Jumpers (Three Crow Fiction)

Jumpers By Steve Lowe

Marvin squirms in the wet grass with a shiv rammed into his side as tinny intonations of Beethoven’s fifth symphony emanate from his pocket. Lucy’s ringtone.

They picked a spot just above his belt, in that fleshy area around the hip, the tender love handle, to plunge the sharpened hunk of metal. Last he heard, they were lacing the tips of their homemade blades with poison, but he doesn’t know if it’s true. He coaxes the ice pick from his body and flips open his cellphone, oblivious to the chaos around him.

“Lucy.”

“Daddy? Are you OK? What’s happening there?”

“Yeah, baby, I’m OK.” Not very convincing spoken through clenched teeth. A frail woman in a wheelchair rolls past him, screaming.

“Is something wrong, hon?”

“Yes. Mommy jumped off the balcony.”

Shit.

Silence for a couple beats. The nearby flames reach up into the sky and warm his face, but in his mind he sees Anna floating through the air in slow motion. Imagines Lucy watching her mother climb up onto the iron balcony railing, the look of shock on her face as Anna disappears over the edge.

“OK. I’ll be right there.”

“OK.”

* * *

Eight floors up. Hang time was probably under four seconds, less than half a second per floor. They have the cordons up and sheets out, and they’re taking pictures. Round, pale faces with hands covering mouths lean out of the higher windows above, peering into the square the police made, watching the photographer work.

Marvin limps a little and his hands crackle with a coating of crusty blood. The hole in his side is inflamed and swollen shut, a large patch of angry flesh surrounding a black, seeping dot. The shiv is in his jacket pocket, a rusty ice pick with a split wood handle. He doesn’t remember stuffing it in there or why he still has it. He tosses it into a nearby trashcan.

Somebody up the street screams and dozens of faces snap around. Marvin hears the splat on the pavement, sees her body bouncing, flopping, twitching. Eight floors up, a man hangs out a window, yelling gibberish, crying. Cops run down the street. Already, they’re setting up a perimeter around this newly shattered woman on the sidewalk. Swirls of raven hair lost in a widening pool of blood on the cold concrete. Sirens cry out in the distance, their omnipresence so common they’re hardly noticeable anymore, like crickets outside the window on a summer night.

Marvin watches a cop wearing a wrinkled suit and several days’ worth of unchecked whiskers scribble into a notepad. The cop had been writing down details of Anna’s suicide, listing the grim scene on paper marked with bullet points and hash marks, but now he’s facing toward the new jumper up the street. He flips the page on his legal pad and prepares a new list. His shoulders lurch. His head bobs rhythmically as he writes.

Marvin averts his eyes as he passes the weeping cop and struggles up the stairs to his daughter. He pushes the image of the man reaching his breaking point from his mind. He refuses to allow it in. Can’t let Lucy see him crack. She needs him to be strong. Especially now.

The elevator is out, yellow police tape criss-crossed over the door until they clean up the mess from yesterday’s jumper in the elevator shaft. That one was a man, an increasingly common sight these days, usually not long after a wife or girlfriend or daughter takes the plunge. They just snap, can’t take it anymore, can’t go on without the other. Can’t swallow all the reality. Hard to tell what reality even is anymore.

Marvin squats, Lucy wobbling in front of him. A 12-year girl trapped in an eight-year old’s frame, so slight. So frightfully small it pains his heart. Fat tears crowd the corners of her wide, staring, dilated eyes, and reflect the glaring light in the hallway. They fall and splash on his hand. She’s in shock. He puts his arms around her and holds her. He prays for her to fall apart, to sob into his shoulder, but she just stands there, limp.

“It’s alright, babe, I’m here.”

“Why did she jump?”

Marvin leans back and watches her for a moment. She’s blank. Staring straight past him at nothing. Looks like how he feels. Numb.

“C’mon, let’s go inside.”

