The Serpent’s Wink

by Nathaniel Heely

Andrew Schulden watched the skyline of Park Avenue from his corner office turned away from his open laptop. The top of his vision perceived the skyline as a crooked V. The silhouette formed a line graph dovetailing from his left to the omega point and then rising up on his right. The people were tiny discontinuous dots scattered on the street. The walls leapt violently out of the concrete to great heights: the canyons of high-security stock exchanges, modern Babels, where computers spoke wholly different languages endowed by their creators. Divining machines that could feel no fear in the fates they held. They did not know they were their own destruction.

Mr. Kohn

You know that I have been mulling over this decision for quite some time but I simply cannot continue to be employed by Veridis Investments any longer. Our financial institutions have been transmogrified to gambling houses whose sole focus resides in profiting in the short term while forsaking long term financial stability as well as all human worth and dignity of our clients. To hear the names my fellow workers call these clients, the insult to their intelligence! For my own part, I am not the least guilty in all manner of activities of these whether passive or active. But as far as I can tell the culture of the company has forsaken the foundation upon which it was built—that of customer loyalty and personal humility and servitude—and traded it in for a currency which will not always persuade the minds of men, particularly when those minds are bereft of it as well as faith in humanity. Though none have been found guilty, nor jailed just yet, I cannot abide and work in an environment whose chief officers are crooks and whose moral and ethical principles, while self-contained in a closed loop of reasoning is nevertheless twisted and without boundary.

I hereby resign as Vice President at Veridis Investments.

Andrew Schulden.

Like everything else the letter was a fraud. Yes, it was his name and yes he had typed the words, but he had written while under the influence of bloggers: ThinkProgress, MotherJones, DailyKos. The letter was a penance and like all beggars of forgiveness he had to make a show of it. There was no sackcloth and ash to be had. The anger was aimed not of the people of his company, but at himself. If he was honest with himself, Schulden knew his resignation would not bring about change or reform to the industry. Nor was this his plan.. It felt morally pious and grandiose and only hinted at an admission of guilt. His plan was simply to leave, to let the actions of his past push him into a future in which he hadn’t invested.

On the final day, Lehrer asked him to come to lunch. “Just a little get-together. We just want to see you off.” Schulden relented, but as soon as Lehrer walked out of the corner office, the familiar pang of paying off a debt arrived. He looked around at the now bare office. Things had begun to slowly decamp out at the beginning of the first quarter: the imported rug from Iran, his set of silver Tibaldi pens, the Armani colognes, all but one of his tortoiseshell pair of glasses. Others he gave away: the cascading water fountain whose rocks were acoustically placed to encourage a tranquil business environment, the painting from a Swedish artist whose name he could not pronounce and whose image he could not decipher, the mini-fridge and the vodka and domestic and craft beers therein.

They dined at Delmonico’s and insisted that he pay for nothing. Most of the food placed in front of him was consumed lightly. A taste of Blue Crab here, a cut of porterhouse there. Wine was brought out. Meringues and Cheesecakes were ordered but forgotten. His soon to be former co-workers laughed tepidly, talking calmly about various accounts, building to a crescendo that landed on their personal fortes and exploits. It was, as every outing with them had begun to feel, following a preconceived rhythm.

“…and I’m trying to tell him that at the end of the day, who’s really responsible for the sub-prime mortgage crisis is the people who signed those mortgages,” Braxton spoke and then quickly swallowed what he had lodged in his cheek. “I wasn’t the one that went out and bought a million dollar home on a sixty thousand dollar salary—”

“—problem is that not enough people are taught fiscal responsibility. I mean hell, even most realtors can’t crunch the numbers without a long afternoon and a set of calculator instructions.” This was Matranga. “Mostly just failed liberal arts graduates or people with Associate’s Degrees in Business that think they know what they’re doing. Opted for easy schooling and had no sense of direction. Nothing against the—”

“—No, and they’d probably readily admit this to you. Really requires no expertise other than a blazer and a sm—”

“—and that’s the problem. Education about simple basic economic principles and ideas is at an intolerable—”

“Pass that thing will you?”

