By the time Adam is falling it no longer matters whether it was an accident, whether he was pushed, or pushed himself. All that matters now are the ten stories rushing toward him and the ground.
How strange, Adam thinks, that he has time to think how strange, let alone watch his reflection in that first window: grey flecks in his beard, his unzipped jacket fluttering like a sail. He is back on his solo sailing trip around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, same beard, and wind. It is the moment the wind starts up again, after days of idle floating, depression. He has no clothes on, screaming into the blue, longing to bottle up the feeling for when he returns.
Adam’s body relaxes, spinning like the bottle that summer at camp; his stomach feels the same. He eyes Alice, tracking Thom in his periphery. The bottle stops, pointing between them. Alice leans across and pecks him on the lips before he has the chance to choose.
Fully upside-down, he hangs in his college roommate’s car that he has flipped on the highway. The taste of blood and alcohol on his lips will stay with him, though he will never drink again.
A passing bird becomes Adam’s graduation cap falling toward him. Feeling as if he is suddenly suspended mid-air, he scans the crowd for his father who he knows isn’t there. It’s just a habit now.
Halfway down is the worst day of his life, the day he loses his temper at his partner, Javier, screaming at him as he trips down the stairs. Still yelling about a missed dinner reservation, he notices Javi lying at the bottom, no longer yelling back. Is he breathing? The thought is wordless, all-consuming. He is rushing down the stairs, rushing, rushing—
Javi waking up in the hospital. Adam realizes a face can be a complete story too in the moment it wakes, witnesses, forgives with the rise of a cheek.
Adam falls. The adoption falls through. They burn years of paperwork on the beach, have sex in the orange glow. Adam is gentle, mindful of Javi’s injuries. They talk about getting away. Adam decides to sail alone.
Before he takes off, a letter arrives from his father. Adam carries it in his breast pocket around the gulf. It grows heavy, wet with rain, the letters appear to cry for them both.
Stories should have an arc, Adam learns not in school but from his father, playing with toys on the worn carpet. He’s a child again and his dad does all the voices, indulges every silly idea, ties up every loose end. He watches his dad, most alive acting out the beginnings.
This story is a straight line. Adam looks up from the end. It is the final chapter of his fall. All he ever needed was gravity, he considers, watching the replay. If only he could have lived so fully in each story before, he wonders, would he be
* Ten Ways the Animals Will Save Us is the tenth anniversary anthology of Retreat West.