He crawls out of the pocket and up into the light. He has no reason to hurry, but he hurries anyway. At the top of the tweed he sees a shiny light. He doesn't know what it is, but he can see it shining and he wants it. So he keeps climbing, up the sleeve to the shoulder. The light is much brighter now. In the center it's brighter still, so that's where he goes next, or tries to. He jumps off the shoulder, into the air, and suddenly there's nothing under him but sky. The air comes rushing up around him as he falls away from the light, back into the pocket, into the darkness. Damn. He starts crawling out again.
She's on the mantel, looking out over the living room as if there were something there she wanted. But she wants none of what she sees - it's all cheap rental furniture, all of it probably going back to the store tomorrow. She wants something she can't see, something she's never touched. She wants a man, a real man, not one of these brittle figurines on the mantel. Damn. She can't even see the television from here.
He crawls out of the pocket again and makes another stab at getting off the man sitting in front of the TV. He gets up to the shoulder after a struggle but instead of leaping at the light this time, no matter how tempting it is, he crawls sideways, onto the back of the couch. There's no movement from the body of the man on the couch, not even when he slips and brushes the ear. Maybe the man's dead.
She sees something move beside the motionless man's ear. She perks up, but she's not likely to go leaping out into space the way some of her companions have already done, jumping from the mantel out of sheer boredom. She has plans, and even if she doesn't know what they are yet, she knows what they are not. She braces herself against the mirror, and looks more closely at the unmoving shape on the couch. Maybe he's dead.
He finds himself in a room, a giant's room with brown walls and huge, cheap furniture. No one moves here. The man's dead - he's got to be dead - and nothing can be done for him other than hauling him away. He's too small for that, so he goes exploring, over the back of the couch to the end table where a quart bottle of some cheap brandy stands open to the room's still air. He wants to drink a little courage, but he cannot see any way to tip the bottle without spilling its contents. Then he realizes that he doesn't give a damn if he does mess up the place, so he tips the bottle over and drinks out of the neck as the liquor pulses onto the end table and into a spreading puddle on the floor, until he thinks he can go on.
She sees him drink and she isn't impressed with the fact or with the way he goes about it, but nevertheless she finds herself attracted to him. He looks good, healthy and strong, and is obviously more resourceful than any of her companions on the mantel. He isn't a lush, she hopes, but she has been burned before and has learned to be cautious. She finds herself hoping he looks up to see her on the mantel, but he seems otherwise occupied. She make a move as if to jump, again, but doesn't do it. Her neighbor takes the leap, though, when she feints, thinking he has company. He shatters on the floor far below, alone.
He looks up at the crash as one of the figurines falls from the mantel and hits the floor. There's a woman up there. From here she look good; from here she looks his size. He takes a closer look and she still looks good, so he starts looking for a way up.
She sees him see her, and forces her hands to remain at her sides. She doesn't need to wave; she knows he's hooked when she sees him casting about among the shards of her broken companion for a way up the steep mantel. Silently she urges him on.
He's in trouble. There's no way up the steep posts that hold up the mantel; he's no mountain climber, and even if he were the hardwood columns belly out at the top before curving smoothly back under the mantel itself. The pipe that rises from the battered brown gas heater sputtering in front of the bricked-in fireplace might get him almost there, but it's too hot to climb. That's not the way. The couch is too far away to make a decent springboard, and it's the closest piece of furniture. If the man on the couch were only sleeping, perhaps he could wake him up and ask to be lifted. Might as well wish for an elevator... that man's never going to wake up. He rushes from one side of the little room to the other, looking for a way up.
She finds herself almost as frantic as he, looking around for a way down that doesn't involve the breaking of delicate bone. She's decided she wants him, drunk or not, and although she has heretofore had little to desire, she is unaccustomed to being thwarted in what she has desired.
They see it at the same time. Tucked away behind the cheap drapes, very near the mantel, is the curtain pull: a string which to their perspective is thick as a rope, stretched nearly from floor to ceiling on plastic pulleys.
He clambers to his feet but she is faster, leaving her post in front of the mirror and leaving her china brethren gaping behind her as she gathers momentum for her leap. She's got to stretch herself to the limit of her ability to bridge the chasm between the mantel's end and the drapery pull's gleaming white promise. He reaches the base and stares up as she throws herself across the gap, her legs scissoring beneath her long skirt.
She throws herself into space with utter abandon, for a split second no longer caring whether he is watching or whether she makes it across. All the rules have been broken in this instant, and she is flying weightlessly towards the long white rope of her salvation. She reaches it with a shock, almost dissatisfied with the solidity of her grasp as she takes hold of the rope. Under her weight, the rope moves.
He gapes upward as she jumps, grabs hold, and shrinks instantly from her expansive airborne form to a trembling chrysalis clutching the cord with both hands as it starts to sink under her weight. A clatter comes from the tracks overhead as the drapes separate, and a thick bar of golden afternoon sunlight thrusts its way into the room through tall, once-elegant casements. He suddenly has a hard time seeing her against the glare.
She clings tightly in fear as the rope begins to carry her downward and the draperies part, swaying towards her and threatening to knock her from her precarious hold. But the various motions stop, the rope halting and the drapes swinging back into place, when she is only inches below her starting point. She is simply too light to make it move any further.
He sees her stop and knows the cause right away. It is his turn to leap, catching hold of the cord she's hanging onto for dear life and with his slight weight tipping the balance in their favor. She sinks to the floor jerkily, a foot at a time, as he leaps up and rides the rope down to the floor. At the end her downward motion is almost continuous as he starts swarming up the rope, or trying to, never getting more than a few inches above the floor. But she draws steadily closer and at last is in his arms, they tumble to the floor (her careful to let him go first) and roughly they reach for each other's slim bodies, unwilling to break away even for a moment to reach the relative comfort of the rug in front of the hearth.
They are lying together in animal contentment, having shared passions not seen in this room in living memory, when the unfortunate accident occurs. The gas heater in whose radiance they bask is old and of an undependable design; every now and then its clogged jets give out a misdirected flash of yellowish flame, before going back to calm blue. After a particularly noisy sputter, the couple look up to see a flickering wall of blue flame rising from the rivulets of spilled brandy that nearly surround them. There's only one way out, and they take it, running between the legs of the dead man on the couch, underneath the distended springs and out the back, to the door of the apartment.
He presses against the door, staring up through incalculable distance to the knob, and farther, to the deadbolt which the man had carefully, firmly fastened before sitting down on the couch to die.
She casts her gaze about wildly, and sees the tall window, its sill mere inches from the floor, one of its warped casements ajar, beckoning. She grabs his hand and begins running. There's only a thin veil of flame between them and the window, though it's thickening as they run toward it.
He's winded, can't keep up. Her stamina shames him, though, and he keeps himself stumbling along behind her, holding her hand as they burst through the oily black smoke from the burning shag carpet. He kneels at the sill, offering his back to her, but she insists he go first. At first he objects but she hisses that he'll be too heavy for her to lift. At this he acquiesces and climbs up her back to the window sill, reaching down to drag her up with him.
They stand on the window sill hand in hand. A startled pigeon eyes them warily as they inspect the drop. Three stories to the ground, which slopes away beneath the window in a tangle of cinder blocks, untended rhododendron bushes, ivy and anthills. A discarded old corduroy jacket hangs, one arm beckoning, on the bush just below. Behind them there is a hollow thump as something finally goes, and the fireball is pushing them or they decide, who's to say? Hand in hand, they jump, aiming for the pocket.
©1999, Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.
This document was last updated October 28, 1999.