“What this?”

“No the other one.”

“Which one?”

“Left hand.”

“Here you go. But anyways and yes at an intolerable level.”

The two men sat opposite of Schulden and Lehrer. They each seemed to know each other’s lines, cutting the other off. There was rhythm and expectation. A causal relationship with words.

“Oh but did Marx tell you about this muppet client of his? Marx! Hey. Tell him what you were telling me. About the muppet—”

“Oh Christ. So this guy, piece of work really. I’m trying to get him hedged in with this big fund that’s in all kinds of technologies. I’m talking the Facebooks, the Twitters of five years from now. And I’m doing nothing but selling the guy on exactly this going so far to reference that goddamn Social Network Movie to make a point and, get this, the guy tells me he’s never seen The Social Network. Doesn’t even have a Facebook.”

“And how old’s this guy?”

“Just a little bit older than me. 45ish I think?”

“Good god. See this is what I’m talking about. Not just educational stuntedness, but so goddamn clueless about the culture we’re living in. Like how are you supposed to help these people if they’re just amputating themselves from society?”

When they left they told him to keep in touch. They made tenuous plans that they all knew would be broken as soon as their handshakes were. Even so he would miss them tremendously. Though he doubted they would miss him. They must have seen him as the result of the Darwinistic game they worked and played in. Men like him had to be sacrificed, offered to the system. Schulden went back to the office for the final time to collect the last of his things.

***

He had heard that those flashing banners were scams. But to fifteen year-old Andrew Schulden the word “scam” seemed more to connote “challenge” than anything else. When told he had been awarded a free American Airlines round trip, he took the offer. All that was required of him was a few answers to some simple questions. How many people in his household. What year was he born (must be 18 to answer). Which of these fine offers would he like to try (must pick 1).

That was the year he had his first email. His own address, his own identity sprung up out of nowhere. He averaged fifty-three emails per day, all unfiltered. The fine offer he had chosen was a free trial offer from a flower company dependant on two separate orders (minimum purchase one dozen). His grandparents had given him a prepaid Mastercard gift card for Christmas. The name on the front of the card was Card Holder. No flowers came. In those days he stole away to his father’s office in the middle of the afternoon. He drafted, upon a very legal looking piece of stationary, a “demands for remuneration.” He found the corporate headquarters address on the tag of the emails, thanking him for his purchase, assuring him he would not be disappointed. When he gave the envelopes to the mailman, the postal worker gave it no thought, no unction as to what a fifteen year-old child would be sending to a flower company. From what he can recall he inserted into the document phrases such as, “serious legal action” and “immediate media coverage” sprinkling in words like “scandal” and “horror.” There were several of these letters sent out. He got the idea to send his grievances electronically. And out of nothing, these men were born. There was Parks, Jackson and Schmidt, all very legal sounding names. The threats grew more intense. He drew up legal summons to fake court hearings. The subjects of his emails were along the lines of “You’ve Been Served” a phrase he learned from sitcom television. The return address and email signatures denoted “legal offices.” The truth, like interest rates, could be adjusted.

In August, a gift certificate arrived. Expired. Good for one free delivery.

Of the American Airlines round-trip, he heard nothing. The information was too labyrinthine to amass and structure. He could not even figure out the party responsible, nor an address to which to send his grievances. These many years later he opened up his drawer in his corner office that overlooked the fractal skyline, a copse of skyscrapers, and he pulled out a laminated, expired gift certificate and worn away MasterCard gift card. And he smiled.

