real pale eyes and she wore her hair up on the back of her head, kind of old-fashioned. She had an accent, Tye said, because she came from a Parish in Louisiana. She wasn’t pretty or anything, she looked real plain and kind of country. She didn’t say nearly anything when I was around.

Mostly, though, we were on our own and in the evening it got cool and the lights came on in the midway and the rides would take you up and back into the dark and then down and into the light.

“Brittany’s got a beau,” my mom said when I got home and I thought it was true.

On the Tuesday of the last week before school started I walked all the way out to Swan Pond to see him and Lacey. I got there before him. Lacey went nuts, jumping and barking, and Mrs. West came out to see what was wrong, but when she saw me she just waved and said I could come in the fence. I went inside and hugged Lacey and she licked my face. Mrs. West had a pretty garden and it had marigolds and red and white petunias.

Tye came and I said he could come in the fence. Lacey jumped all over him. Then he lay down on his back and I petted Lacey. “Do you ever wish you were a dog?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “A lot.”

“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” he said.

I thought about that. It probably wasn’t. Lacey hadn’t asked to have new owners, but then I hadn’t asked to move into town and have to live on food stamps, either.

We talked about the life of a dog, and he told me about how his parents never talked to each other. They never fought, they just never talked to each other, and his father had told him once that he’d made a mistake to marry his mother. His mother took Lithium for her nerves. I told him that my mom was a bitch sometimes, which she was, and she probably should be on Lithium or something, and that since he got messed up, my dad had just given up on everything.

By the time I started home I was late for dinner, but since my dad didn’t go to work anymore we just all sort of ate whenever anyway and it really didn’t matter.

I told my mom that I’d gone to see Lacey. I didn’t tell her about Tye, because I didn’t want her to tease me.

Tye and I met pretty often after that. We’d play with Lacey and then we’d walk out the gravel road to the Pope-Ball cemetery. It’s just a little farm family cemetery, just a place fenced in with a wire fence and a bunch of tombstones halfway up Pope-Ball mountain. It’s not any bigger than Mrs. West’s yard but there are some trees all along the back fence. Some of the tombstones are pretty old, from 1890 and stuff, but most of them are my grandparents and great-aunts and -uncles.

Tye told me he would never have a girlfriend, never get married. There was a genetic problem in his family and he wasn’t going to pass it on. He wouldn’t say what it was but the way he talked I always thought it had to do with his penis or something and that’s why he wouldn’t say.

I still liked talking though, and I thought maybe he would change his mind about me. I thought about never having children and I didn’t know if I could marry someone like that.

We met at least once a week until it got too cold, and then when it got warm I called him and told him I was going to see Lacey, slogged up through the mud and there he was and everything was pretty much the same. We started high school, and still kept it up, even when I started dating Rick. I told Tye all about Rick although I never told Rick about Tye. Tye thought Rick was a poser. Rick wore skateboarder stuff like the big pants and he really did skateboard although he didn’t do stunts.

My mom was having trouble with diabetes and a lot of it was her own fault. She found out she had diabetes when she went on that liquid diet where you drink a can of stuff in the morning and a can of stuff at noon and she blacked out. Then the doctor told her to lose weight and it got worse. I never knew what we were going to eat at home—for a while she was on this Susan Powter kick. Susan Powter is the chick with the white buzz cut, and basically she says you can’t eat anything good. Mom tried vegetarian for a little while until Dad said we had to have meat at dinner. Then she did the cabbage soup diet and lost some weight but then she gained it all back. Most of the time, Rick picked me up and we went down to Taco Bell or Dairy Queen and ate. A lot of times we brought stuff back for Dad.

Tye’s parents filed for divorce. He said it was a relief. His mom got a job in town at Kmart and his dad moved out. Since his mom was at work in the afternoon, he’d bring a six-pack of beer and stash it in the cemetery and after we saw Lacey we’d go sit and I’d drink two and he’d drink four and we’d talk about stuff.

