I’d been taking the stairs for what could’ve been months, or possibly decades. I am no longer sure I can trust such constructs. Because, well, you see, today, on my way down, I discovered that I was going up.
“Life’s worth little without others to share it with.”
This came from a computer repairwoman who’d almost rammed into me head-on as I was contemplating the special relative-and-certain dynamics of ascending versus descending.
“Excuse you,” she coughed, and then went about her way past me. I was not hurrying. I kept to my stepping-down form.
The echo of pattering shoes — some clomps, some more like firecrackers or racquetball volleys — made for a bland accompaniment to my journey. I sung, “Going down…going…doooown,” just above a whistle as I watched my shoes for signs of deceit. They were with me, still, as I followed gravity’s pull, though I did wonder if my eyes were worth trusting.
I forget things easily. My dreams come blabbering back to me in fits and untied ends. The care I don’t take gets crammed back into the socks I never wear anymore. My toes get sore.
Another few flights and I was feeling breezy and fit. A few hoarse-yodeling cow traders thumped by. I held tight to the handrail. Down below I could faintly make out a brushstroke of browning grass beneath where the stairwell ended and life began.
With stinging eyes and an iron coat, I made sure I didn’t give in to the disharmony of joint perspective. Instead, above the sound a breath makes, I promulgated this: “I am my surroundings, and then none.” It was something to say before handing over my destiny to less-raving satisfiers of lunacy.
“No. I mean, perhaps.”
“Do you dare walk forward instead of back, here?”
“Wouldn’t that be there?”
“Questions are out of the question, Dear. Now. Up or down? Which would make the most sense?”
“Down. Of course. Well?”
“Wrong! Always wrong. Why? Why do you always have to be so defiant?”
“Defiance marks the act of a stranger blending in without any scenery to speak of.”
“Sure. Well, just keep your head.”
I’m not sure when it happened. It could’ve been just a gut feeling, a pinch of nerves. I had a pain on the roof of my mouth, and then I could feel sun, somehow, on my neck. I was ascending. Nothing was as it should be.
“But that’s just what they want you to think.”
“Okay. But who?”
“The imposter who dresses up as you, who plays the part, whose petulance gets him nowhere, who…”
A bird chirped from the stairwell. Stultified. Trapped. Pondering outs that just kept it in. Another stranger lost in these parts for worse good.
“Listen. Brightness skewered your eyes as you scoped out a few gleaming sights: egg-shell white smoothed over clumpy steaks of plaster, the windows all lined up to 16 stories, cornices streaked with yellowed deliverance. You were so small, just a mite of a thing, really. Begging the sky with a cluttered heart for the cheapest ways to survive it all. Besides, it was one of those rare crisp, clear autumn days you get in late September that make you feel lucky to be alive. You should have set aside an hour to enjoy it; but, of course, you didn’t. You stayed indoors too much. You muted and clarified your ideas with scotch. You braised your brain with music. And now, look at you. Going up. Going on down. It’s all the same trek. You are too used to it to know the difference.”
A sneeze baffled me momentarily. I could’ve sworn I heard somebody squeal, “Amen.” I stepped up, and then felt as if I were stepping down, again. The wind was nowhere to be found. I no longer had any conception of being inside or out. I went down the stairs while ascending. Nothing was abnormal about this at all. Telling the difference between the two was the lie. Above and below were insignificant trifles when compared to the placement of a body always in motion ambulating about on an orbiting and spinning mass of rock that was itself never up or down or sideways at all, only relatively, depending on its perception to an onlooker of which there were currently none. Some of us are always upside-down to others.
The sense of falling gave rise to a blander notion of fleeing as an intelligence officer slipped by me, stroking his hands across my torso as he did.
“Pardoned, you are,” he croaked from somewhere now too distant to be of any use.
I checked for my wallet in my coat pocket. It wasn’t there. I wondered if it ever had been. Looking back, and then forward, I got confused as to the nature of my escape, and if there were others who could not tell the difference between from or to, or knew not whence they came. I decided it was the going that mattered. I stopped dawdling. The stairs, marvelous echelon constructs that they were, disseminated in rows denoting some canonical inkling in the satisfaction of even levels. I became convinced that I was merely floating through a fraudulent linear system, inconsistent, where zero always equaled one, but never the reverse. “Or would that be always in reverse, as there is no forward. But no. There is no back either. Wait. So, all is many, or…one?” My thoughts unraveled like ripped seams. I was poured into the constraints of limitless abandon. All ideas of up or down were subjective until an object arrived to determine the nature of matter’s distortion of it. My own interpretations could not be relied upon. I stepped. There was no echo, no tone, no dimension I could place myself in the midst of. I stopped and pretended I were being watched. I decided to ignore the now-obvious fact that I was alone.
“Former ground-floor sloped-roof sheds for sale: now detached, on rooftops, two rooms and a bath among the clouds,” from some ancient magazine rung true. And my gaze forfeited laterally, for what worth was redeemed in the looking. I was forward, and back too. Perforce, the stairs seemed to occupy random flights of movement. Whatever way I attempted to step in, all was vague and oblique. Direction was ablated. I can recall having one simple complexity of a thought: “There is no up here. And down is obsolete.” Afterwards, which very well could have been before, I stumbled over a sudden response’s dependency, leapt lightly, and soon fell head-and-foot-long later into the hard-won causality of the world.