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Alice in the Middle of Jumping
by Aaron Hellem

We all ask Alice not to do it. That it would ruin our good time and infect us with a malaise that would force us into introspection. "If there’s anything we wish to avoid," we tell Alice, "it's introspection."

Alice is on top of the ledge. The building is thirty floors up. It is one of the smaller buildings in the city, but with thirty floors, it will suffice for her purposes. Alice says, "I’ve given it extensive consideration, and I conclude that this is the only viable resolution to the weight of my problems."

"But," we counter, "your problems will not disappear. Those you leave behind will inherit them."

"I do not want any of your problems," Bill says. Bill and Alice were, up until yesterday, an item. Bill is still bitter about the end of it. Alice could never be happy. Bill could never stay sober. All he wanted was a decent meal. All she wanted was to watch the crows fly into the sides of the other buildings.

"This is how it ends," she said.

He didn't argue. And now, he doesn't want anything to do with her anymore. He doesn't want to feel the burden of her shadow at our local haunts. "Wouldn't it just be something," Bill says, "if one night, we're all down at Red's and suddenly Alice returns as a banshee and enters the bar and wails until it drives us all crazy and Red charges more for the drinks because he thinks it qualifies as entertainment. How would you like that?" He points his finger at us. There are times when he likes to consider himself separate from the rest of us. Bill has striking moments of individuality, at which we all point and laugh. Alice laughs, too.

"I needed that," she says. "It’d been fifteen years since my last laugh."

"We’ll tell you jokes," we offer her. "We'll push down old ladies for your entertainment. We’ll adopt horrible drug habits and ask you to help us clean up. You can turn on the cold water and help us back into reality."

Alice leans over the side of the building. "Thirty floors down looks a lot farther than thirty floors up," Alice says. She takes off her dress. She hands it to Mary. "I'd hate for it to go to waste," Alice says. She slips out of her underwear and undresses completely. She gives Bill her underwear. "We had some times together," she says to him.

"Sometimes," Bill says. He takes her underwear and hides them in his pocket. He turns away and walks back towards the elevator.

"I don't blame him for not watching," Alice says.

Mary cries. The dress is too small, and she'll need to lose weight for it to fit properly. "I'll never be able to lose weight," she says. "You know I don't have enough will power for that. You know that, and I bet you did this on purpose." Mary flings the dress over the side of the building. "I know you did this on purpose," Mary says, "and my only hope is that your fall is swift and you splatter something great so they'll never be able to put you back together again." Mary’s always been contentious with Alice. We suspect she’s always been secretly in love with Bill, and jealous when Alice seduced him. We told Mary that Bill is a mental midget.

"Most of the time we wonder if Bill gets dressed in the dark," we had said.

"My breasts are larger than Alice's," Mary said. "Men like Bill must prefer larger breasts."

"Who wouldn't?" we said. "We are all envious of your larger breasts."

Mary regarded her larger breasts, and wondered if that would be enough. Now, Alice punctuates Mary’s insecurity by offering her a dress in which she’ll never be able to fit her larger breasts. The dress floats down thirty floors to the street below. Pedestrians halt, and stare up into the sky. A dress without a body means that somewhere there's a body without a dress. Mary walks away, and joins Bill by the elevator. She commiserates with Bill.

Alice says, "They should be happy and banal together." We wonder what else Alice has to bequeath before taking her plunge. Obviously, we’re not going to convince her to postpone this. "I've made up my mind," Alice says, "and everything else I have is up for grabs during lengthy and complicated probate. I will be laughing on the other side." She blows us a kiss. Then disappears, down thirty floors where car horns honk and pedestrians gasp. We remain on top of the building. The girls need consolation. The boys need to know that all is not meaningless. That it was Alice's volition, which, in the end, meant something.

"None of us will be able to fit in her dresses."

It's true: Alice was easy on the eyes.

Aaron Hellem is attending the MFA Program at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. His short stories have been published most recently in the Bitter Oleander, Ink Pot, the Timber Creek Review, Ascent, and Convergence.


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