Rick started hanging out with his friends and not coming over. He got a paintball gun and played paintball all the time and he never had any money to do anything, never wanted to come over much. He was a pain anyway because all he ever talked about was how he was going to join the Air Force and be a pilot, or the music he liked which was all Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and singing “Sweet Home Alabama,” or it was Garth Brooks and Clint Black. I got sick and tired of him never having time to come over and we had a big argument and broke up and then I cried for a week.

I’d go out to see Tye almost every evening and we’d sit in the cemetery, bundled up in our winter coats, long after it got dark. I didn’t think of Tye as a possible boyfriend anymore, he was more like a brother or something. He had this old plaid cloth coat and he’d sit there with his back up against my great-aunt Ethel’s red granite tombstone—it was the biggest in the cemetery even though both her and my great-uncle Jake drank all the time and never had any money, because John, her son, and my cousin once removed, had a good job with the nuclear plant down in Knoxville, Tennessee, and he paid for the funeral—and we’d listen to Pearl Jam or U2 or Sublime until the batteries ran out on his CD player. I was talking about being a vet. That’s what I wanted to do, be a vet.

“I can’t come over the next few nights,” he said.

“Is your mom working days?”

“Yeah,” he said. He stared at his beer. “And, um, I go kinda crazy sometimes and I’m going to do it for the next couple of days.”

“You mean you like schedule it?” I said. I didn’t know if I was supposed to laugh or what.

“No,” he said, “I just know when it’s going to happen.” He was dead serious.

“Tye,” I said, “what do you mean?”

He shrugged. “It’s a hereditary condition. I told you I had a hereditary condition.”

“It makes you crazy sometimes?”

“Sort of,” he said.

“What do you mean, ‘sort of’?”

He wouldn’t say any more than that.

It was too cold and it was late. He promised me he’d be back out here on Tuesday unless it was raining. We had an unspoken agreement that if it was raining we just came the next time it was dry.

I rolled up our blanket and stuck it in the plastic bag we kept it in, then stashed it half under this fallen-down tree and sprayed it with this Pet Off stuff we used to keep the animals out. I took the beer cans and Tye took the CD player. I threw out the beer cans in the Dumpster in the back of the Chinese place I passed on the way home.

We lived in an apartment complex then, and I cut across the back parking lot. I could see the light through the curtains of the sliding glass door. We had a first-floor apartment because of my dad’s leg.

My mom was loaded for bear when I got in. “Where have you been?”

“Shelly’s,” I said.

“I called Shelly’s and you weren’t there.”

“I went for a walk.”

“For four hours?”

“Yeah. I went out to see Lacey, my dog, and then I walked around.”

She didn’t buy it. I don’t know why I didn’t tell her I was with Tye except that I didn’t want her coming up to the cemetery and catching me drinking beer. She was screaming at me about never being home and I just said, “Yeah, whatever,” and she slapped me.

My dad said, “For God’s sake, Betty, hitting her isn’t going to do any good!”

“Jesus!” my mom shouted, “you want your daughter running around all night?”

Oh God, they’d been arguing. I stood there, holding my face, feeling these little sobs like hiccoughs.

“She’s been out for hours without telling anyone where’s she’s been! Don’t I have a right to know where my daughter’s been?”

“You don’t have any goddamn right to hit her!”

“Maybe if you acted like a father—”

“Maybe if you got off your fat ass and got a job!”

“You don’t have the sense God gave a cockroach! You know something, Joseph Gaines Ball! You know something? I grew up! You never grew up! You just kept drinking and running around on a goddamn motorcycle!”

I ran to my bedroom and locked the door.

“Goddamn it!” my mother roared. “You get out here, you little bitch!”

My mom started hammering on my door. My dad must have tried to grab her because I heard her slap him. Then she must have punched him because he fell out in the hall. He had trouble getting up because of his back and his leg, so she could punch him when he was down, too.

“Goddamn it!” he was yelling. “Goddamn it!”

Then I could hear my mother run down the hall sobbing.

