I'm going to post the opening of a novel/novella/episode periodically, starting with the stuff that's already out there in the world and moving on to works in progress when I've run out.
This is more for my own amusement than anyone else, but I hope you enjoy.
Click Read More to...read more.
I think I need to tell you about Dean’s escape, before I forget it all. I can feel the fog drifting through my mind as time goes by, eroding the edges of my memory, and I need to remember that night. I’m not the smartest girl in the world, or even the smartest one here, but I’m sure we all need to remember it.
A gorgeous sky, supernatural. Clouds stacked all the way to space and the light of the full moon making them glow brighter than the city around us. From our floor you can’t really hear the cars or people normally anyway, but tonight it was especially quiet out there. Like the city knew what was happening.
We were sitting around chatting in the atrium, not about anything in particular. I was just happy to be staying up, listening in on the adult conversations. I’d tried arguing that it didn’t make sense for me to go to bed early anymore – no school – but it had never worked before. For some reason though, when I snuck out that night and edged my way closer to the group, nobody said a thing. I listened to the nothing they all said, the pointless conversations about anything but…
They let me. They accepted me.
When Stanley slammed his apartment door open and dashed into the hall I squealed – like a baby – but everyone jumped a little.
‘Dean,’ he said, breathless. Stanley is overweight, still, and never was very fit. He’d run from his balcony and was already sweating. ‘He’s going to jump.’
Everyone turned back to their conversations, ready to ignore the ridiculousness. Dean was a junky, and crazy, violent and irrational sometimes, but he wasn’t going to jump. Even I knew he wasn’t going to jump, and they’d tried to shield me from the resident’s last few attempts.
‘He’s on the edge.’ Stanley stepped into the group, his eyes darting around, trying to find someone interested in his news. ‘He’s going over.’
‘He won’t jump,’ Asako said. She had her cigarette dangling from her lips – still unlit and looking a bit battered – and she barely managed enough interest to look at him as she dismissed his excitement. ‘He can’t.’
‘He’s asleep. He’s sleep walking.’ Stanley’s words finally had the impact he was looking for. Every eye was on him now, and everyone’s heart beat a little faster. This was new, this was different. Could it mean something? Could it change things?
We formed an orderly stampede on the way to Stanley’s balcony. I remember the silliest things sometimes, and I remember Asako letting the Indian guy go ahead of her. They were both smiling, excited, and I was confused. I get it now – I’m older, wiser to the ways of this strange world – but I didn’t understand their reactions at the time.
In the Atrium we’d had a circle of sky in the roof above us, enough to feel like you were outside and to see those glorious clouds a little. On the balcony you could take in the majesty of them, hanging over the world, looking down on the city, stretching to the horizon. I stared at them for a while, standing still and silent with everyone else, but they weren’t watching the clouds. They’d stopped at the door, pushing gently, jostling each other until everyone there could see.
Dean stood on the balcony ledge, his head hanging and his arms at his sides. He was dressed in his only clothes, the faded black jeans and tattered grey shirt blending with the darkness of the sky.
After a minute of silence, Asako stepped forward, turned her back on the man on the edge, and took the cigarette from her mouth. ‘So what do we do?’ She said it softly, barely loud enough for us all to hear.
‘If two of us move slowly behind him we can each take an arm and pull him back,’ Stanley said.
‘That’s one option.’ Asako scanned the crowd. Not everyone had stayed up that night, but there were about ten people there. Nobody else said anything, so I did.
‘We have to help him quick, or he’ll fall.’ My voice sounded stupid in my ears, childish and out of place in the conversation. I was fourteen and very sure of my maturity, but something about that situation had me off balance.
‘That’s the other option,’ Asako said.
I didn’t understand at first, but when nobody would look me in the eye I worked it out. ‘You’re saying you want to let him go?’ There was a quiver in my voice.
‘If he can fall, if he can leave, then it means something,’ someone said from the back of the group. A man, I think. The memory is a little fuzzy.
‘If he fell,’ this one was a woman, but again, I can’t tell you who, ‘Would someone find him? They’d know we were here.’
The adults started murmuring but I was tuning them out. I remember the world wobbling, like something unreal springing a glitch, or a video tape with a stretched bit. They wanted to let him fall! We weren’t the tallest building in the city, but he’d die all the same. Thirteen floors is a long way down.
‘You can’t be serious.’ Stanley took a step away from the door, a step closer to Dean and the edge. ‘We can’t.’
‘He isn’t a good man,’ the Indian guy said. ‘But can we do this?’
