a short story
Evelyn was standing waist-deep in a pile of black clothes when I walked into the bedroom. She seemed almost lost in the gargantuan explosion of bras and panties, sweaters and skirts. I laughed.
"Let me know if you need someone to pull you out," I chided. She barely noticed. We had a banquet to go to and she, as usual, was very concerned about constructing the perfect outfit and looking just right. Barely glancing at me, she smirked and continued her frenzied search. I left the room saying, "If you fall in, just yell. I'll call a search party."
I walked into the living room and plopped down onto the couch. I stretched my legs out onto the ottoman before me and spread my arms like wings, letting them float down slowly onto the backrest of the red velvet sofa.
There was so much of it now.
In the twenties, just a mere decade ago, I would never have dreamed that I'd live so luxuriously. Well, our apartment hadn't gotten any bigger, that's not what I mean. It's not like we won the lottery and moved into a mansion or anything. We were still artists living in a smallish, one-bedroom New York City apartment. It was just the luxury of the newfound space we enjoyed now that everything was put away. Our beautiful baroque couch for instance. It's never been very practical. The baroque era was certainly not known for its efficient use of space. On the contrary, this couch like so many other baroque couches, took up a good amount of space and yet very little of it provided room for comfortable sitting. It seemed like a good deal of it was flourishes and filagree, pomp and ornamentation. I loved it. But we would never have had room for it before. Just two feet to my left there used to be a cabinet that held some awards I had won at the start of my career. A mere foot to my right there was a lamp I'd inherited from my grandfather. It sat on an old drafting table that also held a dusty computer that was more paperweight than anything else. Where my feet peacefully rested on an ottoman, there used to be a small coffee table I had covered in a collage made of some of my early drawings . And now it was all gone. Put away.
A telltale tinging sound came from the bedroom followed by that strangely musical sucking noise. I knew now that she would emerge impeccably dressed and that the bedroom would be immaculate and completely free of clothes. And so it was. She appeared and stopped in the doorway. With one hand on her hip and an outstretched arm holding her weight against the door frame she seductively purred, "What do you think?"
"You look wonderful" I replied. And I guess I lightly chuckled.
"What's so funny?" she said.
"Oh, I was just picturing what the bedroom would have looked like ten years ago. You know, after you'd finished getting dressed." And I laughed again.
"You mean before Fractal Friends." she added. She ran her hand through her hair and started towards the front door grabbing her purse along the way. "They are a girl's best friend."
"Yeah, but not a boy's" I quipped. She came to a full stop at the front door, swung around and fixed me with a hard look.
"What do you mean by that?" she groaned.
"Well, before Fractal Friends you had a limited amount of space so that means that there were only so many outfits you could try on and take off before finally settling on what you're wearing to the ball. Now, the sky's the limit. You could be in there forever!"
She wasn't terribly amused. "The car is waiting," she crooned, "and I'm not really sure I even want to go to this thing so believe me when I say that this is not a conversation you wish to have with me at this moment in time." And with a sly smile, she was out the door.
New York City at night has always been one of my favorite things in this world. The dark black sky gets spotted with white clouds unnaturally illuminated by the lights of the Empire State Building. The thousands of little office lights in the skyscrapers, look like stars floating in a nebula of black quartz or like streams of Christmas lights strung neatly around giant obsidian obelisks. And to see it all moving makes it all the more beautiful. Our car was speeding down the FDR and all around us long black limousines reflected the neon dance of the city. We were like a school of killer whales caught in a phosphorescent stream careening towards lower Manhattan. Next to me, Evelyn was fixing her makeup in a small illuminated mirror, adding yet another light to the luminescent spectacle. And then something out the window caught my eye. Across the East River, between the converted Domino Sugar plant and the new Asian Alliance Tower was an illuminated sign. And it read, "Fractal Friends. Expand Your World".
