After her hellish flight from NYC to Portugal, Maggie D did not expect to look up from her curry at Nola’s Kitchen to see a man tumble out of a six-story window. He fell through a missing pane of glass in a large window at the top of a dreary building. He fell onto the roof of a grey and black Smart car just then turning the corner below. Then he rolled off into the street across from the restaurant.
Maggie D dropped her spoon in the curried cauliflower and did not run out of the restaurant with everyone else to cluster around the body. What could she have done anyway? She sat quietly in quilt, wiping her spoon.
Soon enough the ambulance arrived and the man was hauled away. The knot of people from the restaurant now returned. They were two middle aged couples from the table next to Maggie D’s. Americans.
“I wonder who he was?” said the bald man. “Was he pushed or did he jump? How old was he? Good God, I wonder what it is like to die.”
“Oh Frank, just stop!” said Linda, his wife, tucking into her meal.
“Do you think it was an accident? Or was it murder?”
Linda suddenly reached over and cuffed Frank’s head with her free hand. “Enough already!”
“What? What’d I do?”
“‘What is it like to die? Was it an accident? Did someone push him?’ You’re writing a friggin’ novel.”
The other man facing Maggie D made a long face.
“He’s very bad,” said Maggie D.
Linda turned and looked over her shoulder. “That’s not the half of it.”
“Just for that,” said Frank, looking at Maggie D., “you can’t read my novel.”
“How mean,” said Claudia, the other woman, channeling Terry Gross. “So did the victim jump or was he pushed?”
“I haven’t decided,” said Frank. He glanced up at the building. “It is a strange place to be. What’s up there anyway at the very top, but dusty empty rooms.”
They looked up at the window.
“Put a thunder shirt on him,” said Linda. “He needs calming.”
That elicited more laughter.
“Whatever happened, I’m glad I’m not that poor bugger,” said Joe, the second man.
“I should like a thunder shirt too,” said Maggie D.
They watched her carefully ease her arms through the straps of her backpack. Then she gathered up her metal cane leaning against the next chair and inched her leg brace around the table legs.
Frank rose to hold the door.
“Be careful of open windows now,” he said.
Maggie D. laughed.
“Oh, Frank. Do I have to put you to bed?” said Linda.
The next night Maggie D. returned to Nola’s Kitchen and ordered an omelette. It was easier to go there then to traipse all over looking for a new restaurant, especially when she still had jet lag. She sat at the same table as before and looked out at the dreary building from which the man had fallen. She missed the Americans. Had Frank worked on his novel?
Why was the man up there by that window? She wondered. What was happening in his life to drive him up there with such an unfortunate result? Did someone lure him up there? Or had he wanted to cross over? Sadness washed over Maggie D. Maybe she should write a novel too.
The waiter interrupted her meditation by spilling the little cup of ketchup she had ordered. The ketchup splattered into a Rorschach test at her feet.
“I am so sorry, Madame. Did it land on you?”
She shook her head, wondering if spilled ketchup revealed life’s secrets.
Several waiters came running with a mop and a wad of paper towels.
“It’s all your fault, you know,” said the waiter smiling at her pretty face, her cornsilk hair.
“Next time, no ketchup for you.”
“Have you seen the ‘The Matrix’?” she asked. “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Lawrence Fishburne?”
“No,” he said, giving her a hug, noticing that despite being a dwarf with a leg brace, she was perfectly proportioned in all the right places.
That night Maggie D. opened her hotel window for the night air. It was hard to sleep. She worried about her eventual departure. It had been so hard getting to Porto, so debilitating.
She had had to climb the steps to the hotel reception - six marble steps without railings.
She had to climb two more marble steps to the lift. It was even worse at the airport. She had nearly fallen while going from Terminal E to Terminal F at Charles de Gaulle. A couple was following too closely and plowed into her, not noticing that she had a cane and a leg brace. They had not even bothered to help her regain her balance either as they raced ahead. Somehow she had managed not to topple over her carry-on, fighting back a sob.
Then her leg brace got snotty.
“You might as well give up,” said her leg brace. “Look at you! A crab scuttling across silent seas. If you don’t have health, you don’t have anything. Why knock yourself out traveling all over creation?”
“Think about it, Boss. It’s quiet on the other side. No worries. No —.”
Now sea gulls outside her window were screeching. How lovely to be a seagull, she thought, to have wings, to drift on an air current. The air currents of her own brain now drifted here and there as she drifted off to sleep and finally landed on the handsome man from the plane whom she had commandeered when they first landed in Porto. The handsome man who had caught his gaze.
“Can you help me thread my arms through my backpack? It is hard for me to twist.”
“Yes, of course,” he had said.
He had graying temples and a kindly face. He was slender, all in black — black shirt, black suit. He could have been a poet, a priest, a vegan academic or all three.
“Take your time. Take your time,” he had said, holding out the straps of the backpack.
She had smiled at him. “Thank you so very much. It’s my arthritis.”
At the baggage claim she had tried not look for him but she couldn’t help it. Then she spotted him. As he was pushing away his trolly, she had called after him. “Thank you again!”
When he heard her voice, almost as if he were listening for it, he had turned and smiled. “You are quite welcome. Enjoy your holiday.”
Her eyes followed him through the exit.
Now as she drifted deeper into sleep with the sweet wind stirring the curtains and admitting the night sounds outside the hotel, the world shifted a little and the man reappeared in her dream. He passed through a shaft of golden light and paused. Then he turned to her and beckoned, smiling broadly. Yes, she would go with him to his well-appointed home of books, art and musical instruments. Yes, she would cook curried cauliflower for him and match his hunger. Yes. She could, she would do that.
Meanwhile, under her bed, her shoes began to murmur.
“Boss is dreaming again about that guy on the plane.”
“Leave her alone,” said the other shoe. “He’s a perfect fit.”