Hell Can Wait
As she stepped up onto the ledge she did a final mental inventory: room picked-up, check; Mom off to work, check; Nowhere-man Dad, um, still in-his-own-space, double-check; dog fed, walked, and secured in apartment, check; key hidden in our ‘special spot’, check; note for Mark on door, check.
How in the world had I come to this level of drama and so soon, Jen wondered. Creating a scene to get some truth from a guy worked for her girlfriends, but Mark was only her second boyfriend…her plan seemed a little extreme now that she was actually in the midst of it. Especially the “or else” part of the note, after all he was the first man in her life that seemed to care enough to surprise her with ‘little somethings’ – like the single fancy chocolate he’d had delivered already that morning.
The nineteen-year-old was waffling, like her mom always did with men – especially with her dad. She twisted to look again at the stairwell door, her wobbly stuttering steps taking her back and forth on a foot high ‘safety’ ledge eight stories above a dismal street in The City. The dirty green and white striped awning she’d noticed billowing at street level was naively comforting so she tried adding some sway to her steps. It wasn’t easy in 5” strappy-heels. She felt a bit woozy for a moment.
She was far from graceful, much less sexy, like her hero ‘Carrie’ had been immediately upon donning the same pair. Of course the fictional sex & tell-all girl-gossip had also blown most of a month’s rent for hers, barely avoiding a fictional eviction in the process. Now Jen had the very same pair and had gotten them ‘for a song’ she’d say. What she wouldn’t say was that they were from an upscale resale shop. And truthfully, if she could be gotten to the truth in such matters, it was only ‘because of’ a song she had them. But then Jen would insist she couldn’t be held responsible for the shopgirl’s inattentiveness or for her own adolescent impetuousness for that matter. How could she? She had been barely school age when SATC’s first season first-aired; was probably brainwashed by its prompt elevation of obscenely-priced shoe-buying to Fashionable then in only a few years all the way to the outskirts of Obligatory. So Jen was not the Perp here. In such a desultory mood as the present one she considered herself the Victim. The victim of a Media-Mercantilist Manipulation who’d turned crime on its head and into a ‘consulting business’ that grew more lucrative with every job.
She glanced at the cheap watch she was forced to wear: “Way too many minutes” – according to her mother – meant she had to rely on it to keep her on any kind of schedule instead of her ‘Precious’, her phone. Where was Mark, she thought, Did the thing even work right? It’s all my mom and dad’s fault, she reasoned. The young woman resolved then and there to get a new, really nice watch as the consolation prize for today’s performance if there ever was going to be one – carpenters as good as he was could get a loan and if not, she’d just get herself the right ‘gig’ then get one by herself. But where, oh where was that other half of the big scene?
Work up some tears, she thought. So she worked on working up some, but only enough to make the non-waterproof mascara – on just her lower lashes – dribble. She’d finally found it fairly easy to reach Distraught – in practice – at the bathroom mirror the night before. Uppers plus lowers had tended to go Raccoon or worse…Joker.
Moments later the door to the oh-so-unglamorous rooftop swung open on its squeaky hinges a crack. A corresponding breeze blew up from the street as a chilling confirmation of the wet tracks on her face. From the doorway a familiar small fluffy yippy thing bounded out, followed not by a hunk of total Handsome Hotness but instead by the across-the-hall-neighbor Mr. Krunk. Jen stopped so suddenly her balance was thrown off a bit. Whoa, she thought, this is only an act. But Precious? With ‘Skrunk’? Her sad face morphed quickly from confused to angry.
“You? What’s the dog…” she stopped as the thing ran over and uncharacteristically leapt into her arms. Either the dog disliked the hunchbacked old guy too, or it had gotten into her mom’s mood-altering medicine cabinet.
“Surprised to see me? Why my dear?” The man’s face betrayed virtually no concern or anxiety at seeing the young woman precariously perched either between life and death or at minimum life-threatening injury.
She was feeling lightheaded now and had come mighty close to toppling backwards when Precious had landed in her arms.
“I’ve suspected something like this was coming for days now,” he said sadly; it was the most ‘conversation’ that the two of them had had.
Jen gave him a puzzled look at which the normally tense and impatient man’s face relaxed, taking years off of it – for an instant she thought she’d been all wrong about him. Was he more than just nosy?
“After the bon-bon arrived I came up to confirm my suspicions. You didn’t wait, did you.” He started towards her but stopped; he looked to the stairwell and whatever he heard caused a crooked smile to grow across his weathered leather mask of a face. “You should have done what the note asked, but I see now it’s too late for my advice.”
Jen had quit pacing and was having all she could do to remain upright, her voice half whisper, half solid, “You, you drugged me.” It was more statement than question.
“Careful now,” his hand shot out instinctively as if he might steady her from a distance. She straightened a little so he continued, his arm still extended. “You’ve been on a downward plunge ever since we met, missy, I’m only here to help, besides…” he turned again toward the stairs and watched, “Sounds like the Dark Horse decided to act like a Prince Charming early…unfortunately,” he looked down at his watch, “he’s still too late.”
The old man counted down slowly, Jen didn’t know whether it was to her or to the person coming up the stairs, “3…2…” or for that matter whether it was stairs or seconds remaining.
She did know, however, she had neither the strength nor coordination to step down so she got a two-handed close-to-the-chest hold on the trembling dog, like a sideline basketball ref might, and started to toss him to safety. Unfortunately Precious must have read Jen’s mind; he pushed off with all the might his 6-pound frame could muster.
At the periphery of her tunneling vision she saw ‘Prince’ Mark, with all his considerable might, shove Mr. Krunk (and the door) aside. Jen barely heard the old man’s throaty groan and was way too distracted this time to notice the squawk of the now flung-wide-open-door’s hinges. She realized wryly how the crack of that door against its housing was like the starting gun for a reverse-header she was now powerless to abort.
Damn that dog to Hell…and Newton’s Laws with him, she thought, twisting, toppling, limply reaching in vain for some out-of-thin-air help. For some reason Jen’s thinking seemed to have sped up just as time from the start of her fall seemed to slow. She could picture herself going over backwards, body straight lined, like the second hand on a wall clock. If Mark ran he could be here in just a few ticks, she thought, I’m only at 11 o’clock now; her field of view began to seriously blur, How mundane the cold morning air feels.
Wind whipped her long straight hair forward then wrapped it back and forth and back again across her face; scalp normally covered and warm, now perfectly wind-parted, turned cool; ears partially covered from that wind muffled and turned otherworldly both the rooftop cries and the mechanical street sounds. At the10 o’clock position, as the sunrise-tinged grey sky scrolled down, down ever more slowly Jen noticed the oddest thing: the top of the building opposite hers plunged down into the pink sky-stain. In the seconds required to take her from 10 to 7 that sturdy bricked edifice had pummeled the entire sky out of sight. The last thing she felt just before her own building mercilessly pummeled not only the back of her head but everything out of what remained of her sight was something or someone pulling her leg, literally.
From an infinite rippling velvet-black distance Jen heard a familiar voice. Masculine, singsong-pitched, boredom vying with annoyance, and yet it was as clear as if it was working directly on her synapses. It began…Down Here you do not have the right to privacy or to remain silent…
To be continued.
[All posts copyright 2011 Patrice Stanton (unless otherwise noted)]