I'll never forget the first Fractal Friends ad I ever saw. It was only a few years after that Austrian scientist had found a way to create rifts in time-space and open small doorways to some kind of parallel dimension. It all sounded very dangerous. Some said that if you walked into the rift you could get lost in there and never return and I do believe I heard of a few cases of that happening. But then Fractal created a device that would dictate the size of the space. With their little generator, you could open a space that was say, four feet by four feet by four feet and voila, you had an extra closet in your home where one didn't exist before. I think everyone was a little surprised by how soon this technology had a commercial application and that it was being offered to the public at all. But then, with a president that had close ties to a former CEO of Fractal, maybe it wasn't so surprising. Anyway, I guess it was the kind of thing you needed to see for yourself because I sure as hell didn't believe the commercial. But before I knew it, everyone had a Fractal Friends Time-space Mini-storage portal in their apartment or office. It only took seeing it in use once or twice before I knew we needed one.
When you live in New York City, Manhattan in particular, space is limited and at a premium. Anyone here will tell you that ten years ago, you had few options when it came to storage. If you had parents or other relatives in the suburbs, you were set. You'd just drop all of your stuff off in their basement in New Jersey or Long Island and go out there when you needed it. But if you didn't have family out there, forget it. Your only other choice back then was to get an actual storage unit in a warehouse. Hell, they were so expensive, you might as well invest the money in getting a bigger apartment. The only other choice was to do what most of us have always done; throw out everything you own about once a year.
But you know how it is. There are some items that have greater sentimental value than others. My trophies for instance. I sure as hell didn't need them around, but it seems weird to throw them out. And my grandfather's lamp? Or the coffee table I collaged with my drawings? These are obviously not items one needs to keep around to add to the clutter, but how could I possibly throw them away? And then there's Evelyn's things. She used to have a rule that if she didn't wear a garment in a whole year, it got thrown out, not because she didn't love it, mind you, but just because we simply didn't have the space. Once we got our first Time-space Mini-Storage Portal, that all changed. She could keep absolutely every piece of clothing she'd ever bought. The first one we got was three feet by three feet by five feet. It didn't take long to fill that one. Now, we are up to six hundred cubic feet of other-dimensional storage and we haven't had to throw out a single thing since. Our apartment is empty save for the bed and couple pieces of furniture. All the clutter is gone. We just turn on the generator, wave our hands over the field and the doorway opens. The conveyer comes out, you put the stuff on it, it goes in and voila, it's out of sight. Where it goes? I'll be honest, I still don't quite understand that part. But then again, I still don't know understand how a phone works, but that doesn't stop me from making calls.
"What are you thinking about, " asked Evelyn out of the silence.
" I was thinking about how beautiful you are." I said and we smiled at each other.
Glancing passed her out the window I noticed the hospital. The rear end of it, which faces the highway seemed different somehow, more spacious. "What's different about the hospital?" I asked "Didn't it used to be closer to the road?"
She turned her head to look. "No, it's not further away. They just got rid of all of the garbage bins. It just seems further away because there's all that extra room there now".
"Well, then if there's no bins, what do they put all of their garbage in now?"
She turned to me with a wry smile, "Oh, the bins are still there, you just can't see them." and mimicking the voice of a cheesy television announcer she continued, "Fractal Friends, Expand your world!" and she playfully shot me with two imaginary guns. "Pow! pow!"
"Other-dimensional garbage disposal?" I mused, "that's kind of brilliant, isn't it?"
She put her compact away and pointed over my shoulder to the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, "That's nothing", she said, "Look over there. See what's missing?" I scanned the Brooklyn waterfront under the bridge but nothing seemed particularly awry. "Come on", she nudged, "think about it. Big, black, two huge smoke stacks?"
"Oh! The waste treatment plant!"
"Right." she said.
"It's gone." I continued. "Wait, they didn't push it into a portal did they?"
Evelyn laughed, "Oh, I'm sure they would have if they could. But they can't do that. That would mean people would have to work in the other dimension and I don't think that's terribly safe or maybe even possible."
"So where is it then?"
"They tore it down to put up some condos," she said. "They tore it down because we don't need it anymore. Do you know why that is?" I shook my head. "We don't need it anymore because now we just push all of our garbage into the other dimension."
"Come on, that's not true." I barked.
"Yeah, it is, actually. Remember that huge landfill on the way to my mother's? It's not there anymore. I mean, it is, but you can't see it. They shoved it into a giant rift and built a mall in its place. My mother and I went the last time I was out there."
"A mall and a garbage dump inhabiting the same space. There's a joke in there somewhere. Honestly, I didn't even know you can do that. I mean on that scale."