In the same near empty drawer of his corner office was the receipt from Le Bernadin in fading black and yellow ink dated March 23, 2006. The man from Moody’s Investor Services wore his skin like a leather handbag, taking the first thirty minutes of the meal to talk about the time he took his three iron fifty yards out with the wind blowing in his face to drop the ball on the very top of the yellow flagstick only to careen back to the right and drain outward in a Fibonacci tail going with the southsloping green. With him was Lehrer, who reiterated several times before (verbally) and during (via text) that “patience was a virtue” with this man. He spoke with a deep timbre and tapped his tongue on each syllable, enhancing his enunciation.

“And now I suppose we have arrived at the raison d’etre for the afternoon.”

“We can wait for dessert if you wish,” Lehrer told him.

Schulden felt a pang of distress at this.

Moody’s smiled and put up a polite hand. “No, no you have waited long enough.”

Would you like to go over it again.”

In as few a words as possible.”

He now turned to Schulden and nodded.

We need triple a ratings for a group of mortgage-backed securities.”

A group?”

A mass.”

A conglomerate really,” said Lehrer.

And you are concerned these might not hold such high quality?”

Not in a normal market.” Schulden this time.

What Mr. Schulden means is that the market is changing, evolving. Is changed. Has changed.”

We’re at an unprecedented time in the market right now. Growth is up at a steady constant rate and it’s because of this growth that we need these ratings to be given. Our old standards and models are outdated and so we need some adjusting.”

And this is necessary?”

There was a pause, and then Lehrer spoke up, “Yes, necessary.” As though he were unsure whether this was a statement or a question.

And the money is…what? Also necessary?”

Think of it as reassurance. We mean it as a sign of good faith.”

And what if I was to feel as though it were unnecessary?”

Lehrer was now in full command of the conversation. “Well, again, the adjustment is necessary. Necessary in that without it, the market becomes much more volatile. Especially when it comes to Moody’s own interests.”

Our own interests?”

With your considerable assets depending on high volume trading, that is.”

The man from Moody’s took a long look at the two men. He sat placid and still as though in meditation. He nodded to the two men and smiled. He got up from his chair and walked out of the restaurant without a word leaving a pair of bills in his wake.

He knows he didn’t have to pay didn’t he?” Lehrer asked.

Schulden nodded, eyes entranced with the bills. “What do you think it means?

What it meant was that he had agreed to the adjustment. It meant that the invisible hand of capitalism was no longer drawing the lines on the stock market. Reflecting on this he felt a knot arise in his stomach as though it made a quantum leap from the past to his gut.

The very last thing in the drawer was a yellow sticky note that read “Call Mom” inscribed in his secretary’s loopy handwriting. There was nothing remarkable about the occasion of the note. Schulden just kept it. For no other reason then he liked to look at it. It reminded him of the woman herself. His mother liked calling his office phone, but never his cell. She felt that calls to people’s cell phones imposed on them, interrupted the living of life. She, of course, had no cell phone. The note held no more adhesive. It gathered lint and dust over the months, perhaps years. It was dog-eared on every corner, it was shoved around when Schulden went to search for other pens and checkbooks. He regarded it as a gift and he never threw it away because the present was so small and only ever lasted for a moment before he shuffled it over and dug further.

***

The documentary crew found him the next Tuesday. On Monday the letter had been published by the Huffington Post after Schulden, having used yet another fake email address, had sent it in disguising himself as a vaguely disgruntled intern, and it only added fuel for the ninety-nine percenters planted outside his old office, their numbers growing every day. Many of these people were exaggerations of themselves. Cooking over fire, wrapping themselves in ashen-colored rags and cloth as though they were repenting for their own sins bent on displaying their own Icarian fall. They wanted dispossession. They wanted to assume the lowliest of positions. This was their great motivation. Only the truly destitute can spark a revolution; only ashes can take shape as a phoenix.

wall street protest

And the documentary crew: a camera man, a boom operator and the self-identified director had come to Schulden’s penthouse on Monday afternoon and, discovering that he recently vacated the property and was now confined to a single home out in Long Island, arrived that next Tuesday inquiring if they could ask him a few questions about his experience with the company and the overall atmosphere of “the business.”

