I wrote this short story a couple of years ago for a contest, but never submitted it. I have now changed the title and submitted it to an online magazine. Hope you enjoy!
by Jonathan Brinkley
The buzzing in my light fixture was not electricity. A frantic housefly was circling the inner realm of the once-white globe above my bed, zapping the rounded walls with irregular collisions. I imagined it trying not to look down at the putrefying pile of its brittle brethren, nestled at the south pole of the yellowed orb. After what might have been days of ceaseless struggle, it would soon join that funeral mound, despite its efforts. And despite my personifying of the hapless creature, I declined to care. He got himself in there, I reasoned dully; vacantly—let Darwin get him out. Besides, the grim trumpet of a forsaken fly was the perfect soundtrack for the drab panorama of my life that day.
I had occupied my forlorn efficiency in the Uptown Arms Apartments for two years, long enough to let the run-down dreariness of the place infect me. Of course, blaming the building was easy (We residents had a nickname for it: The “Up-in-Arms” Apartments). But, whatever had come over me, on some level I had chosen it, though that’s all I knew about it. I was just—dim. Had been for days.
And on the morning Mr. Fitzpatrick from downstairs paid me his little visit, I had been wallowing in that dimness for hours already, lying there awake, poring over every dun-colored surface which my varnishing gaze had worn all texture from long ago—trying in vain to wring a drop of meaning from my monotonous surroundings. Old Fitz himself lived in this tiny apartment before me, and I couldn’t help wondering if his eyes, too, had searched these tedious trappings for significance.
Gerard “Hat Trick” Fitzpatrick was once on the comedy and magic circuit in Vegas, though it had been ages since he was intentionally funny. (Certain residents had contributed their own humor to his legacy with the moniker “Gerry-Hat-Trick.”) He was never well known, but in our neighborhood he was notorious. That was only since his dementia had set in, though. A typical day found Fitz seated on the tiny stoop outside the building, chain smoking, sweat-staining his white T-shirt, and trying to convince folks with kids to stop and watch a magic trick. Newcomers to this routine were quickly disappointed; he usually fumbled with an old half-dollar coin for a couple of awkward minutes before people lost interest, often mumbling condolences to their confounded and frightened children as they hurried away.
Fitz now lived down on the main floor, where he could get around easier and his caretaker, elderly as she was, didn’t have to lug the old man’s oxygen tanks up a flight of stairs. Since the move, he increasingly spent cooler days in the lobby, much to the vexation of all the residents. As seems to be the case with many eccentric old widowers, Fitz was constantly muttering complaints under his breath, mostly to his long-deceased wife, Claudia.
As in: “Can you believe this, Claudia? Mail at twelve-thirty! Time was, you could set your watch by ten o’clock! I tell ya, Claudia, I might as well pack up and join ya tomorrow, way things’r goin’. Yep, cashin’ my chips in any day now, Claudia.” Sentiments of this sort were also Fitz’s most likely reply to any direct question. One just gets used to being called “Claudia.”
The landlady, as far as that went, was Patricia Garner. She and her ex-husband had owned the building for forty years, and she remembered Claudia Fitzpatrick well enough to know she had been the most vocal opponent of removing all the wrought iron balconies from the east side of the building. According to Mrs. Garner, they were rusted out and structurally unsound, not to mention unsightly. Mrs. Fitzpatrick, however, always thought she was trying to purposely devalue the property so she could get it all in the divorce. Mrs. Garner cried slander at every turn, but planted fifty rhododendron bushes on the grounds on the day her divorce was final.
I didn’t care either way. That was long ago, and at the moment, the curtain of my easterly window was drawn and the resulting dingy quality to the light, like the fly’s futile thrumming, was quite complementary to my mood.
The repetition was almost lulling. I guess anything becomes lulling when you’re only half alive anyway. My eyes began to droop, a seductive parade of dreamy images fluttered behind their lids. I was drifting…
But then, so suddenly I barely registered the reality of it, Old Man Fitz was in my apartment.
I watched in horrified fascination as “Hat Trick” Fitzpatrick, donning a top hat, sweaty T-shirt, and no pants, barreled into my room with the steam of a bull, crossing to the window and congenially chastising his dead wife.
”Jesus-ta-jokers, Claudia! It’s the middle of the day! You know, you’ll get ugly if you stay in the dark all the time!”
I had no time to cover my eyes as he swept the curtain aside in a gesture too grandly dramatic for his age and frailty and thrust the casement windows outward. For a brief moment, I was certain Fitz was going to step out over the sill onto the non-existent balcony, and in the moment after that, that’s just what he did.
There was no instant of cartoon hovering, he was just gone. As the sounds of gasps and shouts form the street echoed in my ears, I bounded from my bed and sprinted to the open window where I froze, peeking fretfully over the sill. First I saw the dozen or so anxious passersby who had immediately rushed toward the building from the busy sidewalk. Then, there he was, one story down, Mr. Fitzpatrick sprawled on his back in Patricia Garner’s old rhododendrons, still bobbing lazily among the spry branches with a look of naked wonder on his face. After a moment of shocked stillness, Fitz noticed the crowd of onlookers gathered around him, and delivered a second surprise I’ll never forget: He slowly turned his head, actually grinned, then threw out a heavily scratched arm and shouted, “TAHDAAH! The crowd, and I, lost it. It was the first lucid utterance Fitz had made in years, and the first time in decades that an audience had stood in thrall to this man, laughing aloud and applauding with gusto. Noticing this, he smiled and exclaimed, “I still got a trick or two in me yet!” Another wave of laughter lifted the birds from a tree nearby.
But moments such as these are often fleeting. Fitz now realized he was in pain. He could not free his other arm, which we would later learn was broken. He began to bray and hoot loudly in his panic. He grasped repeatedly at his chest and finally found the small, off-white medical alert button hung around his neck, and began pressing it over and over, wailing like a toddler all the while.
By the time I made it down to the scene, an ambulance siren could be heard in the distance. I had a brief, stomach-clenching concern that someone might have seen me up there—might think I actually pushed him. But all eyes remained warily on the now whimpering senior citizen in the bushes.
After the questions were answered and the paramedics were gone, with Fitz in tow and muttering to Claudia about the evils of hospital food, I took my leave of the babbling crush of the crowd and went back upstairs—to free that housefly, and put on some shoes.