‘We can,’ Asako said. ‘We don’t have to do anything to make this happen. The real question is should we? If he goes over then they can’t ignore us anymore.’
‘That’s not good enough,’ Stanley said, loud. After all the soft voices and whispering, his was thunder, jerking us all awake. ‘We’re not going to let him die.’
I don’t remember much about Asako from before that night, but it felt like she’d prepared for something like this. From the way she’d stepped out in front of everyone and suggested letting Dean go, to the sharp kitchen knife she pulled on Stanley when he tried to walk to the edge.
‘This isn’t just your decision, Stanley.’ She was in front of him, easily quicker than he was, and quiet too. She showed him the knife and pointed back to the door.
‘You can’t kill me,’ Stanley said, tripping over his words.
‘I can hurt you.’
Whatever had been about to happen didn’t get a chance to. Dean mumbled something in his sleep, raised an arm to scratch his head, and took a step forward.
Normally when we try to leave we find it impossible. We can’t even get to the edge of the balcony, can’t even touch the door handle to the fire escape. Seeing someone leave the confines of that balcony, knowing he was on his way out, was enough to still even my confused mind.
We can’t leave the thirteenth floor. If we want to leave we fail. If someone tries to throw us out they are interrupted. This is why, as Dean shifted his weight to the leg hanging over the edge, a fire truck siren blasted into that silent night. The world conspired to wake him up before he could plummet to his death, and freedom.
That isn’t why I need to remember that night though. I need to remember that night because everyone was going to let him go. They were going to let him die, just to see if it could be done. In Asako’s case, I think it might have been even simpler: I think she just wanted something unusual to happen, something she hadn’t already tried.
None of these people are bad people, but they don’t have to be. That’s what I want you to remember, future me. These are perfectly normal adults, and they were all – except Stanley of course – willing to let Dean take that step.
I sometimes think I remember a tinkling sound in the moment it happened, like a fairy in a cartoon flew by. Other times I think I remember feeling the world wobble, like that night on the balcony. I’m pretty sure it’s all crap though.
I don’t know if I’ll remember this, or if it will fade away like so much else. So, future me, adult Sandra, read and be filled with knowledge. I’m sorry if I’m wasting your paper.
We were on my bed, cutting school and making out. Dean had a light buzz on, of course. Heroin made him happy, so it made me happy. Also, he was a bad boy, and my parents hated him.
He wanted sex. It was all he talked about. I touched him and tried to act grown-up, but I couldn’t do it. This would have become a problem in time, I’m sure, but then the world went all weird. Who knows how long I would have held out? Probably not much longer; he was seventeen and experienced. A catch, and I would have had to hold on to him somehow.
After quite a bit of begging and a little anger, he settled down. He told me everything was fine, that he didn’t mind really. He was just backed up. He held me, spooning me on my bed, some electric drivel on the cheap plastic radio. When my parents got me the radio I don’t think they had any idea I’d use it to drown out my druggy boyfriend begging me for a blowjob. I remember thinking, as I lay in his arms, in love, that I just wished they’d stay away, that everyone would stay away. I wished we could stay there forever, together.
I fell asleep in his arms, his hand on my tiny breast, under my shirt. It was the most erotic thing…
My parents normally come home around six, so when I woke up and saw that it was already twenty minutes past I freaked. I spent a moment just staring at the alarm clock, but its stupid green digits wouldn’t resolve into other numbers no matter how hard I willed it.
‘Get up,’ I said, trying to disentangle myself from him. Dean gripped tighter and moaned, but I fought back, jerking and dragging myself toward the edge of the bed, slipping out of his grasp with an involuntary squeal that made him smile.
‘You need to get back here,’ he said, reaching out to grab me.
‘It’s six-thirty,’ I said. I repeated myself when he didn’t seem to understand the urgency.
‘Fuck.’ He rolled away, toward the other side of the bed and fell off. ‘Fuck,’ he yelled. I shushed him and he said sorry, then dragged himself up and began hunting for his shoes.
I was at the door, opening it a crack to peek out. They weren’t home, somehow. From my room you can see the front door and if either of them had come back they’d have left their keys in the bowl on the little table. The bowl was empty.
‘Hurry,’ I said, afraid to look back into the room and see him stumbling around. I didn’t want to lose sight of the door. They could be home at any moment.
‘I’m done.’ He grabbed the door and pulled it open, sticking his head out to check the short hall himself. When he was satisfied we were still alone he pulled the door all the way open, grabbed my arm, and pushed me against the wall. He kissed me and at first I fought it, still thinking about the front door opening and my parents walking in. Then I wasn’t thinking about them, and then I wasn’t thinking much at all.
