PERCY’S LEAP

I’m transported back to The Strid incident. It’s where the river Wharfe turns through ninety degrees and then cuts through hard rock in a noisy, white mass. It’s beautiful but dangerous. I can’t remember why we were there but it was some kind of school trip. We’d all been told the tale about a king’s son being drowned here. We knew The Strid claimed 100% of those who fell in. And I do remember standing and gazing at the water, looking at the slippery rock. Then we saw Percy standing on the other side of the deafening water.

“How did you get over there?”

“Jumped.”

“There’s not enough room for you to run.”

Percy shrugged and blew through his lips. The Strid at this point, probably its narrowest, was about five feet across. He was standing on a rock about three feet higher than our side of the water. On our side, the rocks were covered in green slimy moss and on Percy’s side they were clean, if wet. But there was no clear way to take a run.

“Step back a bit,” said Percy. As we did as he asked he jumped to our side. He shoved into a couple of others. One of them tumbled and fell to his hands and knees.

“You’re mad.” The kid’s jeans were soaked. “Fucking mad.”

“Show us how you did it.”

I knew that Percy could jump that distance, that height. I’d seen the piano stunt, when he’d jumped from standing to the baby grand in the music room. I grabbed his arm but Percy batted his hand away.

“Don’t push your luck,” I said.

“I’ll do it if I want,” he said and stepped down to the ledge, facing the pounding white water. “No luck involved.”

Two hikers had stopped next to me.

“What’s going on?”

“Our friend is going to jump across.” I said it in a matter of fact way, as though it was the most natural thing to do.

“What? He mustn’t.” The hiker stepped forward. “Hey,” he called. “Hey, you.”

Percy turned round. He blinked as though he had just woken up.

“This is a death trap. You can’t do it.”

Percy turned back to the river and stood tall, arms by his sides, relaxed. He breathed deeply. I could feel myself tracking him as I looked from his feet to the rock on the other bank. I closed my eyes and, when I opened them again, the only thing moving was The Strid. The only sound was The Strid. Then Percy’s arms swept wide like wings, his knees bent and he crouched forward, staring at where he intended to land. His hands surged ahead, launching his legs straight and upwards. His toes were the last of him to leave the ledge. Then he was airborne, reaching for the other side, his head motionless but his knees lifting, his arms arrowing above his head. He seemed to hang like that in the air and I heard a shock of breath to my left. Now his feet swung forward. His head was still motionless, eyes gazing at the rock. His arms, however, urged him to the spot he was going to land on. His toes were the first of him to touch the rock and, as they did so, he seemed to spring out of the stone and I thought he would over-balance. Instead, he took one step, turned around and raised one hand above his head. I felt myself release the breath I had been holding. Percy grinned. One of the hikers began to applaud and shout.

“Now you’ve got to get back,” I said.

“Piece of piss.” He jumped and, as he landed, he slipped and lunged headlong into the group that had gathered. When he stood, he clapped water and dirt from his jeans then looked at his hand. There was blood on the heel right by the thumb.

“Could have been worse,”he said.

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