NO END IN SIGHT...
A Short Story
Alan Dale Dalby
"You will find poetry nowhere unless you bring some with you."
- Joseph Joubert
Marvin Pembry walked onto the roof with his co-worker Dean Mannix for an overdue break. Dean lit a cigarette and enjoyed the relief of the nicotine filling him with a temporary sense of bliss. He walked over to the edge of the roof and took a look out at the city from his ten story high perch. He nodded as he exhaled the smoke in a deliberately stylish manner. He did not know why Marvin had followed him up to the roof since Marvin Pembry never smoked. That was the extent of Dean's knowledge about Marvin. Being an outgoing fellow Dean decided to make some small talk to pass the time. "It sure is shaping up to be a gorgeous day eh Marv?"
Before Dean could finish talking Marvin had appeared next to him, only Marvin didn't stop at the edge of the roof. Dean noticed a blur out of the corner of his eye. The blur leapt up and over the ledge and disappeared. Dean's eyes bugged out and he leaned over the edge of the roof to see his co-worker plummeting toward the street.
"Marv?" Dean realized that what he had just witnessed was real and not a hallucination. He shrugged and took another drag from his Marlboro.
As Marvin fell he absorbed the rush of the sensation. He knew that this must be what skydivers and bungee jumpers felt like while partaking of their respective hobbies. The only difference was that, equipment withstanding; those crazy people lived to see yet another day. Marvin had no intention of doing such a tedious thing. He closed his eyes and felt the air pushing up against his face. Any moment now there would be a splat and it would all be over.
"Hello there and good day to you!" An extremely unexpected voice said. Marvin opened one eye carefully. He saw a man about the age his father would have been had he not abandoned Marvin when he was just a young boy.
"Hi." Marvin tossed the word out with apathy. He was rather annoyed to find someone encroaching upon his suicide.
"Did you decide to jump too?"
Marvin closed his eye again and replied to this query with a great amount of sarcasm. "Obviously I did."
"That's wonderful!" The man said. "Well, not to say that it is a good thing that you jumped, but it is rather nice to have some company."
"No offense, um,"
"The name is Roscoe. I'd offer to shake your hand but I'm a bit too far away to reach you."
"What a crying shame." Marvin scoffed.
"What's your name friend?"
Marvin groaned and opened both of his eyes. He looked over at this man who too was falling. "Not to sound rude Roscoe, but I think we can dispense with the needless pleasantries."
"I just thought it would be nice to know your name. Knowing someone's name makes it much easier to speak to them. I could just address you by saying 'hey you' but that doesn't seem very cordial at all."
"I take your point pal but we won't need to worry about chitchat for much longer."
"Why is that?" Roscoe looked as if he really didn't grasp the concept of jumping to one's own death.
"Roscoe, you do realize that we are going to hit the sidewalk any second now, don't you?" Marvin shook his head. He had just met this man, was not going to know him for much longer, and yet was thoroughly fed up with him already.
"Are you sure about that?" Roscoe seemed to be questioning Marvin's prediction.
"Well I don't know everything about gravity, but I do know enough to think that my theory on us connecting with the next available surface that gets in our way is fairly concrete."
"While I don't disagree with you there, I must point out that hitting the sidewalk would be akin to sinking a dart into a bull's-eye on the first try after several beers and perhaps a few shots thrown in for good measure."
"Why would one need to be drunk, or at least properly buzzed in your analogy?" Marvin didn't know why he was humoring this man. Perhaps he was falling victim to this mindless conversation after all.
"Well you did make a decision to jump off of a building did you not?" Roscoe waited for Marvin's reaction and accepted his nod as a 'yes'. "I'd say that any man who does such a drastic thing is under the influence of something."
"I'm not drunk Roscoe." Marvin said taking offense to the insinuation.
"I didn't mean drunk, though that could easily have been the case. I was thinking more of your emotional state when you jumped. Your state of mind could not have been on the track that it usually travels along."
"I really wish the sidewalk would hurry up and get here." Marvin sighed.
"Well I must again point out that hitting the sidewalk would be an impressive feat. I mean, the street is by far a much larger target."
"Did I miss something?" Marvin snapped. "Are we keeping track of points here? Can't we just cut the chatter and let the inevitable come?"
"If that's what you wish." Roscoe put his hands behind his head and raised his legs up, crossing them. He looked very comfortable as if he were reclining on his couch at home and enjoying some peace and quiet. Marvin rolled his eyes and looked around. The buildings seemed to have stopped moving. They had never actually been moving, Marvin knew this. He and Roscoe were moving while the buildings stood still, unless he took into account the rotation of the earth or its revolutions around the sun. Marvin felt that he was over thinking things just a bit. The point he was trying to come to grips with was that everything seemed to have vanished. The earth's movements may have made little difference in his current predicament since the world seemed as if it had disappeared entirely.