My dad was lying out there on the floor on the mauve carpeting that didn’t go with any of our furniture. “I’m going to get my gun,” my dad said in a monotone. “I’m going to get it and blow my fucking head off.” I could hear it clearly through the thin walls.

“Sure,” my mother called from the kitchen. “Lie there and pity yourself! If you think I’m going to beg you to save your sorry-ass excuse for a life, you’re wrong!”

“I’m going to blow my fucking head off,” my dad said again.

I lay on my bed in the dark and pulled my big stuffed dog up against my chest and pretended it was Lacey.

My mom and dad were still asleep when I got up. I was late for school the next day and missed first period General Math, which was no great loss.

When I got home, my mom was waiting for me and she started in on me again, so I said, “I’m going.”

She grabbed me by the arm but I just twisted out of her grip and ran out the door. I went to see Lacey but she was in the house so I went up to the cemetery and found our blanket and wrapped up in it. I couldn’t face going home yet, and I didn’t know what to do. It was chilly, but not really cold. I sat leaning up against my great-aunt’s tombstone in the sun. My parents had argued until two or three in the morning and I was tired and I fell asleep there.

I woke a couple of times and then suddenly it was dark and I’d gotten cold. It wasn’t completely dark, because the moon was up but it was strange and creepy to be walking home in the dark. My mom was waiting for me, still mad. We had another fight, and I told her I was afraid to come home to a psycho mom. She said the school had called and said I was tardy and I said that maybe if she got up and sent me off to school like a normal mom, I wouldn’t be tardy.

My dad came out and said I wasn’t being fair and they told me I was grounded for a week.

I didn’t get to go out to the cemetery until my punishment was up. I called Tye Petrie and told him I’d been grounded. We didn’t talk about it on the phone. Tye didn’t like to talk on the phone. He just told me he’d see me in a week.

He was waiting in Mrs. West’s yard, and Lacey was happy to see me. I did all the things she liked, rubbing my knuckles in her ears and scratching her chest to apologize for not having seen her.

“What happened?” he asked.

“My mom and dad were having an argument so I came out to the cemetery and I fell asleep and I didn’t get home until about nine.”

“Yeah?” Tye said. He looked tired. He’d been suddenly getting taller and he’d gone from looking like a little middle school kid to looking like one of the juniors. He even had a little bit of a mustache.

“Did you go crazy?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

I wanted to know what it was like to go crazy. “What did you do?”

“Just, sorta went crazy.”

That’s all he would say and then neither one of us knew what to talk about. “When I woke up at the cemetery,” I said, “it was already dark. Scared the living shit out of me,” I said.

“Brittany,” he said, “you shouldn’t be out alone after dark.”

“I didn’t expect to be out after dark,” I said, irritated.

“No, really. I mean, I . . . um, what if something attacked you?”

“The only people that ever go to the cemetery are you and me,” I said.

“What if I attacked you?” he said.

“Don’t be weird, Tye,” I said.

“I am weird,” he said, and I grinned, but he started to cry.

I’d never seen Tye cry. “Jesus,” I said, “what’s wrong?”

That’s when he told me he was a werewolf.

I thought that maybe he really was crazy, you know? Here he was crying and telling me that he was a werewolf, for Christ’ sake. I patted him and said it was okay, he was okay. I wondered a lot of things about Tye, like was he gay, or was his father like, molesting him, but I never expected that he was crazy. He told me a bunch of crazy things like how he hadn’t started changing into a wolf until this year, because the change didn’t happen until you started going through puberty. He told me about how he’d been dreading it for years, and how he couldn’t really remember what had happened afterward, because it was like he had experiences in a whole different way, like through smell. “So, see,” he said, “I could have hurt you really bad, Brittany. Really bad!”

“You didn’t hurt me,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say. It was really crazy. Some ways, Tye was really crazy. Sometimes he was so excited, it was like he was on something and he’d be talking a mile a minute. Sometimes he would sleep all Saturday and Sunday and be real depressed.

