Peregrine Falcon had known that he could fly from the age of six. To be precise, it was the occasion of his sixth birthday party. Full of jelly and cake, he seized his opportunity when Gran and Gramps got out their tablets to show his parents hundreds of snaps of their ten-day cruise to Malta.
Slipping out quietly, Peregrine climbed the trellis attached to the garden shed, pricking his thumb only twice on a particularly evil-intentioned rose. After attaining the roof, he stood for a moment on the edge in silent contemplation, his arms stretched wide. Then he jumped. He landed with a thump, narrowly missing an indignant robin and flattening a bed of pansies that his mother had spent the morning planting. His mum and dad were not impressed, and it was just as well he had scored that extra piece of birthday cake, for he got no supper that night.
After that, there was no stopping him: the seed had been sown.
‘Peter’s a good boy, if a little distracted,’ a bewildered head-teacher told his father on parents’ evening. For of course, in those days Peregrine Falcon was just plain Peter Fielding. ‘But he will keep jumping off things,’ she continued.
‘Tell me about it,’ his dad thought but didn’t say.
The boy’s gym teacher was more sanguine. ‘He’s a brilliant little jumper. I can see him going far in the Nationals. He might even make the Olympics – with the right coach, of course.’
Peregrine Falcon had no interest in going for the Nationals, let alone the Olympics, despite his teacher’s cajoling. He just muddled along at school, doodling wings and flying machines in the margins of his history and science books.
When he was 15, he found a girlfriend: a fat, nerdy girl with mud-coloured braids and heavy specs. They experimented – as teenagers will – but when he led her behind the bike shed, it was to show her complicated designs involving straps and flaps. The following year, when she returned after the long summer break, she had lost two stone and acquired highlights and contact lenses. The captain of the school rugby team took an interest, and for the rest of that term Peregrine lurked behind the bike shed alone.
It was not long afterwards that he heard about deed poll. Google told him all he needed to know: the online form, the modest payment. When he completed the proceedings, the initials on his briefcase remained the same: it was clearly meant to be. Peregrine Falcon he had become.
He left school and found a position working for the council’s parks and recreation department. He enjoyed the irony – it was now part of his job to stop children jumping off things. But he never lost the conviction that he could fly. He experimented with hang-gliders and microlights, but these did not satisfy him. Wearing a variety of bizarre harnesses, he jumped off buildings and bridges, alarming the police and alerting the Samaritans, and each time he would pick himself up, relatively unscathed, and explain that this was just part of his research into man-powered flight.
Peregrine Falcon found a wife. She was a widow, a stick-thin bitter woman with aspirations. They met in a Facebook group for people with projects: she was under the impression that he was an aeronautics engineer. He did not disabuse her.
Peregrine and his wife bought a house with a shed. The shed was the important bit, although he allowed his wife to think it was the garden. While she dibbed and grubbed, Peregrine would retire to the shed with a pocket full of widgets and a head full of plans. The contraption grew. Nobody but the manager of the local Tesco did wonder why one of his trolleys was missing.
Peregrine Falcon bought a car. His wife was delighted when he suggested it: little runabout to take them out on jaunts into the countryside would be delightful. She envisaged a Nissan Micra or a Fiat 500, and was dismayed when he brought home a lumbering, rust-emblazoned station wagon (Peregrine proudly called it an SUV) painted in an unpleasing shade of aqua. They did not go out on jaunts. The vehicle sat four-square in their driveway for months, causing the neighbours to mutter.
Peregrine’s wife was overjoyed the day he finally suggested an outing. With hindsight, she might have wondered why he chose Beachy Head, which was at least an hour’s drive from their West Sussex home.
They parked by the cliff’s edge and climbed out of the SUV. She had always thought that the vehicle was ridiculously large for just the two of them, and now she understood. He raised the tailgate and lifted out the bulky canvas-wrapped object that was almost as big as he was.
‘There!’ He whisked off the wrapping. ‘What do you think?’ Not waiting for an answer, he into the pilot’s seat. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘this will do it. All I need is for you to give me a push.’
His wife stared blankly at the contraption he had so triumphantly revealed. ‘A push? Are you crazy? You’ll fall straight over the edge! It’s hundreds of feet down.’
Peregrine glowered at her. ‘You’ve never believed in me, have you? I’ve told you and told you that I was going to make a viable flying machine, and all you ever said was “Yes, dear. Very nice dear.” Well now it’s time for you to step up and do your part.’ As she still demurred, he went on: ‘This is my life’s work! Show you believe in me! Go on, push!’
So Peregrine Falcon’s wife pushed.
Patricia Feinberg Stoner has been a journalist, advertising copywriter and publicist. A former Londoner and intermittent Languedoc dweller, Patricia now lives in the pretty West Sussex village of Rustington, where Michael Flanders discovered a gnu and the mobility scooter is king. She has published three books set in France, two of which have won awards, and three collections of comic verse.
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