Flash Fiction selection from the 2010 issue
Perhaps Some Sun
What Smirkov must have been thinking just before he stepped off the balcony, the way he seemed to float in midair for just that split second like you see happen in the cartoons, and how we stepped towards the balcony to look over the edge as he floated down to the cement in his tuxedo, a glass of champagne in his hand. One of the more hysterical guests insisted that as gravity pulled Smirkov down towards death, she saw him put the glass to his lips and, after an apparent swallow, toss the glass over his right shoulder.
One minute, Smirkov was there, nodding and smiling, and in the next moment, Smirkov was there, in mid air, his face calm, as if still listening in earnest to another guest’s story about a drowned granddaughter. And then he was falling. To me, though, it appeared as if Smirkov floated, rather than plunged, to his death, but then, I knew him well, and if I imagined him floating to his death instead of plunging it was because I knew he was capable of such a feat in life. Never, though, from twelve stories up. Smirkov accomplished all his floating in orbit, high above the Earth that the rest of us are only able to imagine a certain way, never the way Smirkov imagined, and saw, I am sure. Thirteen months in space can change a man, but would it push him off the edge, or simply lead him towards it and let him decide for himself what should happen next? I tried to imagine it as the air roared into my face, as I plummeted towards the Earth.
“This must have been what Smirkov was thinking,” I thought, “Just before he stepped off the balcony.” But all hopes for any true revelation concerning his soul’s point of view were shattered when I pulled the rip cord and released my chute, more to see that it actually worked than to stop my fall, even though that is what I wanted my chute to do: stop my fall. But I had hoped to understand more before the reassuring tug and unfurling of the silk umbrella above me.
“Not bad.” the instructor shouted, critiquing my first free fall as he helped me gather in the chute from the wind. “But you might have waited awhile longer before pulling the cord.’’
“Wait?” I said, somewhat surprised. “I waited until the last possible moment.’’
“No.” he said. “I timed you on the stopwatch. You pulled the cord at three seconds.’’
“Three seconds?” I thought later as I walked to my car. It had seemed like I was falling forever. I had thought all those thoughts about Smirkov. I had time for subtleties, even if I was not offered any new revelations about the matter. Now that I was on the ground, though, I realized that Smirkov must have had a long time to think as he fell, if my three seconds free fall were related in any way to Smirkov’s five or six seconds long fall without a parachute. “Maybe,” I thought, “Falling towards death condenses time, or causes us to use time more efficiently.’’
As Smirkov fell, he thought about many things. It occurred to him that he would not stop falling when he hit the ground, but that his soul would cut through the core of the Earth and burst out into space on the other side. After all the training, all the practice for death, the real thing was going to be nothing more than the conclusion to a hypothetical exercise. All those contingency plans, all that talk, all that preparation: what good was it if one didn’t ever act out a worst case scenario? As Smirkov fell, he also recognized the fact that time itself was a constraining illusion; that, given moments such as this, he could concentrate his thought process on a compact sphere of concrete conclusions. Faced with death, he might make an educated guess, he might stumble upon the right answer, or even the key to everything. Smirkov thought these thoughts as he watched the cement rising up to meet him, and the last thing that crossed his mind was the fact that everything happens so slowly, slowly, slowly . . .