Living It Up
1209 words long
Some thoughts can turn your world upside-down. Some people can, too.
Notes from the author:
So there's this short story, "The Day the World Turned Upside Down," by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. It won a Hugo award a couple years back; evidently a lot of people liked it. A lot of people voted for it, anyway.
I hated it.
Yes, getting dumped by your girlfriend can make you feel as though the world has turned upside down. Sure. But a story in which it happens quite literally, causing a global wave of death and injury as up becomes down and people plummet into their ceilings or the sky, is just a little too precious. Not to mention solipsistic. And the main character is a selfish, self-involved jerk with an overblown sense of entitlement where his empathy and human decency ought to be. Some people enjoy stories with totally unredeemable main characters. I generally don't, though there are exceptions. This story is not an exception, especially since I'm not at all convinced the author intended to write an unsympathetic character.
Anyway, this fictionette is for the most part a reaction to that story.
On a probably unrelated note, it's also a rebuke to the sort of bully who diagnoses you as lacking a sense of humor because you didn't find their bullying of you funny.
When you're clinging by your actual fingertips to the edge of an actual roof, you'd think things couldn't possibly get worse, wouldn't you? Aside from the obvious worse of not clinging to the roof, I mean. But it got worse.
Look, I admit it was stupid, trying to climb down from a fourth floor window. Love makes you do stupid things. Did I say love? Well, it started with love. It started with my boyfriend, anyway. So many of these things do. Things like, "Come on, take off your clothes and jump in, it'll be fun." Things like, "Let's take a shortcut through this cattle field, what are you afraid of?" Things like "What do you mean, embarassed? You enjoyed being in the spotlight, admit it." I ended up screaming at him to get the hell out of my house, I'm breaking up with you, leave, and him grinning at me from my couch and saying No you're not, you don't mean it, I'm not going anywhere, and me finally just locking myself in my bedroom in despair.
I didn't really try to climb down. I did open the window, OK, and I did stand on the sill, and I did lean way the hell out. I did wonder whether I could make the jump to the nearest drainpipe and just shinny down it like they do in movies. I thought things like Am I really going to do this? and If I fall and break my neck, won't he be sorry then.
And then I thought, I told him to leave and he didn't. That makes him an intruder. I could call the police. Which was kind of an amazing thought, actually. The kind that turns everything upside down. It turned me upside down, anyway. My personal relationship with gravity went and reversed itself. I fell up, cracked my shoulder on the underside of the roof, and damn near plummeted into the sky. So instead of dangling over a long and probably fatal fall to the ground, I was dangling over a long and definitely fatal fall into the stratosphere.
"Are you crazy? What are you doing?" someone yelled. Someone else called out, "Are you with the circus?" Maybe they thought I was doing a handstand on the roof, just showing off, like you do. "No," someone else shouted, "look at her hair. Would you look at her hair!" What about my hair, I wondered. "It's falling up. She's falling up!"
And now everyone was yelling. Neighbors, passersby, voices I recognized and voices I didn't, all arguing at the top of their lungs over the hundred best ways to rescue me, and telling me to "hang on" and "hang in there" when they could spare a word.
Then my goddamned boyfriend piped up. I'd honestly forgotten about him. He'd come down to join the crowd on the sidewalk, which seemed remarkably useless of him. What he said was, "Why don't you just let go?"
It shocked the crowd into shutting up for a moment. "What the hell, man," somebody said finally, "what's she ever done to you?" Someone else hollered, "Not cool, dude," and then the whole crowd got into it. "Not helping." "Not the time, man." "What kind of a jerk are you?"
"But seriously," my boyfriend called, raising his voice above the crowd, "you have a unique opportunity to see the stars!" A unique opportunity to die in the vacuum of space is more like it, I thought. I pulled hard on the edge of the roof and managed to get an elbow under/over the lip.
"Aw, come on, live a little!"
That was how he got to me, every time. With that unstated accusation that I was, by nature, boring. Timid. Given to a life of teacups and books of the month, safety and predictability. Unless I cared to prove him wrong, find out that there's more to life than coloring within the lines and following the law?
Except some laws made a lot of sense. The law of gravity, for instance. The usual one, the one that said that me and the Earth, we were like this, we had things in common like mass and solidity and mutual attraction. I missed that mutual attraction. I wanted it back. And I liked tea.
"Apartment five-twelve," I called out, hugging that one elbow to the underside of the roof for all that I was worth. "Bedroom. Pick the lock. Break the door down. Someone. Anyone. Please."
Things moved quickly after that, although from my perspective (clinging to the edge of a roof) the seconds crawled. A man and a woman whom I recognized as neighbors I'd never bothered getting to know were coming for me through the window. She couldn't reach me, not even standing on the sill, not until he wrapped his arms around her legs and lifted her up. Her hand found mine. We clasped each other's wrists. Then, without any warning, gravity went back to normal for me. Things got really acrobatic for a few crowded moments. I fell--down. She held on, so she fell too. He held on, supporting us both, and somehow stayed inside my apartment. We'd made an impromptu human chain, him holding her holding me. We probably couldn't have kept it up for long, but just then my downstairs neighbor opened his own window and hauled me in. And the whole crowd from the sidewalk rushed in, everyone hugging anyone they could reach.
After the initial crush, I found myself near the window. My boyfriend stood alone on the sidewalk below, looking up at me looking down at him. He had on his usual post-adventure expression, the one he always wore when I was trembling and crying and waiting for him to apologize but instead he'd say something like It was exciting, wasn't it? Admit it, you had fun.
I shook my head at him. I wasn't going to dance for his entertainment anymore. His eyes went wide in mock-shock, then a little sly: Come on... I shook my head again. "It's over," I said softly.
He got the message. I know he did, because I saw his face fall. It was the only thing about him that fell--at least, that fell down. His feet separated from the sidewalk. His hair stood lazily on end. His shirt rippled; its collar crowded into his chin. Eyes still locked on mine, he began to drift headfirst into the sky.
I craned out the window farther and farther, trying to keep him in sight, until someone pulled me back into the room: My neighbor, the woman who had turned my world rightside-up. "Don't tell me you're going to try that same stunt again?"
I had trouble focusing on her face. The image of my disappearing boyfriend was burned into my vison. But my hands remembered that determined grip, and how even though my neighbor was falling too, she'd held on tight. She'd refused to let go until she knew that I was safe.
"Not in this life or the next," I assured her. "I'm done. By the way, I never got your name...?" I held out my hand for her once more.
She took it.
This has been the Friday Fictionette for September 23, 2016. It's also the Fictionette Freebie for September 2016, which means anyone can now download the full-length fictionette (1209 words) from Patreon as an ebook or audiobook regardless of whether they're subscribers.
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