By Jon Soares
His eyes opened wide in fascination, as he realized for the first time that he literally lived in an ivory tower. And ‘literally’ was being used correctly here. His apartment block or ‘tower’ had eleven floors and his home was on the very top.
A few moments earlier, as he approached the open window to identify the source of the noise that had interrupted his reading of ‘The Bell Jar’, he’d seen a large crowd gathered by the pharmacy downstairs. After watching the onlookers for about five minutes without being able to determine the object of their attention, he had been distracted by his own windowpane. The ants scurrying along the marble had pulled his gaze towards them almost against his will. He’d read somewhere that the human eye always notices movement before color or brightness. But then he did notice color a few seconds later: that was when he noticed the shade of the windowpane. Not white. Not beige either. What did they call that pearly hue…yes…ivory.
To his dismay, he had morphed into the embodiment of an expression that had been so overused by his friends to refer to him and his life. Of all people. He actually agreed with their assessment, of course. He was no academic but he did live in the proverbial ivory tower. And now, goddammit, the literal one.
He didn’t have a job. This was, in fact, his 14th month as a member of the unemployed masses. He wasn’t as disturbed by this as everyone else seemed to be. He knew his parents could afford to support him and would never ask him directly to get a job. Not after what had happened. And he didn’t care because he’d wished for this much free time for years. You know, to fill it with thoughts and ideas! Well, words really. Mostly from novels, but he didn’t discriminate against plays and philosophical treatises.
He pronounced himself an introvert once and for all when he comprehended that he would be perfectly happy reading books the whole day…every day…forever. This was no supposition. The knowledge had come to him empirically: he’d been doing just that for months. Had he not been comfortable with the situation, surely his brain would have told him by now.
He only had one thirst and it seemed unquenchable. As the tome in his hand turned from Lolita into Heidi into To Kill a Mockingbird into David Copperfield, in an endless stream of narrative candy, he felt himself mutate into something else too. He could now quote from classic novels and make highbrow associations of which he was increasingly proud. Yes, Atonement was just like Anna Christie; it induced fury and heartbreak in us, as we witnessed an extreme injustice. The old man and the sea had taught him about perseverance and The Double had made him relive memories of intense shame.
So, about that ivory tower. Recently, he’d been accused of not watching the eight o’clock news. He hadn’t done so in months. Why would he? It was basically the same drab flurry of forgettable incidents over and over again. He wasn’t crazy about the economy and knew that terrorism didn’t affect that many people.
‘Wake me up when the aliens arrive,’ he’d tell them.
He glanced at the heads downstairs again. The crowd had grown much larger. Then he understood what had happened.
Someone had jumped from the building opposite his. He hadn’t noticed the body at first because it was mostly blocked from his view by a tree. Now the fire brigade officials were moving it. Him, he could tell from the clothes. An old man dressed in a striped polo shirt. Even from the 11th floor, he could make out blood smeared on it. Witnessing the morbid redness of it was shocking at first. Then, just sad. It immediately brought back the memories of his own attempt.
He wondered how many people alive in the world right now would have a Proustian response, when shown the phrase ‘suicide attempt’. He could always ask, of course, if he ever went to another dinner party.
‘A suicide attempt? Oh yes, me too,’ he’d say, ignore the open mouths and sharp silence and continue. ‘Of course, lovie darling. Tell me about yours and I’ll tell you about mine.’
He glared at the scars on his arms below his wrists. It was becoming a nervous tic. A few months previously, he had felt contented in seeing them there. They were his reminder that ‘he had died once’, like a three-dimensional tattoo. Nothing really matters after you’ve died once, only the stuff that you really wanted to do. It was all extra. He had died and he didn’t want to take this new miraculous period for granted. He didn’t see reality as ‘a second chance’, but as an ‘afterlife’, where there was less shame, fewer rules and more of everything he loved.
However, that had been months ago, and now, when he looked at them, he felt annoyed that they had turned out to be so visible after the healing process had been over, which apparently takes a year. Anyone who studied his arms properly would be able to spot them. This was a little inconvenient but it wasn’t like he’d stopped wearing t-shirts.
He watched as the fire brigade vehicle drove away from his street, carrying the body. As the commotion dissipated downstairs, he felt a rush of gratitude for having witnessed the incident. Not because he enjoyed the idea of suicide, or was devoid of empathy, but because it made him become cognizant of the fact that he was cured of the very disease his neighbor once had.
He no longer felt that jumping out the window and ending his life was desirable, or acceptable. In fact, the whole idea was truly laughable now; why on earth would he end his life when there were so many more books to read? They had been his treatment and now he thought of art as his panacea.
He gazed at the ivory marble again and wondered whether hospitals and clinics in his neighborhood painted their walls that same shade.
Jon is a writer, stand-up comedian and filmmaker based out of New York City. He has had work published in English and Brazilian Portuguese. One of his comedic tweets mocking the ’50 shades of grey’ phenomenon was recently featured in Time magazine. You can find him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JonathasSoares