How to Fall
It happens just as we are filing out of the funeral home into the punch of a freezing December night. It happens with our hands shoved in our pockets, filing quietly and aimlessly out into the transparent night. Shuffling out from behind the throng of black and bustling guests, my brother and I are the first to see them.
They both fall, as if the wind knocked their gravity out with a tap. A man and a woman, hand in hand. She is wearing a grey coat that dwarfs her hair like tufted cotton. He seems more strongly built but just as old, the skin around his lips bunched and wrinkled like the outline of a moth’s wings.
Now, in the thin, cold December air, I rush forward from the doorway and toward the couple sprawled on Ashland Avenue.
“He pulled me down,” she says, still horizontal on the sidewalk. “He pulled me down with him. He fell and he pulled me down.” It is only until I am close enough that I realize they are still holding hands.
I look up and am surrounded by funeral guests, the smothered swish of grey coats in the grey evening. The streetlights all seem stuck on yellow.
“Do we know them?”
“Aren’t those the Motzoffs?”
“Darling these couldn’t be –no, your parents are over there.”
I feel myself overcompensating, eager to make sure everything is alright? Everything is okay? You can feel your legs, ma’am, right? No one knows who they are. Spastically shuttling phones from person to person, dialing the first two numbers of 9-1-1 just in case.
“He pulled me down with him,” she whispers as I bend closer.
“Can you tell me what year it is?” I ask.
I don’t know what I’m doing. I just saw them fall. They were holding hands and fell together, reverse symbiosis. He pulled her down. I stop to wonder if something actually were to happen, if I could still claim ignorance. Officer, I didn’t know.
I wonder who can see me. I thrust my hands into my pocket and can see my brother near the door of the funeral home, herding people into order.
“Just look at Jason,” they were all probably saying. “Getting everything under control, so calm under pressure. He’d be a good man to trust.” “What happened with the boy’s grandfather just wouldn’t have happened if Jason was there.”
“Oh Hon, it’s not Danny’s fault.”
“He’s twenty-four, who else could you blame?”
What happened wasn’t my fault.
Last Tuesday, my grandfather fell while tucking in bed corners. Just pitched forward and struck his head on the nightstand. I couldn’t move. My feet stuck to his bedroom carpet. I could hear the faint sound of sirens, growing louder and louder until his bed blurred in Doppler shifts. I was frozen by the time my mother ran from the kitchen.
“See Danny?” my brother said the next morning. “Don’t beat yourself up about it. There was nothing you could have done.” We were sitting in our kitchen; I stood by the refrigerator and he sprawled against the cabinets, tapping the wood floor unevenly with his right foot. “You know animals have their own survival instinct thing, right?”
“Well, some things fight.” He pulled up his hands in front of his face like a rodent. “They use their teeny arms and fight the bigger ones, and then they survive.”
“And then there are some animals who are scared shitless and book it out of there.”
“Which one are you?” I asked.
“Oh, definitely fight.” He nodded. “Fight. But not actually fight, ‘cause I’m a pacifist and all, but I take action, you know?”
“Then what am I?”
“Exactly.” He started tapping with his left foot now, the tip of his gym shoes prodding the floor in rubber tracks. “You’re neither. You’re like those animals that play dead – you just freeze up. It’s in your biology, man. Don’t blame yourself.”
“You’re ruining the floor.”
The next day I called my mother.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “He fell on purpose.”
I asked my mother how someone could accidentally fall on purpose and she said there were always ways to fall.
I step behind the elderly couple as they continue on their way. An ambulance came and went, and along with it left the funeral guests and their hypotheses.
“He fell because she fell because Poland fell and t hey fell together in a time of falling.”
“Good God, don’t be so dramatic.”
“I miss him.”
“It’s bad luck to say that after a funeral.”
I step in the couple’s snowdrifts to stay on their trail. They walk forward into the hazy marquee of the movie theatre, the incandescent glow resting atop her fragile hair like a halo of a paused streetlight.