She shuffles ahead and stops at the couch like she’s going to sit, but she doesn’t. Just stands and looks at the battered cushions pressing against her knees. There’s papers all over the folding card table that’s shoved up against the wall of the pathetic little dining room which doubled as Lucy’s bedroom, the couch her bed. Marvin sees his name at the top of most of the pages. They weren’t legally divorced just yet. Bills and medical forms still bear evidence of his patriarchal position as head of the family. They’re all typed on the letterhead of the Federal Medical Cooperative. Test results. Blood counts. Something about Dorsha and Dicer levels, whatever the hell those are.

Results Out Of Range. Bolded lines. Heavy red and black type.

Marvin plucks a solitary letter off the floor. A form letter with yesterday’s date printed at the top. Nearby is its FMC envelope in tatters.

Dear Mr. Marvin Henry,

We are sorry to inform you that PATIENT #4511023LGHENRY45528 has tested positive for STROMER’S SYNDROME. Please refer to your appointed health care district office on APPT. DATE CURRENTLY UNAVAILABLE for appropriate treatment.

It says Sincerely at the bottom, but it’s blank underneath. No signature. Dear Schmuck. Your wife is going to die. She’s got an incurable disease. She’s gonna be devastated by pain and suffering and will pass in the worst way imaginable. She’ll develop tumors all over her body, especially in her breasts and uterus and on her ovaries. She’ll bleed and cry. If she lets it happen. Sincerely, your inhuman, computer generated, government appointed physician.

Sincerely, Fuck You.

Marvin looks up from the letter to the open sliding glass door. A breeze rustles the yellowed lace panel. Lucy is still standing in front of the couch. Five long strides and he’s on the balcony, his hands gripping the wrought iron rail. Leaning over, looking straight down. The white cover on his wife has begun to soak through. It’s settled to the ground and he can make out the sprawled outline of her form. Echoes of sirens ring the city like holiday music.

Marvin looks down the street to the buzz of activity around the new jumper. The distraught man is standing on his own balcony, gripping his own wrought iron rail. He’s looking over at Marvin. They stand there staring at each other.

In the distance, smoke curls into the sky until it melts into the low, gray overcast. The firebombs went off an hour ago, still burning.

* * *

A crowd of women strong enough to walk or stand encircled the clinic. The sick and dying hung back and watched from their wheelchairs. Some along the front line looked healthy and their voices boomed. Most of the other women were bald and emaciated. Their translucent skin sucked over their bones. They still marched. They removed their tops to reveal the bandages from their mastectomies. Shadows lingered in their sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. They cinched arms and formed a wall. They shouted and carried signs that blamed the Koreans or the Muslims or the President. That we were dumping it into our own water supply. They demanded answers.

They screamed at Marvin and the men around him until they were hoarse.

Why is our government trying to murder us?

Send out the poisoners.

Open the records.

Stop killing your women.

Die, pigs.

When they neared their end, they would jump. Their final protest. Some would wear their signs down with them. The dead would speak through news photographs and television reports.

Let those who killed me clean up my mess.

Look at what my government has done to me.

Arrest my murderers.

Why?

But first, they marched, right up to the wall of men opposing them with riot gear and plexiglass shields and hard, black truncheons. They did not stop. They dared Marvin to hit them. They screamed in his face, their breath clouding over his visor. They pulled at his shield and kicked his legs. A skeleton of a woman stood before him. Her drawstring cotton pants dangled from her pointed hips. Bloodshot eyes flaring with hatred, bandages encompassing her torso. He wanted to reach out to her, tell her he was sorry, that this was only a job. That he meant her no harm. That he had never done any woman harm. She spat blood on his visor, the stringy red streaking across his vision.

Gas canisters erupted behind the women and their chain fractured. They attacked the line of fortified men unwilling to fight them back. The man to Marvin’s left began to weep, then dropped his shield and ran. The women broke into groups and set upon the men, punching and kicking and clawing at them. Marvin tried to stand, refusing to strike the three in front of him. One of them pulled out the ice pick and stuck him. The firebomb erupted and the women sent up a cheer. The clinic’s front entrance disappeared behind a wall of flame.

