Gravityweekend-reads

Erin Stalcup

“We are suspenders of disbelief, easily enchanted by possibility, addicted to wonder. So whatever measure of faith we harbor in the fallibility of gravity may, like our faith in so many things, be sustained not by facts or lack of facts as much as by the sheer strength of our longing for it to be so.” —Jon Mooallem

I longed to fall in love in the way of the cinema, fairy tales, tall tales and great novels of all time—I had faith it would happen to me someday, any day now.

He dressed like a banker but didn’t stand like one. I wore skirts every day. We didn’t always ride the elevator together, but often. If we were waiting for it side by side, when it arrived he would hold the door, let me walk in first as if he’d opened that door, as if he had drawn aside a velvet curtain to a box seat at the opera. I’d walk to the corner and he’d stand in front of me, let me see his back. He wore well-cut suits I could sense the texture of just by looking—I didn’t touch, for a long time. The elevator floor pushed against our feet and our feet pushed downwards, driven by a force that felt like it was coming from above, but wasn’t, instead drawn down from the center of the earth that wanted us to return to where we came from, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Our feet were pulled downwards and the floor of the elevator pushed upwards and it pushed harder so we rose.

And then one day as we lifted through the levels of a building he looked up, into the mirrored ceiling, and I did too, and we saw each other, our faces framed by the tops of many heads, the ceiling a goldenish metal so that our faces were lit, glazed. We smiled.

I got off the elevator first, as I always did, and as I stepped around him I drew my hand across his back. We were both
wearing heavy golden rings, then.

I always said the number for my floor, seventeen please, and one day he didn’t push the button. We sailed up while the others exited, and then we were on the top floor. The doors slid open, he walked out and into the corner office. I followed. He shut the rich mahogany door without windows so no one from the office could see inside. Two walls were glass overlooking the city, we could be seen by others in the other towers if they picked this window to look into out of all the hundreds of windows. He lifted me onto his desk, lifted my skirt around my waist, ran his thumb inside the top of my thigh-high hose, said, “Nice,” knelt before me. And before he knew my name I was moaning. Before I opened my eyes he was standing and inside of me, and when I wrapped my legs around him I felt like I was tumbling, like we were spiraling up and away. He yelled himself into me and when we opened our eyes we were up against the ceiling. His papers, pens, phone, computer, briefcase, briefs, printer, chair, desk, staplers, post-it notes, paperclips, thumbtacks, books, bookends, newspapers were spinning slowly around us, as if in a decelerated tornado. Everyone everywhere was screaming. We looked into the windows of the other towers and it was as if someone had shaken all the seventy-eight story compartmentalized snow globes, people and their objects hovered in the air, slowly swooned and swayed and lifted and lowered as if on the moon.

“I always knew I could do this,” I said—break a bond, be released upwards, change the world—and he dipped me into a back-bending kiss that tipped us upside-down, though down was now just a concept. We spun and flitted and delighted, moved around the room touching things, we took off our rings and let them float and one time they clanged against each other, making a barely audible tinging sound, then drifted away.

At his place we took our clothes off and they floated next to us, the red puddle of a satin dress, his trousers on their own walk. No fetters, we were everywhere and right there at once. We bounced around the room, my legs wrapped around his waist to keep us together, then we tried to stay suspended in the middle. “Stay with me, stay in the air with me,” he said, and I thought we could just hover, still and balanced, but we couldn’t, for long—every tiny move propelled us: a shift in the bend of my hip made us scoot backwards a touch, a roll of my shoulder made us spin—the body was much more responsive to the body without the weight of gravity pulling down, tying us to a center.

We rose to the ceiling and touched it simultaneously, both of us reaching out as it approached, both stretching fingertips to have that feeling as soon as we could, both with the same awed, childlike expression of amazement and desire to feel it fully, and I knew we’d done the right thing. Our fingers hit the roof of the room, our palms were against it, and then we were flying away, the contact enough without friction or inertia to send us orbiting back down towards the floor. Falling felt like flying, felt like the rising we’d just done, and as we spiraled and cascaded and tumbled without speed, without fear of landing, we touched the rug and bounded back upwards.