I got to tell you, that letter was something else man.” The director said.

Was it?”

I mean, to actually have one of you guys saying what we’re all thinking it gives a genuine credence to everything we’re working for.”

Hmm.”

How did you come up with all of it, if I can ask?”

I don’t really want to talk about it.”

Okay, okay. But, I mean, is there anything you can talk about? You’re time there?”

You’re talking to a man that dealt in futures so why would I want, or even think I could talk about the past?”

I’m sure you could do it. Just…connect the dots. How did it all happen?”

In my business I’ve found there are an infinite amount of ways to connect the dots. The present is just how we explain the line that connects them all.”

This was all he said to them before he unceremoniously told them to leave and shut the door immediately thereafter. Come Friday he found himself at Braxton’s penthouse for semi-weekly poker night wanting to ask him or Lehrer whether they had been contacted by the crew, but ultimately unable to do this. He was afraid it would inevitably trace itself back to the letter that they had undoubtedly read by now having been published since Monday. He simply opted for communion, to surround himself with something familiar if only for a little while.

The usual suspects, Marx, Matranga and Lehrer all showed up and said it was good to see him. No one made mention of the letter at first, just that it was very good to see him with a suspicious amount of earnestness. The night traced from hand to hand to conversation to bathroom trips and trembling hands building a momentum that slowly weighed on Schulden.

I mean, it’s just so fucking great to see you, man.” Braxton was saying after a third bathroom trip. “Like there’s some gap at work now, you know? We’re missing a teammate. A piece of continuity.” He groped his shoulder hard massaging it. Schulden knew this was somehow punishment.

Can I ask you what you meant in your letter, man?” Matranga was asking.

You can ask.”

I mean, we’re all friends here, yeah?”

He smiled. “Ed we’re all friends. What else could we be after all these years?”

I mean ‘cuz you kinda threw us under the bus, didn’t ya?” There was a moment of tension, of stiff joints and held breath.

Hey Ed, come on, leave him alone.” Lehrer said interrupting, “It’s a letter of resignation, if it’s not a little vitriolic then you’re doing something wrong.”

Schulden tapped a fist of gratification softly on Lehrer’s knee to his right knowing that he had no answer.

Matranga smiled and shook his head as if coming to his sense. “Yeah, fuck it, man. I’m sorry. Let’s have some more drinks huh?” He poured his Don Julio into everybody’s highball glass. They clinked and sipped.

The view from Braxton’s apartment was just another array of discontinuous lights dotting skyscrapers. Schulden traced the beacons with crests and troughs. He would look at his chip pile and see the same function recurring. Amounts moving in a sinusoidal wave. Cigars were passed out, but he only asked for more to drink. At this request he could feel looks of pity on him. Pity he did not want.

The thread of the night was very repetitive, cyclical. They would play a few hands, they would talk a bit, Matranga would badger Schulden and then calm down, almost to a doe-like sadness. Then Marx would call up a phone number and Lehrer would scream that he “had a girlfriend now” and Marx with a serpentine grin would wink and cover his mouth for a few words and hang up.

After the third time this happened Lehrer screamed at him, “Marx, this evening isn’t about getting me laid man, it’s about…” but a knock interrupted and when the door opened two women with collagen filled lips and silicone filled breasts were standing with the same mischievous grin as Marx. A fiasco ensued in which Marx was trying to hurry them into the door so as to be discreet and Lehrer was doing all he could to keep them out.

She’s not gonna know,” Marx was saying. “This night will be gone. Like it never even happened. Erased.”

Look you can do what you want but…”

Don’t talk like that. This is me repaying you for the deal when…”

No. When I want to call in a favor, I’ll call in a favor.”

Look what are you worried about? It’s not like you and Vanessa are even…”

Yeah, but I’m trying. Can’t you understand that. I’m giving this a try.”

