By Emily Fox

Spiral stairs in Saint Istvan Basilika in BudapestIt was the summer of the jumpers. From every height they were falling: from rooftops, from bridges, from sharp cliffs onto vicious rock clusters that waited below with greedy crevices. Perhaps it was the heat that drove people to want to fly. The air was heavy with moisture, filling lungs with humidity and pressing in on skin. There wasn’t a single breeze to be found in the entire city. Maybe that’s why they flew.

Modesty flew out the window with the bodies. The sweltering weather caused even the most prudent people to strip to their underwear and stand spread eagle in front of fans that fruitlessly blew air in circles. If it was deemed necessary to leave the world of filtered air, care was taken so as not to overwhelm the body with clothes. And so, it must have been the heat that drove the jumpers. Most of them were found barely clothed.

Maggie, like everyone else in the city, spent her summer by the open windows, simultaneously wishing for relief and cursing the high temperatures that plagued the streets. Steam rose in spirals off of the sidewalks below, a steamy haze hiding nomadic migrants. They floated in and out of the mist, so translucent that Maggie doubted whether they were even there at all.

It was by her windows that Maggie was first seen. The fans spaced throughout her room, unseen by the travelers below, pushed the white opaque curtains out towards the sky. They danced in the artificial breeze, billowing and rippling, crying out for a truce. All sides lay down your weapons. We surrender.

The man had not meant to look up. He had a purpose, somewhere to be, and was intent on getting there as quickly as possible. It was only because his shoelace had come untied that he had stopped. Wiping the sweat from his upper lip, he raised his dark head and caught sight of the figure framed in the window. Her hands were braced on the frame, long golden hair joining the escape waltz of the curtains. She wore only a short robe, more sheer than not, and it tugged against the tie, trying to free itself.

Maggie had seen him, of course. She was sure that he hadn’t meant to stare, but his tanned face remained tilted up, a look of awe etched across it. Her hand came up to touch her face, to brush her hair out of her eyes. In an involuntary movement, her fingers curled curled in and her hand stretched out, a strange half wave filled with hesitation and longing. She wasn’t even sure if she was reaching for the man or for something further out there.

As she dissolved into the shadows of the room, the man remained frozen on the ground. For the first time in weeks, a chill flooded his body. His shoelace flopped sadly onto the sidewalk. The image of the woman enclosed in the window frame burned into his mind, as hot as the asphalt beneath him. Shaking his head in a desperate attempt to clear it, he quickly knotted the lace and lurched forward. As he rounded the block, he shoved his hands into his pockets and slunk into the cool darkness of the subway.

Maggie hovered just above the sofa, unsure about whether or not she wanted to succumb to the fleshy mildew or melt standing up. A finger dipped into a glass of iced tea on the stand, swirling in the liquid before retrieving a solitary, deformed ice cube. She ran it across her face, her neck, ignoring the trail of sugar it left on her skin. Some things were worth sacrificing for a few seconds of relief.

The news that day was full of stories of more jumpers. A family man, in a miserable suit and tie, lept from the George Washington bridge. A pretty college senior who remained on campus for summer classes stayed suspended in the air, like a wafting balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade; springing a leak, she plummeted to the ground. A lanky teen tried to fly off of his roof and made an unfortunate miscalculation. Two broken legs, a broken arm, several broken ribs, and a fractured skull. Internal damage. There was little chance that he’d be jumping ever again.

Maggie sucked on sweetened ice and watched the stories unfold. She made up her own stories about each person. She gave them degrees and occupations, big houses and motorhomes. They had traversed the globe, had never left their hometown, had married their high school sweetheart, had never had a successful date. This one was engaged to a lawyer, and was going to have a big wedding filled with pink and tulle and a delicate flower girl in a puffy dress. That one cleaned bathrooms at the Mini-Mart on the corner, but wrote screenplays about odd superheroes in his free time. Maggie liked to give them lives.

The strange man who boarded the subway car never watched the news. He didn’t like to be reminded of the harshness of the world. He saw enough of that with his own eyes every day. But no one could escape the stories of the jumpers. A steady buzz filled the air, expelling more carbon monoxide and heat than was necessary.

“Did you hear? Right onto the rocks. I heard his head was split in two.”

“Heh, crazy people. Didja hear ‘bout that girl? Too bad. Poor parents had to spray the front walk off with the hose.”

“Downright dumb, I tell ya. Damn dog days make people do the dumbest things.”

It was impossible to ignore the hum of voices. Each voiced loud opinions, indifferent to anyone who may be listening or, more likely, trying not to. The man swayed in time with the moving car, trying to block out the sounds of conversation. Impossible. The words leaked into his brain, twirling and twisting around his mental image of the woman in the window. He wondered who she was. So much of his time was spent looking at the cracked pavement, putting one foot in front of the other. He hardly ever looked up. And the one time he did…

Maggie was back at the window. She liked to watch the shadows climb the buildings and vanish over the rooftops. Clutching her flowered robe to her chest, she squinted at the sky. Something was different. Something was not right. She leaned out of the window as far as she dared, contorting in such a fashion that allowed her to look up at the roof of her own building.

Black clouds were undulating across the perky blue sky, a bizarre juxtaposition. They rolled in like great dark horses, slow and steady and powerful. The sun flickered and went out, bathing the streets in premature darkness. Still Maggie hung out the window. People below halted their hurrying feet and gaped at the spectacle. Several pointed above Maggie’s building; others backed away before rushing off in fright, presumably to find comfort indoors.

The lightning was not altogether unexpected, but from the city arose a unified cry of alarm when electricity jutted across the clouds. A thunderous rumble started at the back of the cloud bank and furled forward, a giant speaker broadcasting to the city. The sidewalks, for the first time in several weeks, began to clear as people ran for shelter. Huddled in doorways and restaurants and hotel lobbies, they peered fearfully out at the storm encroaching on their home.

And still Maggie hung out the window. Her face was staring at the black mass when a single drop splashed onto her face, followed by another, and another. The rain mixed with the sugar-sweat caked on her skin, saturated her hair, ran in rivulets down her collarbones and between her breasts. Maggie stretched her arms to the sky, uninhibited and welcoming. The heavens opened, and she bathed in their offering.

The rain was hitting the pavement with an evil hiss when the man climbed out of the subway. He stared in shock at deluge issuing from above. Running his hands through his hair, he let the rain soak through his clothes. As people rushed around him, briefcases and purses lofted over their heads in a frantic attempt to keep from getting wet, the man raised his arms to the sky and welcomed the rain with an upturned face.

The city stilled. Cars froze on the roads as water gushed in rivers around tires. Subway steps turned into waterfalls. The news anchors changed topics, air-conditioned and dry in their newsrooms.

“The most rain we’ve seen in months,” they said.

“This could be a new record.”

“Just what we needed, you know. Break this heat wave, get everyone back on track.”

They chattered and laughed on-air, relieved to have something new to talk about. They were confident, so confident, that this change in weather would mean no more jumpers. No more insane, heat-crazed people to make headlines with their broken bodies and red-eyed family members and candle vigils when it was too hot to even think about a flame.

Maggie reentered her room, robe even more transparent as it clung to her wet form. Her golden hair had turned dark with water, snaking around her face and neck. A few droplets remained on her eyelashes, clinging on the tips as she had clung to the windowsill moments before. Just under the torrent of rain on the roof, Maggie could hear the laughter of the news anchors on television.

And then, Maggie flew.



Category: Fiction, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student