We sat there a long time while he told me about how his mom’s family in Louisiana was like this and how his mom had run away to try to get away from all that. It was crazy stuff and it was creepy listening to Tye because he really believed it but it was so strange, it was really interesting. I knew if I acted like I wanted to go, Tye would think I didn’t believe him. He kept saying, “I know it sounds crazy, you probably don’t believe me, but it’s true,” and he kept watching me in this desperate way like I was the last person in his life.

Finally I had to go home or I’d get grounded again.

The next day I half thought he wouldn’t be at the Wests’, but he was there, just hanging by the fence and Lacey was sitting, looking up at him as if she were trying to talk to him. I thought about how much he had changed lately and I realized for the first time how, well, sexy he seemed suddenly.

Lacey and I said hello.

I asked Mrs. West if we could take Lacey for a walk—sometimes we did that and Tye had me so weirded out that I wanted her with me. I took her on the leash and we walked up to the cemetery. Tye got the beers and I poured some into my hand for Lacey. She liked beer.

Lacey licked my face and then stood with her front paws on my legs. She usually only did that when I was crying or something. “Lacey,” I said, “what’s up with you today!”

“She knows you’re scared,” Tye said. “She can smell your fear. She’s trying to make you feel better.”

I almost said, “Scared of what, you?” but it was true, I was scared. Not that Tye was going to hurt me, but that he was crazy and I didn’t know what to do.

“I can smell it, too,” he said.

I petted Lacey, trying to think of something to say.

“You don’t believe me,” he said. “I can smell that, too. It’s okay, it’s all pretty crazy. But I can smell your feelings. I can smell what you had for lunch—you had a cheeseburger.”

I had a cheeseburger almost every day at lunch because it was about the only thing I could stand in the school cafeteria. I mean, probably Tye could have guessed that. I mean, we’d talked about it because we’d talked about how school lunches sucked. But the way he said it scared me even more.

“I can smell that you’re worried,” he said. “I can smell feelings that I don’t even have names for. I can smell you better than I can see you, Brittany.”

It was then that I either had to believe him or I had to quit seeing him.

Things changed after that; like we were falling, out, away. I’d walk out to the cemetery and it was as if I wasn’t in Barbourville anymore. Tye was taller than I remembered and the pale hair on his forearms looked so soft, I wanted to touch it. I knew he had to smell that change on me, too, but he didn’t say anything about it. So I studied the way his shirtsleeve was cuffed back against his skin.

He told me how when he went out at night during what we called his “crazy times” the whole world was different because his brain was different. “I can’t remember it afterwards,” he said.

It started to rain. I had a jacket with a hood and the rain was hard enough that it pattered on it like a roof. All around me I heard the rain on the dead leaves and the cemetery was deep in maple and oak leaves.

“I watched a place last night,” Tye said. His eyes were dark looking underneath like he hadn’t had much sleep. “When I got there the light was on and I could see it through the curtains, so I lay there next to the door with my nose pressed up against the crack. I smelled macaroni and cheese.”

I felt the hair lift on the back of my neck because I knew whose place he had watched.

“I wasn’t thinking ‘macaroni and cheese,’” he said. “But today I can remember the smell, and the smell of people inside, a man and two women.”

He told me all the things we’d done, watched TV and stuff. I thought about how when I was doing my Spanish homework there he was, not five foot away, smelling me. I had a funny image of Tye lying there in the dark on the patio: a person, not a wolf. It was creepy.

He told me how the lights had gone out and how he had heard the television still on. My dad sat in the dark and watched TV.

Tye coughed. He had a cold.

I wanted to touch his arm, but I sat on the tombstone and felt the rain on my chilly hands. “I went to the next window,” he said, “and I smelled that smell almost as familiar as my own.”

I started to cry. I lifted my face to the November rain. Everything was spinning so fast, we were on the spinning earth whirling along. The cold rain was wet on my upturned face and Tye leaned over and kissed me and we fell out into the sky, like Laika, whirling away.

His lips were cold from the rain and so very soft.

