Terminal Velocity
by Daniel Stern
I slam shut the door, and now I am honestly, truly, in a cube. The transition is very easy for any interested: open door equals cubicle, closed door equals cube. The air feels heavy with the door closed, as if no oxygen can enter or escape, and it seems that eventually you’re going to choke on your own breath, which barely hisses out, and every action that you seem fit to perform is a stepping stone to unconsciousness, one more expenditure of energy closer to a great big nothing. Picking up my pencil feels like a leap of faith, its thin hexagonal body may be siphoning my lifeblood, my SOUL, through my finger tips, and all for a thin line, maybe some letters (though I will probably doodle), and while I am wasting time, moving the pencil back and forth, some shapeless, impermanent figure forming on the corner of my calendar, I’m rasping, coughing, screaming for air, but in all honesty I am only laughing, because I have drawn something funny, maybe. I erase it so that I never have to look at it again, and decide it’s probably best to leave the room.

In the hallway, I take a deep breath.

Alan strides confidently past me, obviously off to some very important task. However, he wheels around, and smiles that huge, disturbing smile; “You’re coming, right, Hoss?” I hate when he calls me Hoss, but I swiftly evade an entire conversation, I think, by giving two(!) thumbs up, dual-wielding my enthusiasm, a testament to just how very much I want to be at… whatever. When I turn the corner, I see the cake, and I think, “fuck.” I don’t say it, though, because that’s bad etiquette, and I am supposed to care about such things now.

“What in the fuck is that cake for, Grace?!” The door is closed (the room is subsequently a cube, remember) but I can yell now, I can get in a full workout if I wish! Grace negates the stifling atmosphere of the room, and I think it’s because of the way she smells; she’s pure, she’s full of life, and I guess this isn’t really telling you much about how she smells, but I hope you can gather what I mean without me having to resort to saying something cliché. “You don’t have to curse. It’s Julianne’s birthday; don’t you read your emails?” I guffaw at this, and it’s probably the wrong thing to do because she raises an eyebrow, and I’d wager that in a moment she’s going to smooth out her skirt, and after winking at me, will leave the room. I go sit in my chair, and before I can ask another question, she smooths her skirt, stands up, and says, “See ya there,” winks, and walks out of the room. Grace comes into my office a lot. I don’t think she likes me, though; I am pretty good at guessing stuff like that.

We’re now on the second word of the birthday song (“birthday”), and that’s when I decide what I want to do with the rest of my life. During the third line, I turn around and sprint down the hallway, and even though I can feel everyone watching me, the song goes on, and never stops, even after I pitch myself out the window.

While I’m rocketing towards the ground, reaching terminal velocity (I think, I’m not so good with science), I wonder what Julianne wished for. I hope it was something that is within grasp, something she can realistically expect. How wonderful is it when you get your exact birthday wish? When I was a kid, it happened every year, because I wouldn’t shut the hell up about exactly what it was I wanted. I’d stand over the cake, and squint my eyes, and say nothing, wishing for a super Nintendo; lo and behold, I got one, and didn’t have the sense to remember that I’d only asked for it about every third sentence for the last four months. It was a wish come true... THAT’S what Grace smells like! Wow! Serendipity, eh? I’d like to have it noted that when you jump out of a building, you have a great deal of time to think on the way down.

“I think that was very rude of you,” Grace chides through tears. I can’t see anything, and my leg, I don’t even know if it’s still attached. I manage to say something: “…Grace… is.. that you?” “Open your eyes, Kevin,” she sighs. I do. She is the only one next to me, there are no paramedics, or police, or even co-workers. They’re all at the window I leapt out of, gaping at me. I’m vaguely cross that none of them even had the goddamn courtesy to come down a flight of stairs to see if I was okay. I go to wipe Grace’s face, and she starts laughing, to the point of tears, again. “Come off it, you idiot, you fell thirteen feet.” “Well, my leg really hurts,” I pout.

She helps me up, and lets me put my arm around her, and she helps me limp back to the building. “Hey, Grace, did Julianne say her wish out loud? When she blew out the candles?” Grace brushes some hair out of her eyes, and when she looks at me, I realize for the first time that she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life, and that I want her. “People don’t really do that past the age of, oh, say, ten, Kevin. I’m going to go to the nurse and get you some crutches, okay?” She sits me down, and before going into the building, she turns around, and I just know she’s going to wink at me. She doesn’t. “You know, Kevin…” She curls her hair around a finger, and she’s speaking in a tone I’ve never heard before. It’s amazing how different a person seems when you see them outside of the normal venue. “Kevin, you made my wish come true,” she tells me, and I don’t know what I should do or say. “Is that so?” Smooth. She smiles warmly and says, “Yep. I was very much hoping that you would pitch yourself out of a window today.” She winks, and goes inside to get me crutches. I wonder if she likes me.
Posted by: Daniel Stern

Prose (August 30th, 2006)