The wall stands, as it always has. That is what it was made for, after all. But one summer afternoon – August 19, 2011 to be exact, sometime after the European Union issued an embargo on Syrian crude oil but well before the Chicago Cubs fired Jim Hendry, who had worked for them for twenty-five years – the wall decided to drop the ‘it’ and become a ‘he.’ It – excuse me, he – felt like it was just time. He blinked for the first time, causing a dull picture of a Mason jar to shake from its perch and drop to the ground. “Sometimes it is a good thing when the airport loses your baggage.” It is something he heard once, during a time when students sat at the tables.
He remembered a certain young woman’s attention directed out the window, oblivious to the discussion going on inside. Some of the students would have called her pretty plain. Others would have said she possessed a subtle beauty, and he knew of one student in particular that looked at her like she was Elizabeth Taylor herself. But what he knew for sure was that if he had to return to the existence of a forgettable piece of architecture, he could stand another few decades if she was in the room. So he left the Mason jar on the floor and went out to look for her.
A person can tell a lot about the infrastructure of a building if it is still standing after one of its walls forces itself out of its frame. Not to say that there wasn’t a lot of confusion and abject terror, of course. The janitor on the third floor huddled under a doorway after the building started to shake, praying to a God he hadn’t prayed to since childhood. Daly Benson and Vahini Ganapathy, grad students whose idea of a cheap thrill was getting to know each other Biblically in an empty office on the second floor, more or less didn’t notice. Helena Moretti, who was just breast-feeding her child on the other side of the country, was just looking outside of her apartment musing on how peaceful Central Park was in the evening.
Regardless, the act was as easy as getting out of bed. He stretched, and the roof caved in. He stepped over the rubble and was disappointed to find that he could not fit through the door, which was swinging wildly off of its hinges. More baggage. He tore off the excess – confetti strips of drywall and puffs of calcium drifting into the air like balloons – until a lean figure remained. He admired his new look in the remains of the window. He decided to take the stairs down. He did not want to pop his elevator cherry just yet – that will be with someone special. Besides, it had been a very long time since he got exercise and today seemed like a good day to start.
The first things he learned as he took timid steps out of the building was that the wind was cold when you were naked and fire engine sirens were loud when you were not prepared to hear them. He decided to seek shelter in a building to the west with large glass windows. It represented a new haven. A new beginning. The wall hummed a tune and in doing so found out that he could. He would not enter this new building as a piece of construction supporting the ceiling. He would not enter it and be forgotten. He would enter it as an individual with purpose. He would be noticed. Remembered. Celebrated, even. This, truly, was an important step in figuring out who he was and why he existed. According to his students: “Oprah calls it empowerment.”
Also, the young woman might be in there so all the more reason to go.
Upon entering, he found the place to be full of people already. It was some kind of food court. Linoleum floors, neon signs. And the people. They were all talking, and chewing, sometimes gesticulating, and the amount of energy inspired him. Friends. The word tasted nothing like gypsum board and white paint. He relished it, and sighed for the first time in his existence.
He would start off slow. Test the waters. Take baby steps. He approached an older woman whose black hair was pulled tight into a bun. The sheen coming off her head was pointed towards the book in her hands. “First impressions are often the truest.” His students had never steered him wrong so far, and he remembered a rather bold yet honest introduction he had heard from a young man who often spoke out in class.
“Hey baby,” he said as he laid a hand on her shoulder. “Are you an angel? Because I have an erection.”
The second thing he learned was that a slap to the face could hurt in many more ways than a punch to the gut ever can. He retreated to an empty table next to the window panes. He wondered if there was anything that could ever cause a window pain. Perhaps the window was in lust with a co-worker. It had spent time at the office Christmas party talking to and drinking with this co-worker, and when it asked if the two of them could get to know each other better away from the party, the co-worker – breath smelling like five parts vodka, two parts coffee liqueur, and three parts fresh cream – laughed and called it unfuckable, sending it into a shame nose-dive that crashed into an inability to form any kind of meaningful connection with any other person up until it was fired in disgrace for propositioning a co-worker and it would spend the quiet nights after that renting shitty romantic comedies and freeze-framing the sex scenes in a desperate effort to rub one out before crying itself silently to sleep with only its pillow beside to make believe that there was someone out there who loved it and trusted it enough to share nights with it.
The wall wondered whether this was pity or sympathy in his gut. Never one to let fellow furniture wallow in its own self-inflicted misery, he had a silent conversation with it.
“,” he grumbled.
“,”, the window warned.
“,” he argued.
“,” the window replied.
“,” he demanded.
“,” the window assured him.
“,” he conceded.
He had to admit that the window raised a good point. He stayed there long after the people filed out of the doors, and he stayed there long after he had licked down the free ice cream cone he was offered by an elderly fast food employee around 4:23 in the morning. She had patted him on the back and told him, “This one’s on the house, sweetheart.”
The wall stepped outside at 6:04 am, eleven minutes before the sun was due to rise that morning. Iran will sentence two hikers from the United States to eight years in prison, and a suicide bomber will kill forty worshippers in a mosque in Pakistan. But at the same time, two lovers will wake up and find out that she is with child and he has a tendency to take the Lord’s name in vain when he receives surprising news. They will decide to keep it – the he or she that it may be – despite their rocky financial situation. They will have dinner together that night for the first time since October 7, 2010 and remember why they started sleeping with each other in the first place. The child will be known as Evelyn, after a woman who will have trouble deciding whether to kiss her daughter or strangle her future son-in-law after receiving the news.
“You’re going to have a good day,” that young woman would say as she looked outside the window, well before class would start and the rest of her peers would trickle into the room. So the wall looked to the sky. It was a clear blue mirror – cracked only by the points of stars and the pink of a newborn dawn. He felt something catch in his throat, and his view blurred. This was her gift to him. He wiped the tears falling from his face. He reached up to grab the day, but found that his reach wasn’t long enough. So he stripped off the rest of him, insulation and wiring and all. He looked back to the windows and could not find a body there to admire, but saw that he had everything he needed.
He lifted himself off the ground, and kept going.
The buildings fell away. So did the trees and the window pains, and soon after that whole cities and countries. It was night-time in China, and the lights from the buildings in Shenzhen blinked in farewell. He felt that he might be going too fast, but that implied that there was something he was leaving behind. There wasn’t. There won’t be. In nine months’ time, Mars will be leaving the house of Aries to enter Taurus. Evelyn will be a stillbirth. The DOW Jones will close, down 0.13% from the previous day. The wall fell into the curtain of clouds and rose from the ozone layer. He sped away from the planet, as it grew smaller and smaller, until it was a pale speck of dust in the corner of his vision. Past the many moons of Jupiter, the great dark eye of Neptune, and the now-defunct Pluto. Past the countless white dwarfs and the red supergiants, noting how many of them were half of the way to super-nova. Past the swirls of the Milky Way Galaxy. Past 40 Eridani.
Until he was surrounded by warm nothingness. And he was left with the steady thrums of distant drum beats and the rush of the wind. And he felt what was left of him curl up into a ball. And he waited for the light.