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Falling Man

What good is having amazing powers of observation if you can't do a damn thing about what you observe?

Perhaps we should all take a cue from Billy Pilgrim. It's better in the zoo...

Falling Man by Charles Tarlton




So, this is what happened on Christmas Eve; see what you can make of it. I woke at the regular time, got up reluctantly, went to the bathroom, made some coffee, turned on the radio, and dropped lethargically into my big chair. Out of my apartment window I could see, in the distance and just to the right of the Fairmont Tower, the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel, where an American flag hung limply from the flagpole.

At that exact moment, a man appeared at the base of the flagpole. He seemed so small, like a tin toy soldier on the roof. Then he jumped, fell, slid, and tumbled down the steeply sloped roof, off the bottom edge, and into the air. I watched the small, dark, human figure flailing against the gray sky as he fell, but he disappeared immediately behind the roofline of the apartment building right across the street.
           
An hour of listening to the news on radio and TV yielded no mention of what I had just witnessed. I started worrying. Either I had clearly lost my mind and made up the whole thing, or a horrible accident (maybe even a murder!) was going totally unnoticed. I began to panic. Had I just dreamt it?
           
I searched the distance between my apartment and the Mark Hopkins on Google and found it was exactly 1.2 miles—straight up Powell, a slight nudge right at Filbert, left briefly on Columbus, back onto Powell and then right on California. I took off on foot, stopped for a gelato on Columbus Avenue, and then arrived, in just over half and hour, in front of the hotel.

No police vans, no ambulances, no NewsHour trucks, nothing. Tourists walked out of the hotel, the doorman signaled for cabs, and they drove off to wherever the tourists were going these days. Another cab would pull up, someone would get out, pay the cabbie, and go into the hotel. The doorman touched his fingers to his cap.
           
I walked nonchalantly past the doorman and into the lobby. There was a time when the doorman at such a hoity-toity hotel would have noticed me, maybe even asked my business there. But no one said anything. I crossed the lobby and waited for an elevator. I took the one that went to the Top of the Mark, and when I stepped out there I was in front of a wall of windows looking out over the city from the combined height of nineteen stories added to Nob Hill’s three hundred and twenty five feet. Waiters came and went. A trio of musicians played soft jazz, and there was the low murmur of conversation. In the background, the tinkling of glasses.   
           
If someone had fallen past these windows, flapping his arms, twisting his face into a grotesque mask, there was no evidence of it now. I stepped back into the waiting elevator, rode it down to the lobby, and walked slowly but very business-like out onto the street. I couldn’t help thinking that people all around were hiding something, like they were all in on it.
           
It was conceivable the body could’ve fallen without anyone seeing it. But if no one had picked it up, it would still be lying around somewhere. I started investigating in slowly expanding circles around the base of the Mark Hopkins, walking along and looking casually as if I were a tourist searching for a dropped fanny pack. I looked behind dumpsters in the alley, tried the handles of locked doors, checked under parked cars, peered into dusty windows.

Given the circumstances, no one could blame me if I became just a little paranoid. I felt my shoulders stiffen as I looked quickly around. I felt like I was being watched, but I saw no one. At first, that is. As I emerged from the alley I noticed a black Dodge Charger parked in a no-parking zone. The car started and drove slowly out into the traffic and down the street. I wrote the license number in my little notebook. ROT ZZZ.
           
I decided to take a circuitous route home, walking in the shadows whenever I could, and taking only less traveled streets. I waited under the awning at the sushi place across the street, watching my apartment for a long time. I thought I saw a shadow through the Venetian blinds, but I convinced myself I was being silly. I went upstairs, and when I opened the door, the apartment was very quiet. Nothing seemed to have been disturbed. I went from room to room, checking everything. If anyone had been in here, they were good; you’d never have known it.
           
Eventually, I turned on the news. Still no mention of the falling man. I had my dinner and settled into my chair to watch a little TV before bed. I was just dozing off when I thought I heard something—a soft scratching outside my door. I jumped up. I went close to the door. I heard it again, a definite scratching around the lock. The scratching became louder and rougher. I ran around the apartment looking for something to defend myself with, looking for a place to hide, trying to think what to do. The scratching turned into a pounding and scraping, as if someone were attacking my lock with a mallet and chisel. 
           
The scrapping and whacking stopped, the metal handle turned, the door opened. Two men in sweat pants and hooded sweatshirts came in.

“No! No!” I began sobbing.

One of them held me as the other crossed the room and opened the window. He looked out and down and then came back. Without a word, the two of them took hold and pushed me as I started screaming toward the open window.


Charles Tarlton is a retired philosophy professor. He has published several poems in various e-magazines as well as an e-chapbook in the 2River series. Muse-Pie Press recently nominated three of his tanka-prose pieces for a Pushcart.