You can try on every other day of your life just…”

I know I know. Discontinuous. Missing data. Blackouts. Whatever.”

Exactly.”

It’s still no.”

Come on, man…”

Look, ladies thank you for coming. It was very nice…”

Matranga wailed, interrupting everything. He was holding his temples like his brain would fall out. “Oh Jesus,” Lehrer said, “Here, I’ll pay them for their service and we’ll just not even worry about this.”

No way, man. That’s two things you’re gonna hold over me.”

Schulden sat numb watching Matranga while Lehrer shoved bills into the ladies hands and physically forced them into the hallway. Braxton had been missing until the first of Matranga’s wails and came out of the bathroom with running eyes and an itching nose. They all gathered around the crying fetal mass. He was yelling, with tears, actual tears in his eyes asking, “I mean fuck man, we’re friends right? You don’t hate me do you? I mean you really do like me, right?”

Schulden was trying to graph this into rational sense. He had seen Matranga coked up before in a Las Vegas suite with an escort he had paid to date for two weeks. All of it ended abruptly when Matranga had punched through her jaw and left her unconscious and for twenty minutes they didn’t do anything. Schulden just looked at the snow sprinkled on his friend’s bleeding knuckles wishing he had brought his skis. That was Matranga pure and unadulteratedly coked up. But this man before him registered grief and guilt, two coordinates not previously associated with the known effects of benzoylmethyl ecgonine on one Edward Sage Matranga.

I’m fucking helping people here.” Matranga’s voice interrupted, “I’m really really trying to at least and,” that was snot, flecked with snowflakes again, now tripping down his lip, “and people—my own goddamn friends—are calling me crooks! Like making money was something I did wrong!”

On that Las Vegas trip, Schulden had ended up forcing a couple rufalin down her throat and when she awoke in the morning they took her to a hospital, implanting the story into her. She and Matranga had met another couple playing blackjack. They had gone back up to the other couple’s hotel room. Things had gotten violent and Matranga—having used her pepper spray that so delicately had fallen out of her purse—sprayed the assailant and dragged her out and nursed her wounds all night. They hadn’t gone to the hospital, Schulden added, because everyone was coked up and way too tweaked. It would be better if they let the cocaine pass through their system. Schulden remembered laughing about this scene on the plane ride back.

This is what America fucking is!” Rage in his voice. Familiar. “Greed is good. We learned this growing up. And I’m not gonna be blasted by the fucking Huffington Post by a guy who gets drunk on my alcohol and calls himself my best fucking friend!”

The transition was quick. In one moment, Matranga had been fetal, paranoid and visibly afraid. In that half moment before, Schulden could see the parabola precede him. The body sprung, the apex of the back somewhere around eye level from where Schulden sat. He was spring loaded and released, bound for destination. It happened so fast, the other three guys who had been trying to soothe Matranga couldn’t even suppress their shock at his sudden change in position to bar his leap with their arms.

In between punches Schulden offered no resistance. The sinful must be penitent. Through repeating flashes of ceiling and flesh, he could see Matranga’s red knuckles, the branching veins trying to burst out of the skin and he only lasted a few punches before Lehrer, Marx and Braxton were pulling Matranga off. He couldn’t feel the pain, only himself getting more drunk from his own vessels having recently expanded upon impact.

***

So this is what it feels like to be cleaned out, he muttered to himself as he walked outside. Damp autumn evening, cool air kissing his skin. It didn’t feel good or bad to him. Money ceased to really feel like something anymore. He imagined whiskey bottles and ammo magazines being put into the pot. It all had the intrinsic look of value. He drank from his own bottle, which at this point was filled with only vodka and backwash. Where at the beginning of the night the liquid had felt coarse and acidic, it now washed smoothly down his throat. The buildings he passed shined in an alabaster afterglow. He took forceful steps, making sharp turns on his heels like walking on strict Cartesian coordinates. A block would go missing every now and then. Certain buildings inexplicably moved closer to him in sputtering blinks. The bottle was a third full, then empty, then refilled to a sixth, then empty again. His phlegm tasted tangy in his mouth. He came to a stoplight and fixed himself to a position. His legs felt like roots slowly numbing to the cold and immobility but his torso and head wavered. He closed his eyes and when he opened them he reappeared in the same spot.