"How long have we been falling?" Marvin finally asked. Roscoe's eyes had been closed. There was a relaxed smile across his weathered face.
"I'm sorry, are we reinstating the chatter all of the sudden?"
Marvin frowned and checked his watch. The digital readout was flashing on and off with a twelve and twin zeroes replacing the actual time. "My watch seems to have reset on me."
"Is it noon or midnight?" Roscoe asked. "I keep forgetting."
"I will make you a deal friend." Roscoe said. "If you finally tell me your name I will gladly tell you what time it is."
"My name is Marvin. Now what time is it?"
"Marvin what?" Roscoe asked as he opened his eyes.
Marvin relayed his frustration by grunting. "My name is Marvin Pembry. Now kindly tell me what time it is."
"It isn't." Roscoe said simply.
"It isn't what?"
"You wanted to know the time, I gave you the time."
"You gave me the time?" Marvin barked. "You gave me nothing!"
"That is the truth."
"I don't understand you at all Roscoe."
"Where and when do not exist here as far as I know Marvin."
"Where are we then?"
"I just told you that." Roscoe said. Marvin grunted again and slapped himself in the face.
"Okay then, where aren't we and when isn't it?"
"Why don't we try to have a more constructive conversation Marvin?"
"I don't think so Roscoe. You are clearly insane." Marvin turned his head as far as he could and accidently caused his entire body to flip right side-up. Just before he had rolled he had spotted something within the blank void of the nothingness below him. It had been a blip on his radar but he did believe he had seen another human being. The major difference between this man and the man floating downward next to him was that this man was falling in the opposite direction. Marvin felt the body of the man brush by him on its way up and wondered where it was going. He thought of posing this question to Roscoe but remembered that 'there was no when or where' so he didn't think there was any point in wasting his breath.
"I suppose you are wondering where he is headed." Roscoe said to Marvin as he waved the upward-falling man off.
"I thought that there was no where around here."
"Not for us my friend." Roscoe pointed upward and showed off his yellowed teeth with a wide grin. "But you are going to want to watch this."
Marvin and Roscoe watched the man as he shrunk into the distance high above them. Marvin squinted as the form once recognizable as a man became a tiny dot. There was a quick flash of light as if someone had just taken a picture and the dot was gone.
"Did I just see a man fall straight up?" Marvin asked with scrutiny in his voice.
Roscoe seemed very disappointed in his traveling companion. "That's all you noticed? Did you not see anything more amazing than that just now?"
"I saw gravity working backwards. That's pretty amazing to me."
"After you have been falling this long you still find glitches in gravity interesting." Roscoe raised his eyebrows and laughed. "I'm starting to understand you Marvin."
"At least one of us is gaining some sort of understanding in this maddening situation." Marvin folded his arms so tightly he could no longer feel them.
"Do you have any questions that might actually matter Marvin?"
"Are you implying that my questions are pointless?"
"Not at all my friend, as long as their point is to pass the time without allowing your jaw to stop moving."
Marvin ground his teeth together and threw a fit, flailing his arms and legs. "I don't know how long it has been since we jumped but this ride is taking way too long old man."
"Well what would help to pass the time while also helping you to avoid losing your mind?"
"I'm not sure my mind is still salvageable." Marvin grabbed his aching head and shook it.
"You need to focus on something Marvin." Roscoe decided. "How about we play a game?"
"A game?" Marvin laughed mockingly. "Shall we have a round of slug-bug? I don't see any cars so I guess that's out. Perhaps we could simply play Truth, since I don't know how many Dares we have left after jumping off of a ten story office building."
"I propose a game of Get Fish." Roscoe said seriously.
"Don't you mean Go Fish?"
"Well I don't see a swimmin' hole anywhere near here."
"I thought you meant the card game." Marvin rubbed his temple and sighed.
"Did you happen to bring a deck of cards with you?" Roscoe had true hope shining in his voice.
"Sorry but I must have neglected to pack a bag full of party games after planning to leap to my own demise." Marvin crossed his arms again.
"It's not a problem my friend. We can still play a round of Get Fish."
Marvin hesitated to ask, but he didn't have much else to do at the moment. "Okay, what exactly is 'Get Fish' and how do I play?"
"It's exactly what it sounds like and you play it the same way."
"I don't get it."
"That's right, you don't get it. Your goal is to get fish."
"That sounds like an absolute blast." Marvin's sarcasm was in no way lost on Roscoe. "But as you've previously pointed out there aren't any bodies of water in this vast emptiness so how do we get said fish?"
