Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The unnamed narrator is the story's main character. She is the daughter of a woman who used to be a circus performer, along with her husband, as part of the blindfolded trapeze duo known as the Flying Avalons. The narrator says that she owes her mother her existence three times over: first when her mother chose her own life over her connection to her first husband; second, when her mother fell in love with her father in the hospital; and third, when her mother saved her from a house fire when the narrator was seven years old. She is still haunted by the fire, and sometimes she thinks she can smell the smoke or feel the heat. She recognizes the truth of her mother's statement that there is time to think even as one is falling. It is possible to think critically even as one faces one's apparent doom, though it may require going against one's instincts. The narrator moved in with her mother after her father’s death and as her mother’s eyesight dissipated. She recalls how she is indebted to her mother and that is what has prompted the story of “The Leap” in the first place.
The narrator's mother, Anna, seems to be a pretty remarkable woman. Not only did she perform in the circus as a blindfolded trapeze artist, but she also once heroically saved her daughter from a house fire by climbing a tree, shimmying out on a limb, and leaping into the girl's window. In her old age, she has gone blind, but even the total darkness does not seem to bother her. She retains her poise and grace, never even bumping into anything or losing her balance. She is, as the narrator says, comfortable with extremes. Just as she was comfortable with the risk of falling, she is apparently comfortable with the risks associated with blindness, and this comfort seems to make her more sure of herself and steady on her feet. Anna has not kept any mementos or costumes from the Flying Avalons period of her life.
Harry Avalon is Anna’s first husband. He has a family background in the circus. Anna did not have any family when she was taken in by his family, and the two married and became a trapeze duo. During the first “leap” of the story, a thunderstorm hit in the middle of their blindfolded trapeze act. When Anna was supposed to reach for him, a beam broke and he fell to his death. He was buried near his uncle—the original Avalon—and Anna did not keep up with his family.
After the trapeze accident that killed Harry, Anna was brought to the hospital for months. The narrator's father, the doctor who aided in Anna’s recovery, specialized in injuries that occurred during parachute training exercises. He helped to mend Anna's arm after the terrible trapeze accident, and he taught Anna to read and write. The narrator wonders if her father ever considered that he taught her another form of flying after the accident; Anna was never without a book once she learned to read.