“I’ll hurt you, Brittany,” he said. “I won’t mean to. I’ll follow your smell.”

“No you won’t,” I said. I was crying so hard that the words came out all muddled. “You’d never hurt me!”

But he got up and walked out of the cemetery and down the mountain.

The next afternoon I went out to see Lacey and Tye never showed up. I went every day for a week and he still didn’t show up. So I called his house—something we almost never did—and he came to the phone.

“Hey, Tye,” I said, “it’s Brittany.”

“Hi,” he said. The silence hung there. “I’m going to get a part-time job.”

“You can’t get a job,” I said, “you’re only fifteen.”

“I can get a work permit for hardship because my mom’s divorced, and there’s this guy that’s going to hire me to work in his bait shop. I won’t be able to come up to see Lacey anymore.”

“You can’t,” I whispered.

“Brit, I gotta go.” And then he hung up.

I didn’t see him for over a year after that but then he got a job at the Pick-n-Pay as a stockboy and I’d see him when I went in sometimes. He’d say hello to me and act friendly, but not really personal. More like polite. And by that time I was dating Kevin and I had a job at Dairy Queen so I didn’t have a lot of time. I was saving money to move out, but the radiator and the water pump went out on the old Accord and we had to have a car so I had to fix it because my mom didn’t have the money. Things just kept coming up.

It was Jack Pope who first told us the news. I was sitting at the kitchen table after school watching my tape of General Hospital and my mom was eating some of those fat-free cookies, even though I’d told her they didn’t do her sugar any good, they had more sugar in them than the regular kind.

Jack doesn’t drive and he and his wife live out on the mountain near the Pope-Ball cemetery, so he walks miles and miles, and when he comes by our house sometimes he stops in for a glass of water. I didn’t think anything about it when he poked his head in. He said to my mom, “Betty, did you hear about Tye Petrie? He done killed himself.”

Normally I wouldn’t believe him. Jack doesn’t lie but his two kids are in special education and they come by it honestly, so I’d have figured that he got something mixed up, but when he said it I just knew it.

My mom said, “Tye Petrie? Roger Petrie’s oldest boy? You knew him, didn’t you, Brit.” And then she called to my dad, “Joe? Joe? Jack Pope’s here and he says Roger Petrie’s oldest boy killed himself!”

My dad was in the bedroom like usual, but he limped out into the kitchen even though he probably didn’t know or care about Roger Petrie or Tye Petrie. He didn’t say nothing, just stood there looking at Mom and Jack.

Mom asked Jack Pope what happened, but I didn’t want to listen. There was a ring of water on the kitchen table where my glass of diet coke had been sitting and I drew lines across the ring with my finger, drawing out the water.

My dad was standing there in the kitchen, and my mom was talking to Jack Pope. I just sat there and died and no one noticed.

My mom’s been having more and more trouble with her sugar, and now she has trouble seeing. The way she keeps eating I figure she’s going to go blind and I don’t know how my dad is going to take care of everything. Lacey died the year Tye did. Her hips got bad with hip dysplasia and she had to be put to sleep. I hadn’t seen her since Tye stopped going to the cemetery. Sometimes, when I was remembering Tye and everything that had happened, I thought she was me.

Kevin, my boyfriend, has a job at a machine shop and he’s talking about getting married. He wants a little land so we can raise a couple of beef cows, like his dad does. I don’t know any reason not to get married and Kevin says a dog would be great. I’m going to have a bunch of dogs, German shepherds and huskies and stuff. I’m going to be a veterinarian assistant, but I can’t yet because we need more money than that so I’ve got a cashier job at the Pick-n-Pay.

Sometimes we go down to Corbin to a bar down there that plays country and teaches line dancing, and we go out the interstate. Jack Pope told us they found his car parked on the interstate on one of the bridges. As we cross the bridges I find myself thinking. Could I do it? Is it hard? Did he have to work up the nerve?

They say when you jump there’s no feeling of falling. Maybe he just leaned forward and fell into the smoky blue-green air.