"Well that's the trick you see." Roscoe smiled. "You can't!"
"You are totally off of your noggin' pal, do you realize that?" Marvin looked the old man over. He seemed so at peace with falling endlessly through an empty void with only one other person to keep him company. "Of course you don't. Crazy people never know that they are crazy."
"Just like people like you never recognize your impaired state of mind."
"So we are back to that." Marvin tried putting his own arms behind his head and reclining but found it to be quite unnatural in mid-plummet.
"Tell me something friend, what made you jump off of that building in the first place?"
"My legs did most of the work, though I did have to use my upper-body strength to get up and over the ledge." Marvin re-crossed his arms yet again and blew some warm breath up his forehead. His hair had somehow dropped back onto his face as if he were sitting still within the confines of his oppressive cubical at the office.
"Come on Marv."
"Don't call me Marv. I hate it when people call me Marv."
"It's a done deal Marvin." Roscoe obliged. "Now then, why did you jump?"
Marvin's facial expression and body language spoke volumes. It was very clear to Roscoe that he had hit upon a sore subject. This didn't surprise him one bit. Not many people wanted to talk about why they committed suicide. Even if they did, most people who did weren't able to answer any questions about what had been going through their minds when they swallowed the pills or pulled the trigger.
Some time passed but Marvin had no idea how much. Days and years could have been minutes and hours or vice-versa as far as he knew. Roscoe seemed to have given up on his inquiry long ago.
"What about you Roscoe?"
Roscoe did not seem shocked in the least by the sudden break in their long silence. "What about me Marvin?"
"Why did you jump?"
Roscoe put his index finger to his chin and fell deep into thought. "Golly Marvin that was such a long time ago."
"Time? I thought we gave up on that old concept."
"Well there is no time as we know time right now, but back when I took the dive time certainly did still exist." Roscoe lectured as if this was textbook knowledge.
"Stop trying to break my brain and fork over your story Roscoe."
Roscoe returned to his thoughtful pose and strained his memories, willing them to return to him. "I'm not sure why I jumped to tell you the truth my friend."
"Well, I guess we were both in the same boat then. You said yourself that I must not have been thinking straight. You're wrong about that, but I think it was true of you."
"I suppose you're right Marvin." Roscoe looked as if his mind was a chalkboard that was slowly being erased. Marvin felt his own head hurt as he watched the strain on Roscoe's face.
"Did you have a family?" For the first time since they had met Marvin sounded as if he were genuinely interested in what Roscoe had to say.
"A family? Oh my yes."
"What were they like?"
"I can't remember them." Roscoe looked forlorn and a little bit ashamed of himself as he admitted this.
Roscoe's look did not lighten as a tiny dot appeared high above them and fell fast. Marvin squinted as the object became discernable.
"It looks like we are going to have a new addition to our little group."
"No Marvin, this is something different. This is not good."
"What do you mean?"
As the figure neared them Marvin could fully make it out as a man, and not just any man. It was Dean Mannix, Marvin's co-worker.
"Marv? Holy cow man, I thought you were dead!" Dean said as he fell between Roscoe and Marvin. Marvin was going to respond but Dean was gone. Darwin felt oddly unaffected by this. He had never known much about Dean Mannix, only that he didn't much cared for the man.
"Do yourself a favor and don't look down." Roscoe said as he covered his eyes. Marvin felt this comment tug at his curiosity and rolled himself over so that he was facing downward. Dean was once again a dot by the time Marvin spotted him again. There was a burst of light not unlike the one he had seen when the first man had floated up past them, but only in that it was over in a flash. This light was not at all like the snap of a photo but more like the strike of a match. The spark was gone as quickly as it had appeared. Marvin rolled himself back to his upward position and looked over at Roscoe.
"You can open your eyes now."
"I want to give it another few minutes."
"Minutes?" Marvin tried to calm Roscoe's nerves by teasing him. "What are those?"
Roscoe pulled his hands away from his eyes and shook his head. There was a sadness showing in Roscoe's face. The sadness seemed to run very deep. Marvin thought about what he could say since there was nothing he could physically do.
"I just remembered!" Roscoe suddenly broke free of his funk and looked over to Marvin.
"What did you just remember?" Marvin smiled.
Marvin once again felt for Roscoe and his damaged mind. "We can't play that game buddy. We've been over this already."
"I know, but I do remember how I came up with it in the first place!"
"Oh!" Marvin humored Roscoe. "Tell me all about it."