He about-faced trying to retrace his past. The road no longer seemed uniformly straight. The world seemed to bend at unseen joints creating a vertiginous road in front of him. It knotted, but not quite. He fixed his position again and saw the road twist and run against him passing overhead and connecting at the horizon behind as a mobius strip that pushed him forward like a conveyor belt out of the past and back into it. He walked slowly stepping on sticky patches of vomit. He set the bottle down not wanting to look at it. There were sirens echoing off the city’s canyons. He came upon more sticky patches, noticeably darker. He passed by a shadowed figure sobbing, that upon seeing him, scurried like a cockroach from his sight heading in the direction of the sirens. He felt the blood on his knuckles and he could not recall if it had been there all this time or only after he had touched the latter patches. He composed a story for himself. The story composed him. He passed the New York stock exchange and he could make out lights of blue and red and all shades of orange and yellow. There were tents rudely scattered like pebbles on the beach with no discernible pattern or plot. He saw the exaggerations of the people he had walked past only a few weeks earlier. There were honest-to-God drum circles composed of some drums, some paint buckets and a few Tupperware containers. Smells of burning plants sutured the air around him. There were mostly young people, but some obviously homeless had migrated to the tents in search of food and community and he could tell who they were because their faces looked like they had been talking to God. He became acutely aware of the fact that he was in a white button up shirt, dress shoes and black cotton slacks. But the people here were dressed in many colors and gradations. In his drunken state they blurred into one another and he feared to touch them. There were signs on the ground and their makers were following their pen strokes closely with their phone’s screens.

When he awoke in the morning he couldn’t tell where the concrete ended and his head started. It was cool and damp and there was a light sprinkle falling. The smell of dirt, dead skin and ash was in the air and there was considerable noise echoing in his skull. He had talked to no one in the night and there was no attention paid to him when he awoke. He found two blue chips in his pockets from the previous night and he wondered if this currency could be used here to get something for his headache. He walked vaguely among vendors selling T-shirts with loudly written mottos or carts selling food that he smelled but could not afford, nor did he want to eat. There was a contingent speaking to each other in Guy Fawkes masks.

A skinny man in a brown hoodie came up to him with a thermos of coffee and asked him if he was all right. Schulden said he had quit his job and the skinny man asked if he quit or if he was fired and Schulden confirmed that he had quit.

I read the letter in the HuffPo the other day about the guy that quit his job. I forget his name. But supposedly he worked around here. You know him?”

Vaguely.” Schulden replied. He felt that this was wholly true.

We actually hoped he might show up.”

Schulden didn’t respond to this. He sipped his coffee.

I’m Jacoby.” They shook hands and Schulden could feel hard calluses press against his own pink palms. “Here let me get something real quick.” He left and came back with a tablet that had a copy of the letter on the screen. Schulden re-read his words, words that had exhumed confidence in Jacoby who was now effusing his praise saying that the proof extended beyond those that were down here demonstrating to those who were up there and he pointed at the sky.

We’re going to march today if you want to come.”

Schulden just shrugged and muttered “Sure.”

We’re going across the Brooklyn Bridge.”

But Schulden didn’t care and just waved a hand. He sipped the coffee. He had decided that the future wasn’t worth knowing to him since it was all he ever lived in in a previous life. He gazed up at the skyline wondering at the precipitous fall he had taken. He reflected for the first time that the future was not something he was ready for, yet the past seemed to insist on it. He was wedged in between the two and none of the past twenty-seven years had prepared him for that tiny space in between.