"Our storage unit is small because we don't have a lot of money. But the city? They can afford to put a whole building in one. You need to watch the news more often," she said. "There are all sorts of strange things happening in our world."
Suddenly, the car came to an abrupt halt. "What's going on?" I asked.
"It looks like a traffic jam" she offered craning her neck to see out the front window of the car.
We inched forward, little by little. Traffic was moving, but very slowly. I could see ahead that some of the other cars were going onto the shoulder. And eventually we did as well. As we passed the cause of the disturbance we looked out the window. I was expecting to see a car accident or perhaps a stalled car with an overheated engine. Instead what we saw was completely surreal. There was a man. He was standing in the road. He had gotten out of his car and was standing in front of it. There was an object, an obstacle in the road that wouldn't let him pass; the cause of the traffic jam. It was a dresser. An armoire, just sitting there, in the middle of the FDR drive. And the strangest part, as we slowly drove around the car and the man and the dresser is that he was not looking at it. He was just standing there, looking up at the sky. As if that's where it had come from.
We turned off the road at the Grand street exit and proceeded to Chinatown. The banquet, which was being held by the Illustrator's Society was at "Capitale", an event space on the Bowery. Capitale was actually a bank, well it used to be anyway. About a hundred years ago they made grand banks like this one; huge, cavernous, majestic. It had massive columns outside and was the height of a six story building, but it only had one floor, hence you can imagine the ceiling seemed like it was miles above you, like it was the very sky. I once asked a friend why anyone would make such a structure, so space-inefficient. He said it was probably to give people a sense that their money was well guarded by powerful people who could afford to build such things. That era ended long ago. Banks just got smaller and smaller until finally everyone just did their banking from home, from their computers. The days of banks being temples of money worship were far behind us. No one would dream to waste space like that anymore, until recently that is. Until Fractal. Now we had all of the space in the world.
We were a block away from Capitale when we were greeted by police lights and humming sirens. "What's going on?" asked Evelyn, leaning towards the partition that separated us from the car's controls.
"There seems to be police activity in this area, Madam," said our vehicle, "The street has been closed. I'm afraid I will not be able to get you closer to your destination."
"That's okay,"' I interjected, "we can walk from here. It's just there."
Evelyn and I got out of the car and proceeded up the sidewalk towards Capitale. There was a commotion on the sidewalk just ahead. The police had put up a barrier to cordon off a piece of sidewalk and a crowd of people had gathered, forming a semi-circle around it. Two police vehicles hovered overhead shining a light into the center of interest. And as we passed, we saw it. From between the heads of curious onlookers there was, sticking out of the brick facade of a building, what could only be described as a "thing".
Even now as I look back I can't exactly recall what it was. It was sort of like a big rectangular box, maybe made of a purplish metal. But it also had what seemed like organic parts to it. There was maybe some wire mesh or chunks of metal bars sticking out of it, some round bits, some jagged protrusions. The best way I can describe it would be as If a million years from now, everything we shoved in a landfill had, through great pressure, fused together, like certain rocks you see, jagged and multi-colored and made from bits of many different disparate things. And it was just jutting out of the stone-face of the building, as if stuck between two worlds.
Evelyn and I looked at each other wide-eyed but said nothing. Neither of us had anything to say. At least nothing that would have seemed reasonable. A policeman prodded us to keep moving. "Move along," he said, "move along. We must clear this area. A police investigation is taking place in this area. Please, move along." And we did.
Moments later we were walking up the grand steps of Capitale. White-gloved valets in ornate red jackets welcomed us in. They pushed open the huge front doors revealing the cavernous opulence of the place. A huge chandelier hung from the ceiling. Couples in their finest dress stood about sipping cocktails. Marni Gross, the chairperson of the Illustrator's Society came rushing to greet us.
"Thank you for coming," she sighed, somewhat exasperated, "God, it's been such a crazy day. Nothing is working right. It's just been absolutely mad." She took a breath. "Well, you two look fantastic! Please, do come in. We're having trouble with the hors d'oeuvres but the bar is up and running so please help yourselves to a drink. I'll be right back." And off she went with the focussed mania of someone with an impossible task to tackle.