"My daughter was telling me about something on the day that I jumped off of the roof. I was headed to work and she was on the computer looking at the news and told me about something very unusual that had happened the previous day in Norfolk. You see a storm had sucked a bunch of fish out of the ocean and up into the atmosphere. The people of Great Yarmouth had an interesting surprise when the fish rained down on them." Roscoe's eyes looked different as he spoke. He was no longer sad as he had been when he had seen Dean fall into the abyss below them, but he was not his usual self either. There was something there that had been missing for the entire time Marvin had known Roscoe, which was since he had been falling and he had no idea how long he had been doing that. "She thought it would make for a fun game to go outside and stand underneath the falling fish. She said she would challenge me to see how many each of us could catch without using a bucket or a basket, just our bare hands."
"That sounds like it would have been a fun game Roscoe." Marvin gave his companion a brief smile.
Roscoe frowned and shook his head. "All I could manage to say to her was 'We're not in Norfolk honey'. I was so far away from her that day, had so much weighing on my mind." Roscoe snorted. "I don't even know what it was anymore. Roscoe looked around the blank landscape surrounding him. He thought about how unimportant some things that had once seemed so troublesome had become upon reflection, and how moments he had ignored before now held such an important place in his heart. Roscoe smiled and continued his story.
"She was telling me that this sort of phenomenon had been going on since the first century when Piney the Elder was the first man known to have told tales of fish and frogs raining from the heavens." Roscoe had a twinkle in his eyes as he looked upward.
"It sounds like you had one heck of a smart kid there Roscoe. How old was she when you, well, you know?"
"She was, I don't recall." Roscoe's face sunk again but only briefly. "It was in two thousand when the fish fell in Norfolk. My daughter would have been ten years old!" Roscoe had a very 'eureka' moment as he felt this memory return to him. Someone was filling in the missing lines from the chalkboard. Marvin's must have been fading into chalk dust he thought as he realized one part of Roscoe's story had flown completely over his head.
"Wait a second; you committed suicide back in two thousand?"
"I guess I must have." Roscoe lifted his brow. He wanted to keep chatting with Marvin but his mind had traveled elsewhere. Suddenly time once again existed, for he was traveling back through it.
"That was ten years before I took the dive." Marvin felt his body quake. "I thought you and I jumped at the same time."
"Loretta." Roscoe had a fond smile on his lips.
"What?" Marvin was no longer in any mood to listen to Roscoe's spoken word versions of his old home movies.
"That was, is, my daughter's name." Roscoe laughed loud and hard as these words escaped him. He tilted his head up and threw open his arms as wide as they would go. "I remember her now Marvin! I remember everything!"
"That's great Roscoe." Marvin said insincerely. He didn't notice that Roscoe was beginning to glow at first. He was sulking as he tried to think and found that his own mind had come up against a wall. He was blocked from the things he wanted to think about and remember. He could not put things together and the contents of his brain became a jumbled puzzle. "What was it about fish?" Marvin asked. Roscoe's glow was growing brighter. "I was supposed to get them but I don't know why."
"I need you to know something Marvin." Roscoe said. Marvin looked at Roscoe and widened his eyes as he saw the golden glow surrounding his traveling companion.
"What is it buddy?" Marvin was confused beyond his understanding of what confusion was as he asked this last question of Roscoe.
"I have appreciated your company immensely." Roscoe smiled at Marvin and began to float upward. "I wish you the best old friend."
With that Marvin waved at Roscoe and watched as he grew smaller and smaller. He was soon a tiny dot far above Marvin. There was a sudden flash of light and Roscoe was gone.
Marvin looked around him. There was truly nothing now. His mind continued to feel the soft strokes of the eraser being pressed against it. He found it harder and harder to think of anything at all. He put his arms behind his head and kicked up his feet. He reclined there for an unknown period of time alone and incredibly bored.
One day a woman tumbled down into the void. Her hair flailed wildly as did her arms and legs as she plummeted. She slowed as she found herself falling near Marvin. She panicked and screamed as she awaited her final destination. After a while she calmed down a bit and stopped flailing.
"Hello there and good day to you!" Marvin said to the woman. She ignored him, looking rather annoyed to find someone else in her personal space as she awaited the inevitable splat. She knew that it would come at any moment. Marvin smiled and closed his eyes. Something about this seemed familiar to him but he couldn't figure out what it was.
"This encounter of ours is not going to last very long pal, so if you wouldn't mind, I'd appreciate it if you'd drop the flirting and just let this thing happen."
Marvin saw the smiling face of a kindly middle-aged man in his mind. He thought he knew this man but could not recall where he knew him from. Marvin giggled and stretched his body out until he was properly relaxed.
"Fair enough young lady," He said. "You just let me know when you feel like talking."