Soon I’d lost my directions, didn’t know up with eyes closed. The entire room became our bed, we covered most of it, the furniture so mixed, lifted and jumbled that opening my eyes didn’t immediately tell me which direction I was headed. Only the fastened light fixture and stapled-in carpet were left as signs.

We neared the chandelier and I grasped the base of it, its sparkles and gems flying around my face but I held on, something to keep us still, and his motion lifted me to the ceiling, laid my back against it. With my arms over my head grabbing the light fixture, tangled in crystals and cords, it was like I was on the ground, both arms tied to a radiator, and we finished that way, almost like things were normal.

When it was all over we thought to swim to the bathroom and bathe together, but of course water no longer fell. We toweled each other off, went to collect our clothes.

He called his wife, who was traveling on business. She was safe, but scared, because it had happened there too, gravity had gone away everywhere, and of course she didn’t know why. He didn’t tell her then what she would be arriving home to—him gone, and me too, moved into a new place together—but he did speak to her soon after she arrived; he never told me how she reacted, but I presumed there was screaming and attempts at slapping, that drab, matte, heavy woman’s palm flying towards his face, though it’s difficult to hit someone hard these days.

I went to my house, packed my things by snatching them from the air. I swam through the halls, my husband following me, and he couldn’t exactly grab me and yank me to face him because any pull on me yanked him too. There was still air to carry sound, air to swim through, but his yelling felt muffled by all the objects floating through every room. I packed two suitcases as full as I could and they never felt weighted. I told him the truth, that I’d been slowly suffocating for years, that I’d never loved him the way I wanted to love someone, I just married him because I didn’t have a good enough reason to say no but finally realized I hadn’t had a good enough reason to say yes, either. “Now?” he asked. “You’re leaving me now, when everything’s crazy and up in the air?”

“I can’t think of a better time,” I said, and swam away.

Once you cut the chain and leap, there are no chains, all is leaping. When gravity goes you see all the chains are our own invention. It was never a force, it was something we postulated and then lived by. We felt pull downwards because we’d been told we were supposed to feel it. When you decide that obligation isn’t really there, it isn’t.

He brought me flowers in vases weekly, and as they twirled around the rooms often the water stayed inside. He bought me jewels, looped them around my neck, slid them through holes in my ears, twined them around my wrists, left them on my body when my clothing was removed.

After our lovemaking puddles would sometimes slip from me and stay suspended, glimmering, moonlight turned liquid. He liked to take my clothes off and arrange them in the air into my shape, so that he could watch the clothed me while he touched the naked me. I watched too.

All the doors were removed from the elevator shaft, the elevator itself taken away, the inside refurbished, tiled, so that it was a long pleasant column of air, lit, no longer dark and frightening. To get to another floor we boosted ourselves up through the huge tube: some flutter-kicked their feet, some pulled themselves up with the cord left running through the middle, some bought little propellers that blew them up and along. No longer the ritual of waiting, of pressing bodies together in a box, pushing buttons, being lifted.

Sleep was so different—there was no need for a mattress, something to cushion from the pressing down, no hard surface to ever be trapped against, again. We drifted, and to stay warm and feel coddled we began by carrying our blankets with us, wrapped and tangled around limbs. But in the night they would slip away, end up across the room, blown in their own limp trajectory.

Some people laced themselves to their beds so they stayed there all night as it floated, with purchased lashes or whatever rope or silk they had lying around the house. I presumed with all these straps more and more people were going S&M, loving being tied up, reenacting a former form of being ensnared; for comfort, maybe. One bound, one free, the pinioned one relieved. Your fate is not up to you to decide. Like the laws of physics, once. There used to be certain things determined as true. You jump, you fall. Now no.

Some people have started sleeping in sleeping bags, cinched at the shoulders to prevent escape. Some have double bags, so they can bang around the room with that special someone. Those that still just tangle in blankets must hold their lover to maintain contact throughout the night. A hand on an arm. Legs linked at the knee. One arm around a waist. It has never stopped being disorienting to wake, to not know where you are, how you got there, what direction is down, if your lover left.

