By Amy Dupcak
Walked up to the roof three days before his birthday, on the periphery of summer. One flight, two, then two more. Paused at the door, encountering the familiar ‘Alarm will sound.’ How loud would the sound ring true? How long would it take someone to hear?
Walked back down, quicker this time. One flight, two, then two more. Back to his apartment, where his dog, Mosley, was equally out of breath. Bent down to pet the dog’s head…another last time, and then another and another, afraid of what it meant to stop.
Finally, walked to the window that let out onto the fire escape. Rope still dangling like a broken arm. Dumb idea, he thought, though he’d already dismissed it. Could he climb the ladder to the roof rather than sound the alarm, since the alarm had promised it would sound? Briefly considered the possibility. The verdict: three days from sixty-nine and too old for such a climb. Plus, what if someone saw him?
Who cares Andy, someone will see you eventually! His only concern was Pamela. His Pamela. The only one who had called him Andy since he was a boy. Would she be there to stroke his face with those delicate hands? Would she be there at all? Or would she turn from him, ashamed at the way he had done it? He had a choice in the matter, but she did not.
Four years since he saw her…who knew four years could stretch on and on like a sea of endless stars? It was four years since he’d felt
“FOUR YEARS SINCE HE SAW
the sort of love threaded with that impossible notion of eternity, the promise of “till death do us part” that everybody says and nobody considers. The love of his nephews could not hope to compare. Nor that of Mosley, loyal to the bone.
HER… WHO KNEW FOUR YEARS
COULD STRETCH ON AND ON
LIKE A SEA OF ENDLESS STARS.”
Mosley had never known Pamela, and so he had never known the man that Andy used to be when Pamela was still cooking his favorite pasta in this kitchen, still singing off-key in the living room, still coughing up medication in the bathroom, still hiding clumps of hair in the bedroom. But his brother, sister, cousins, nephews, they all knew…for years now that he had not been the same man, had hardly been a man at all. He nodded at neighbors in the hall and familiar faces on his block—Harold beating rookies at the chess shop, Dennis hocking drawings to tourists—but he had lost the strength to speak. He had lost the strength to do most things. He was almost weaker than Pamela in her last few weeks of life. Late at night, he could still hear the echoes of her whispers…whispers of love and pain and fear that bounced between the walls that had enclosed them both.
Mosley barked, calling Andy back to himself. My self, he thought, what a concept! The self imbedded in the body of a man, the soul of the self created from nothing, all belonging to that great and abominable being in the sky whose existence was anything but certain. Perhaps Pamela could sing in key now. Perhaps he would too.
Looked around again. Caught sight of the letter on the kitchen table. He’d spent days pining over what to say, and then realized he wouldn’t need to say much at all. Everybody knew. What good would it do to invoke her name, as if it were her fault?
Walked around the rooms again, taking his time. He could account for every scratch, stain, and wood grain, every place where the grouting had chipped away.
Then there were the pictures: one hundred and sixty one. He had spent the last few months tucking them into plastic sheets, which
“PICTURES THAT WOULD PROVE
he piled inside the night table drawer. Pictures that would prove his existence when everyone else had forgotten his name. Pictures in which he was busy with life, still living in the proverbial “moment.”
HIS EXISTENCE WHEN EVERYONE
ELSE HAD FORGOTTEN HIS NAME.”
The moment that lasted long enough for one finger to hit one button that would imprison said moment in his night table drawer, suffocated by plastic.
A gap-toothed child kneeling on the grass. That same child hanging off the neck of his father (Would his father be there too? How long did souls last?) A fully-bearded version of that boy, standing beside a line of LPs on a wooden shelf. Then an older version fishing, wearing the embarrassing hat Pamela had chosen. There was, of course, a wedding photo: a white flower pinned to his lapel, Pamela in a simple long-sleeved gown. Then an even older couple: a bottle of wine yet to be opened; a shit-eating grin; another suit and tie ironed by Pamela. On the porch of a house in the country, Pamela was cutting flowers as he leaned back in a chair, looking off into nowhere. A snowstorm. A pet dog. The hippie nephew laughing. Then back to the black-and-white of youth: standing with his mother on the first day of school, right in front of their old front door with the iron swirls, rusted in the crooks. A table with an ugly vinyl cloth—blue with white flowers, he remembered the texture under his touch—then a pitcher of beer at a picnic, and a new pair of sunglasses he soon lost. The hippie nephew before he was a hippie. Another pet dog. A beach excursion. An unmarked street in Europe; a gathering of pigeons; a pose he thought made him look like a writer.
The pictures were out of order because chronology was cruel. Revealed just how brutally he’d aged, slowly yet so swiftly: losing hair and muscle, gaining a slight jowl as he added pound after pound to his still-lean frame. The past four years were especially cruel. The thought of four more was simply intolerable.
Looked at the clock: 4:24. As good a time as any, he thought. Life served no purpose to him now, so why should death? The alarm would sound, and that was that. No better option had presented itself.
Mosley was still panting, that little tongue hanging free. It called to mind the foremost decision of their marriage…without children, they could travel, write, work, sleep, make love at any hour of any day, and take off without a moment’s notice. They could quarrel, even, without someone overhearing. But now, there was only Mosley at his feet.