Evelyn and I approached the bar. An older couple was ahead of us patiently waiting while the bartender shook their martinis. I turned to her. "Is it me or is this day shaping up to be weird as hell? What was that thing out there?"
"I don't know, maybe some kind of portal malfunction?" she hypothesized. Just then, a commotion grabbed our attention. We both turned to see a porter fussing with a mini-storage portal. He had turned on the generator, he had waved his hand and opened the portal. However, the conveyer, the part that moves the items in and out of the portal, was jammed. This shiny metal box, which seemed to be holding fine china and silver for the party was coming out of the portal, stopping half way and jerking back in. I'd never seen one do anything like that. The porter seemed somewhat embarrassed. He looked about nervously and tried again and again to get his hands on the product conveyer but the shiny metal box repeatedly slipped out of his white-gloved hands. And then finally, it disappeared into the portal. There was that strangely musical sucking noise and the portal closed. He stood there for a moment, perplexed, not knowing what to do. Marni Gross went running over to the rescue. Evelyn and I looked on, entranced. Neither of us had ever seen a portal malfunction. We'd never even heard of one. And then it happened.
There was that telltale tinging sound and suddenly the portal opened on its own. The product conveyer, a shiny metal box about three feet cubed shot out of the portal like a missile from a canon knocking Marni through the air and impaling the porter against the far wall of the bank. Everyone froze. The porter's last breath was a grotesque exhalation of blood. A woman screamed. Then, finally coming to their senses, a couple of doormen rushed in to help. A strange, monstrous belching noise filled the room. All eyes turned to the portal and then with bestial force another large item shot out of the portal and then another. It all happened too fast to even see what they were. The doormen were instantly crushed to death. And then more debris was rocketed out of the hole until it was a constant, never ending stream of projectile detritus, a horizontal volcanic eruption of junk. Panic ensued. Couples in tuxedos and gowns started to run towards the front door. Some were overtaken by the waves of matter flowing through the room like a tsunami of twisted wreckage. I grabbed Evelyn's hand as tightly as I could and leapt behind the bar. Pressed against the back wall we quickly worked our way to the front of the room and ran out the front door.
Outside, we were met by an ominous sight. People were running down the middle of Bowery screaming. Lights were coming on in all of the windows like dominos, one by one until every building was lit. People were falling off of their balconies followed by streams of rubbish. I held Evelyn's hand tighter. My instinct was to run, but to where? Everywhere I looked there was mayhem and death and grievous injury. And then there was no longer time to think. A loud terrible sound of twisting metal crushing both bone and flesh grew louder behind us. The tsunami of wreckage had filled that six story bank and was pushing it's way out the front door. We ran down the stairs and bolted southbound down Bowery, but we didn't get far.
At the corner of Bowery and Grand we froze. There above us, in the sky, strange bluish clouds were forming and moving in a circular pattern. A portal was opening just between the buildings on Grand street like a big, ghoulish clock face. The vertical hole turned and turned, opening wider and wider until it was a huge portal in the air about seven stories above the street. Everyone seem to stop for a moment, frozen, mesmerized by this eerie, unearthly sight. In the calm before the storm there was a sound, like a distant roar of water only more metallic. It was faint and everyone seemed to halt, to lean in, to hear it. It grew louder and louder. And then the ghastly hole unleashed a massive river of debris onto the street below. Like a waterfall of metal and glass and plastic and concrete it came down with a crushing force and instantly overtook and tore apart everyone in its path. People scattered like rats.
Evelyn and I ran and ran for our lives. She was crying now, a desperate childlike cry. I could hear her over the sounds of my heavy breathing, though I dared not look at her for fear of losing what little nerve I had left. We ran south on Bowery towards the high ground of the Manhattan bridge. People ran by us on all sides. I saw a man stop to catch his breath. He pressed his back against the wall of a Chinese jewelry store. He bent over, placed his hands on his knees and took a couple of deep breaths. As he straightened up, a portal opened up in the wall directly behind him. He jerked violently in a horrifying death rattle. His face jolting into a fiendish look of hysteria. Wide-eyed and mouth agape, bent and contorted he froze in an inhuman rigor mortised pose. A safe had emerged and had materialized around his ribcage. His heart and veins and countless blood cells were instantly encased in sold metal. I choked down a moan of primal fear and turned it instead into a yell, "Come on!" I screamed. And we ran towards the bridge.
