THE PLUMMETING MAN
It was all about the sun. After all, the whole world revolved around it. How long had Earth’s inhabitants laughed off the warnings about greenhouse gases? Blissfully went about their lives ignoring the ozone layer and the man-made hole in it? Their neglect would be the death of him today, and tomorrow or ten years from now for everyone he left behind. The ones screaming as he began his plummet. He would hear those screams for the rest of his life. All five seconds of it.
How quickly to fall so far, thirty-three floors from the window of the towering DP Building, stretching up 476 feet into the irreparably ruined sky. The brain can process 43,156 thoughts per second. The plummeting man had a lot to think about.
He thought of how reflexively he dove out of the window when he caught a glimpse of the woman falling from the neighboring Chrysler building. Completely natural, and completely futile. A senseless act, and now, two would die. The plummeting man was experiencing complete and utter powerlessness. It felt sickening, and it felt foreign.
Random thought: Gravity is a harsh mistress.
A cold wind ripped through his thinning black hair, which had recently begun to gray. “Dignified,” people said. “Mortal,” he thought. Combined with the headaches and blurred vision, all part of a downward trend. No pun intended, he told himself. The rushing air stung his nostrils and his face. He held on to his glasses, a meaningless gesture. What really can you hang onto in the end? Even dignity is wrenched away.
He tumbled past the plunging body of the woman. For a split second their eyes met. In that moment, it appeared to him that her terror had turned into recognition, and then, ironically, relief.
He wished he could save her. Story of his life.
Why was she out here? What made her decide on this day, at this exact moment, to leap to her death? Why did her heart decide that it must on this day, this moment, beat final hurried beats, and come to an explosive stop on the street below?
Random thought: Time sure flies when you cannot.
I have way too much time to think, he thought.
The tie flapping in his face was a gift from Elle. Calvin Klein, of course. Brilliant blue, like his eyes. “I love you, C.K.,” she had told him only this morning. What would she think? Elle would never accept his death as a suicide. He had left no note, and he had had absolutely no reason to take his life. No way. One thing was certain, the investigative reporter in her would never let this go until she had answers, even impossible ones. What would she make of the woman lying broken next to him, he wondered?
Every muscle hurt, from his face to his feet. He had once been so very strong. Now he was a shadow of his former self. The world had already killed him; the quickly approaching impact was merely a formality.
The plummeting man tumbled in the air, facing up, registering every sight. How cold and dark the buildings, how gray the sky, how very red the sun. Controlled solely by gravity, his body twisted again, and he is facing down. His final stop. Mr. Matson’s battered 1940 DeSoto is illegally parked below. It’s about to become a steel pancake. What had Butch been up to, anyhow? One thing was sure, he thought, he was going to need to steal another car soon. Stop thinking, he thought.
Random thought: It’s a bird… It’s a plane…
I’ve reached an all-time low, he thought, then corrected himself. No, not yet. That’s coming in a quarter of a second. Still time enough for 10,000 more thoughts. Most of them at the same time: sounds, colors, memories, dreams. Every single sentence of every article ever churned out from the DP building above. Stranger’s voices, pieces of melodies. The scent of Elle’s perfume. Countless babies’ names, and the one they’d settled upon. Topography, bibliography. Every sunrise and sunset he had ever seen. There was orientation or logic; his brain was merely executing a data dump, a single electrical impulse with every bit of contemplation and caprice in an indiscernible hodgepodge.
Random thought: Jimmy always liked that word. Hodgepodge.
On the sidewalk a discarded pamphlet fluttered. The front read, “What If You Died in the Next Five Minutes.” There was no question mark.
He echoed that thought in the instant that he stopped falling. What if.
Everyone had a lot to answer for. So many What ifs. What if we’d cared more for our planet, the one that he also called home? What if the accelerated deterioration of his uncanny mental and physical powers had been prevented?
Some of this was on him, too.
What if he hadn’t made such an uncharacteristic and fatal gaffe? Had not mistaken the falling mannequin, some ill-advised prank, for a real woman? He ought to have seen right through the childish ruse. What if he had never jumped, or had, but had landed the way he had many times before?
What if the world had saved their superman like he had saved them?
Random thought: Ouch.