I gave him a far more chaste kiss at the front door and watched him walk backwards down the hall to the elevators, watching me with that cocky smile of his. I grinned back and closed the door, then stood on my toes and watched him through the peephole.
He stopped at the elevator, staring at the button. I thought he must know I was there, watching him, and so he was messing around. I waited for almost a minute before opening the door and calling out to him.
‘You have to go,’ I said, using one of those whispers that are louder than if you’d just spoken normally. He kept staring at the button, oblivious. ‘This isn’t funny, Dean. They could be in the lift already.’
My dad would wait for my mom at work, in the lobby of her building, and they’d catch the bus back together. He complained about it from time to time, but he kept doing it, and they always came home smiling and laughing.
Remember that: your parents were happy, with each other and with you. Don’t forget.
When Dean wouldn’t move, wouldn’t acknowledge me at all, I grabbed my key from the hook beside the door and ran down the hall. The door closed by itself behind me.
‘Stop messing around. You have to go.’
‘I can’t…’ He spaced out for a moment, as though lost in some errant thought. ‘I can’t hit the button.’
‘Stop being an idiot.’ I grabbed his hand. ‘If they catch you here they’ll freak.’ He made no move to do as I was asking, so I went to press the damn button myself.
This was the first time I felt the fog in my brain, felt the way the world goes kind of blurry. We’d experiment later, and everyone quickly learned how to avoid it, but this was the first time it happened to me. It was like I forgot what I was doing, or at least why. I knew the button was important but I couldn’t remember why. It waited there, a white plastic square with a down arrow beneath it, faded from years of people doing what I suddenly could not.
Then I remembered why I had needed to press the button, but it suddenly didn’t matter anymore. Whatever I had been anxious about went away. I stood there for ages. It felt like hours but it was only a minute or two. There were times, later on, when one of us would stand for hours, staring at the button, unable to move. That was the first time though and it scared me enough that I broke away by myself.
I stepped away from the lift and from Dean, the world reeling around me as though I’d been spinning in place and suddenly stopped. I stumbled to one of the small couches the building placed along the walls and collapsed onto it, lying down and waiting for everything to stop spinning. Dean stayed where he was, trapped in the spell of the elevator button.
When I had my senses back and felt steady on my feet I moved back to him. I kept my eyes away from the elevators entirely and grabbed Dean’s arm, pulling him a few steps away and turning him around. He kept staring straight ahead for a few seconds, directly at my forehead, before his eyes rolled up in his head and he fell down.
I must have called out his name, or cried, or – knowing me at the time – squealed, because I had barely started shaking Dean when Mr Turner opened his door and came over to see what the problem was. I looked up at him and saw the disapproval in his eyes that all adults had when they saw Dean, but I didn’t care. I was so happy to have an adult there, to have someone who might be able to help.
Mr Turner knelt on the other side of Dean and began gently slapping his face. He felt for a pulse on his neck, then went back to slapping.
When Dean opened his eyes I lost it. I must have been crying before but I bawled my eyes out when he pushed himself up and looked around.
‘What happened?’ Dean and Mr Turner said at the same time.
‘You’re alright,’ I said through my tears. I hugged him and didn’t let go until I felt his hands on my back.
‘Are you kids on something?’ Mr Turner said. I couldn’t see his face but the tone of his voice was enough to get my back up.
‘Call the elevator,’ I said to him, a little more sharply than I would have liked. He stepped back at the raised voice, but didn’t move. Another door opened behind me but I kept my eyes on Mr Turner. ‘Press the button.’
‘You calm down,’ he said, stepping back further, heading for his door. ‘If you don’t I’ll call the police.’
‘Please, Mr Turner,’ I tried, begging in my most “little girl” voice. ‘Please call the elevator for us.’
He watched me, holding my recently unconscious, out of place boyfriend on the expensive carpets of the expensive floor of a not cheap apartment building. He frowned, expecting some trick, sure that if I was with Dean I must be up to something. But he moved to the button and reached his hand out.
It has been my experience, mostly recently, that time can do whatever the hell it wants. If you’re having fun it can slip away too fast. If life sucks it can drag, and drag you slowly through whatever is bothering you. Mr Turner’s hand reaching for the button was one of those moments when time went wonky, slowing down, his movement barely perceptible.
And then he stopped, his hand outstretched and the button un-pressed. The fog had him and I realised I wasn’t going crazy.