Walked up to the roof, precious dog in tow. One flight, two, then paused. Transfixed. He had never realized it. The rails of the banister were almost the same as the iron swirls of his childhood front door. The swirls, he thought, had followed him from one end of his life to the other.
But, there was no time for more nostalgia. Two more flights, then paused again on the uppermost landing. “Good boy,” he said, his voice like leftover rain in a gutter. Tied the leash to the crook of a swirl: the center of its own galaxy. “Stay,” he said in the same voice. “Stay.”
Glanced back at the door: ‘Alarm will sound.’ Sighed, frowned, and finally pushed against it with the last bit of strength tucked somewhere deep inside. A slight delay and then bam: as startlingly clear as the fire drills that sent school kids to the lawn. The sky was still as blue and cloudless as it had been that morning when he thought, Today! No reason per se, save for the lonely looming birthday and, beyond that five, ten, fifteen years ofthis until his body withered, frayed, and decayed, until he was past the point of making a choice.
For the first time since the installation of the roof alarm, he looked over the building’s edge. Contemplated the fall. The most discreet
“THE MIND IN HIS BODY
place—for the sake of those whose fate it was to find him—was the small area between buildings where he and all fifty-odd tenants took out the trash, and recyclables too. No one out there now, but some garbage pails were full: plastic bulging, a few loose cans. The mind in his body stood a chance—soul,
STOOD A CHANCE—SOUL,
SPIRIT, ENERGY, DARK
spirit, energy, dark matter? But his body was as good as trash: nothing more, nothing less.
His brother and sister would know the truth, but the obituary would omit facts, as obituaries often do. Even still, the story would get passed down the six stories of his building until it turned into a legend. An interesting quirk. A little known fact. A “hey, remember when...”
The story—his story—was as basic as they come, but still it was true, and still it was his. There was nothing to say, no way to write it and no point in talking it through. All of its inherent poetry and symbolism was as clichéd as this bright blue day, yet it was as real and simple as these two facts: His wife was dead. He no longer wanted to be alive. And so, he flew.
An alarm was ringing, and a dog was barking. That’s strange.
The girl peeked through the peephole, then opened her door the slightest bit. She had always been curious…less so since she moved to this city.
Both of the sounds were drifting from above: that empty little floor where she’d tried to hide her bike after the landlord scolded her for keeping it in the vestibule downstairs. Of course the super, Abel, had found her bike up there too, and of course he told the landlord who told her this was the last straw about the bike. She was only one month into the year-long lease, so she opted to stick the bike in her kitchen where everyone clearly wanted it to be.
Waited a few minutes, then several more. Three obvious options came to mind: ignore it and go back to practicing the monologue for her next audition; call Abel and ask him to check it out; investigate herself. Took a swig of the coffee still in hand and then thought, I need a break anyway.
Walked up the single flight and discovered the source of the high-pitched barks: a tiny dog tied to the banister. He was trying to run toward the opened rooftop door, nearly choking himself in the process. Shushed him, then stuck her head through the door, cautiously shouting “Hello?” like when someone in a movie enters a house even though nobody answered the door.
The roof was empty, the sky above as clear as tinted glass. The Empire State beamed in the distance, pointing to the sun. She was just beginning to backtrack so she could free the dog from his shackles when a strange feeling came over her. A feeling she couldn’t place.
Stepped over a smattering of bricks and strode to one edge of the building. Rested her hands on the four-foot wall. Looked down. One hand flew first to her eyes, then down to her mouth to cover her scream.
She had never seen a dead body, let alone one as raw and red as this man’s. Why was he sprawled crookedly on the concrete, a mess of bloodied clothes and busted bones? She remembered the game Splat!: little Play-Dough creatures crushed between the board and an orange plastic hand. Screamed again. This time not from shock or fear or even the horror of such a sight—a beautiful horror, she would later tell friends—but from sheer sadness for whoever had just (apparently) ended their life. She had no idea which apartment he lived in, or if he lived in the building at all, but he had been up here preparing to jump while she was reciting: So I said, Fuck you, Radio City and the Rockettes! I'm gonna make it on Broadway!
Ran back through the door, sobbing as if she had known him. Well, perhaps she had. Who knew whose bloody pulp of a face that face on the concrete belonged to? Now the face belonged to the concrete alone, not to the man who had seen it in the mirror just that morning.
She informed the super, who called the ambulance, though what good an ambulance would do was beyond her. Other neighbors tried to calm her down (“But he didn’t have a daughter,” she overheard one woman say). Someone else untied the dog and gave the traumatized thing some water. Police showed up and questioned the girl, the super, the neighbors. People on the sidewalk paused to watch two bald paramedics wheel an empty stretcher through the front doors and down the hall. Twenty minutes later, the stretcher reappeared, still empty. Then the coroner’s stretcher, the one that wouldn’t be on its way to any hospital. They carried him out in a plastic bag.
By the time the sun had burned up for the day, the pictures—all one hundred and sixty one—were being arranged chronologically, the dog was asleep in a neighbor’s bathroom, the girl was turning the day’s events into a monologue, Abel was finally finished mopping blood and brains and fragments of skull that skidded several feet away, and a neighbor who had lived on Andy’s floor was lighting a candle in the center of the concrete’s webbed cracks. The cracks that would incite curiosity and remembrance every time somebody took out the trash.