The morning moved and took him with it until a man stood up with a bullhorn trying to give order to the mass in front of him. Schulden observed that these people were not so much gathered for a common cause as they were gathered for the masses. The masses gave meaning to whatever the signs and the shouts proclaimed and if they moved as one they could keep this.

They walked northeast up Broadway and then fell southeast funneling down into Brooklyn Bridge. Hordes of people from other camp sites had leached onto the snaking line drawing it’s way across the river, a thousand tiny points forming a continuous function of disgust and frustration. Schulden walked with them if only to listen and see what would happen. A spiritual pilgrim in a time and age completely devoid of religion.

When they reached the bridge people began to break off, some opting for the walkway. The crowd moved Schulden and it had decided that he was to walk across the roadway without asking his permission. There were policeman leading the way, hesitant at first but hitting full stride several yards down the bridge. They walked with their hands on their belt looking straight ahead concentrating on something imminent yet unseen. About halfway across the bridge the movement stopped. People were craning their necks, reaching cameras up with outstretched arms.

brooklyn bridge

What’s happening?” they asked. “It’s not the police is it?” He felt the eyeballs move on him and in turn his eyes moved towards the bridge’s chord. He climbed up and put his foot on the X-shaped truss trying to see what he could. His vision was obstructed and he climbed higher and put his hand around one of the cables that enclosed the bridge. From there he could see massive orange nets combing the street and people looking bewildered like lost sheep. The police officers in white shirts stood like picket fences and the navy-shirted cops stepping slowly forward almost as though they were afraid they might spook the crowd. A shirtless man advanced alone out of the crowd with his arms extended like Christ the Redeemer. A fog came from the blue mass, concentrated at his face. He fell backwards, folding in on himself. The cops lifted their nets over him and advanced past him and Schulden could see that his once extended arms were now being zip-tied behind his back by one of the white shirts.

He stood up and people were now asking him what was going on to tell him please what was going on. It was apparent that the navy shirts were trying to enclose people. Rings of white zip-ties could be seen on cops’ belts and wrists and soon after the protesters’ hands. They were pushing the crowd against whatever railings they naturally congregated as though it were a rude predetermined design and the cops ordered the zip-tied masses against the railing into neat columns. Schulden verbalized none of this. He could hear shouts. Words like “tyranny” and “criminal” were shouted at the cops. Schulden saw the impending orange nets grow closer on him. He felt the past had rushed him furiously to this moment and that the future was quickly suffocating it. Before it came he wanted to understand. Not all of it. Not how he had switched sides so quickly. But just this moment. The shirtless man was being tended to, now looked up blindly at the sky as someone poured milk on his face. He smelled refined oil making its escape from the pores of the asphalt. The wind blew gently. He could still taste the vomit from last night in his teeth. Schulden raised up and began to wobble, feeling anxiety and stress in his knees. He placed his black dress shoe guessing where a foothold might be. He guessed wrong. It was at a coordinate of the earth that had no solid footing, and with the failure of only his foot, his whole body started to topple.

Survivors of suicide will sometimes tell stories of regret mid-fall. Others will tell how they don’t even remember letting go. When Andrew Schulden fell from the Brooklyn Bridge as the result of a bad guess on October 1, 2011, propelled into a soft parabolic fall over the water, he would recall that his chief thought was estimating the river’s depth. When one speaks of rock bottom is this an illustration of crashing or of slowly sinking after the surface has been punctured? This was a very important thing to him. It was the only thing to him. Speculation of his resurrection could only be assessed when the factors of his landing could be calculated. Coming close to death is a catalyst in terms of spiritual growth. Even so, he was at the mercy of numbers and how does one bargain with predetermined calculations?

By falling, he guessed. Simply by falling.

************

Nathaniel Heely is a graduate of the University of Arkansas. His fiction has previously appeared in decomP, Workers Write! The Citron Review, The Gambler, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, theNewerYork and several others. For more of his work visit http://www.nathanielheely.com
Twitter: @CommanderSeamus

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