* * *

“Don’t do it.”

“I have to, Anna. I haven’t worked in eight months.”

“I don’t care. You can’t take this job.”

Marvin struggled with the hasp on the hefty belt with its pouches and holsters. Taser, pepper spray, handcuffs, zip ties, baton. All the tools necessary for suppressing the rioting sick and walking dead.

“When something better comes up, I’ll take it. This is only temporary. It’s a security guard’s job. I’m not going to be gunning women down in the street.”

She sat across from him on the bed and watched him with red, puffy eyes. “If you go, don’t bother coming back.”

“Why? Why do you have to do this right now? What would you have me do, let Lucy starve? Stand in food lines for hours? Beg? Steal?”

“Yes.”

“How could you think that the government, our own government, would go out of its way to pump a disease into our water or food or air to kill off all the women? What would be accomplished? It’s ridiculous.”

“Then why is there no response? They act as if nothing is wrong. They refuse to open the records on North Korea and tell us what they brought back. What about the biological weapons they appropriated? What about the terrorists they allow to waltz into the country?”

“Those are just rumors, and besides, we’re still fighting the North Koreans! How about, it’s a matter of national security?”

“And the deaths of hundreds of women every month isn’t?”

Marvin shook his head. “I can’t do this now. I have to go or I’ll be late.”

“Fine. Go.”

Marvin leaned over to kiss her. She turned her face away in disgust.

* * *

The man on the opposing balcony is still watching him. Marvin heads back into the apartment. Lucy lies curled up on the couch, her feet on her pillow, her knees against her chest. Her eyes three quarters shut. He rubs the hole in his side and groans at the fire burning under his skin. Sweat soaks him through. He snatches a pill bottle off the little table. Empty. Next to it is a pink cup with hearts on it faded by a thousand washings. There’s white residue at the bottom. He squints through watery eyes at the label on the pill bottle.

Halcion. Anna’s sleeping meds.

Marvin swirls the residue around in the pink plastic cup.

“Lucy?”

He squats down by her. Eyes barely open. “Lucy?”

“mmm.”

“Baby, did you drink from this cup?”

“mmm.”

“What was in this cup, Lucy?”

“mommy.”

“Mommy gave you this to drink?”

“mmm.”

He peels back her eyes. Wide, black pupils. Glazed over. Unblinking.

“Shit.”

He rifles through the papers on the card table. Searching for a phone number. Who to call anyway? Who would even have an answer? He stops and focuses his wavering vision on the form letter sitting in front of him. On the computer-generated medical ID code staring at him. PATIENT #4511023LGHENRY45528 has tested positive. LGHENRY. Lucille Gabriella Henry. He looks back at her on the couch, but she’s out. Eyes shut, mouth hanging open.

He’s dizzy, swaying, bumping up against the card table. Sweat on his face like an open tap. Throbbing in his side. Whatever was on the tip of that ice pick buffeting his brain.

Lucy’s results. All of the papers on the table. This goddamned form letter that just came in the mail. LGHENRY. Results out of range. Low levels. Tested positive.

“Anna. … Wha’d you do?”

The letter drifts from his fingers and swings through the air. It lands on the floor next to the tattered remains of the envelope in which it arrived.

Marvin stumbles out to the balcony. He leans over the rail again. The sheet is gone. The cops have gone. A man with a garden hose sprays the sidewalk, rinsing the dark stain into the gutter. Red foam trundles along the curb and washes down the storm drain, a tornadic swirl over the grate.

Marvin looks up the street, to the man on the other balcony, but he is gone as well. Sirens sing out in the air.

THE END

Find more Steve Lowe stuff at: http://steve-lowe.com

Steve Lowe can be contacted at: http://stevenelowe.wordpress.com/

Posted on 2 August 2010, in Fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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