We never made it. At Bowery and Canal an ear piercing screech brought us both to a stand still. It was like no other sound I have ever heard. Loud and shrill and rumbling in my guts it was like the very sound of our universe being ripped apart. I looked up and just below Canal I saw a plane, a big one, a jumbo jet and it was falling out of the sky. If I told you it was crashing, I'd be lying. It was just falling. Just falling, as if it had just materialized there in midair and was simply dropping to the ground. Time stood still. I looked at Evelyn. Her eyes conveyed a fear I'd never seen in her. She let go of my hand and ran. I cried out for her. She ran across the street and took refuge under the awning of the Chinatown Theater. It all happened so fast. The plane hit the tops of the buildings. It's massive weight reduced the buildings to sand. There was a huge explosion that shot dust and shattered concrete in all directions. My eyes filled with dirt. I cowered to the ground, with my eyes covered. "Evelyn", I thought. I looked up. Through the burning rocks in my eyes I saw her there, standing against the wall of the theater. The plane continued it's descent, smashing through floor after floor of the nearby buildings like a weight dropped on a sandcastle and captured in slow motion. I looked up, a cloud of dust had obscured my view of Evelyn, of anyone, of everything. And then the plane hit the ground. And there was a blast. I felt punched in the face by the wind. It threw me back several feet. I cried out for Evelyn. And then I remember the heat, intense heat and something that felt like a giant, burning hand picking me up and throwing me. The last thing I remember was tumbling down Bowery, maybe for blocks.
And that was the last time I saw my dearest Evelyn.
It's been a year since that dreadful day. It's a sunday. I have the TV on. I watch the news a lot now. It keeps me company while I straighten up the apartment. All of the news channels, hell, all of the channels for that matter, are rehashing the events, covering the memorials, investigating the facts, commemorating the dead. The acting President has just given a speech expressing his regrets for everyone's loss. Financial analysts and prosecutors are duking it out for who gets the first swing at Fractal. They went out of business of course, but I'm sure that's the least of their worries. Everyone lost everything. All of their customers, that is. There was no time to analyze the events of that day and formulate a well thought-out plan. All life on Earth was being crushed by, well, all of the things Fractal had helped us stored in that "other" dimension. Maybe there was something on the other side that didn't want us there. Maybe we were playing with laws of physics that we didn't understand. We never did find out what it was that had happened exactly or why it happened. The government had pretty much no choice but to shut down the main portal generators and seal those rifts for good. I lost everything I had stored, well, everyone did, of course. I think back to those old trophies, my grandfather's lamp and that dusty old computer. Are they still in some other dimension somewhere, I wonder, or did they get spit out of a portal somewhere. I don't know. I don't much care. I wonder why it was so important for me to keep them around at all. They all seem so trivial to me now.
The couch is covered in last night's clothes. I pick them up and throw them in the closet. The real closet. The table is covered in coins and receipts and other trinkets. I pick up anything that I don't immediately need and throw it into a ceramic jug for later sorting though I know I'll never sort it. I pick up a letter and underneath is a photocard from Evelyn's memorial. I had wanted people to remember what she looked like so I made these cards to give to our family and friends. God, it took so long to find a photo of her. All of our best ones were in other-dimensional storage. She looks so peaceful in this picture. We took it on our first vacation together. I miss her so desperately.
I place it in the box of Evelyn things; a pressed flower, a hymnal, a xerox printout of her favorite quotes. All of the things I have to remember her by are things from her funeral. I walk them to the closet and can't help but to peer into the bedroom as if she might still be there. I look at that spot in the room, by the north wall, where our time-space mini-storage portal used to be and I wonder if she is maybe still alive, stuck in some alternate dimension. I see her face in my mind, a flash of the last time I saw her, pressed against a wall of the Chinatown Theater. She looked so scared, so distraught. And I think of the horrifying events of that night, all of the garbage, all of the junk, all of the debris that killed so many. I look down at the box in my hands and for a moment I think I should throw it all in the garbage. And I feel the muscles in my arm start to twitch and think I almost might. And then I collect myself. I know better.
How could I ever throw these things away?