Once, for old-times’ sake, we locked ourselves in a closet, to fuck without flying around. I pressed my hands on the ceiling and pressed him against a wall. He gripped me and the wall next to us and we remembered what it felt like to have leverage. For a moment I missed the friction I used to fight against, the way that falling heavy into someone allowed pounding.

It seemed that the earth was still orbiting like before. There was still night and day, seasons. We still had our moon. Still dawn and dusk, twilight and noon still came at the same hours. Though, gravity used to hold the air around the earth, drew an atmosphere down around the globe like a down comforter, feathers to sustain us, keep us warm, alive. But it was floating away, no longer held here; we wondered when it would become harder to catch our breath. People dreaded sunburn and asphyxiation, plans were being made for SPF 212 and portable oxygen tanks. We didn’t want the weight of a tank to make us feel bound all over again—the tank would float like we do, of course, but carry the memory of weight. I said we could think of it like we were underwater explorers, swimming in our new world. He said he’d rather be flying through the air.

He said, “This is all starting to feel like real life.”

He and I, we didn’t feel guilty, we knew the planet agreed to what we had done. The loosening of bonds, lifting of laws, the breaking of being physically bound. Without the planet’s grip it was him I was laced to. Threads of what we had done wove us together, the same bind stitching my skin to his. The string could stretch, however far we moved apart we were still tied. There weren’t loops around us, but filaments through our flesh, taut, always lenient, our bond a bond as we bound around this new world. The planet reconfigured itself around us—everyone could feel as free as we did, if they wanted to.

For formal dining, rooms got filled with air so that patrons could take off their gas masks and enjoy in comfort. Food was served beautifully plated, with various luxurious fibers crosshatching it and keeping it on the plate. Banana-leaf threads, stripped peacock feathers with only the end of the plume left, hanging off the plate, woven copper wires, and we ate between the grid trapping our food, developed social niceties for how to deliver an escaped morsel back to its rightful place. Tables were bolted to the floor, plates locked into mechanisms on the table, silverware was tied down with ribbon, and artful seatbelts kept the guests bound. But they found no way to fill the room with gravity, so foxtrots and tangos became much more elaborate; patrons could dine as if things still were the way they used to be, then dance with abandon.

At work we’d often meet in his office, spy on the people in the buildings across the way. Sometimes it was bosses and secretaries, sometimes custodians and CEOs, sometimes it was higher-ups in the corner office with their wife, then their mistress, then another, and we watched them. We were the ones who broke the chain, we were the first to fall into love upwards, but of course other lovers got to benefit. We watched them in all their positions, all their inventions, we marveled at their acrobatics and their passions. The lovemaking of those who don’t have much time.

And then I’d want him so badly it would be a bodily force, and time after time I’d make him duplicate our beginning. “Pretend it just happened, pretend we just made it happen,” I’d beg, and he’d tip me backwards, wheel me upwards to the ceiling, kiss me with the zeal of the first day, but it was always playacting, a memory enacted, he never kissed me with that passion when we weren’t performing.

My husband, ex, didn’t come after me, a surprise. Maybe he welcomed the opportunity to gallivant, to act on impulse. Maybe he was glad all his impulses couldn’t get him in trouble anymore. We had no contact, pored over this new landscape without each other.

My lover’s wife never showed up either. I guess it’s hard for a woman to appear on another woman’s doorstep, claim what she thinks is rightfully hers. And without air now yelling has to be done through microphones inside mouthpieces of the oxygen tanks, headphone receivers at the ear. I couldn’t imagine us talking about anything that way.

No longer any separation between all of us and space, nothing dividing our orb from the universe any longer, I could swim to the moon. The air around me was sky, the sky was space, and my will moved me through it. I told myself I could go anywhere I wanted.

The division between earth and air wasn’t as distinct as it used to be; if you loosened dirt, it floated upwards, so walking along paths—if you could keep your feet on the ground—left little puffs of dust behind every footstep, ascending to meet the clouds, and shovels released soil from its stasis. Funerals were problematic. People didn’t like to see the clumps of dug dirt flying around, somehow adding insult to injury, so the gravediggers had to throw the earth in a bolted-down lidded box, later awkwardly bury the coffin when no one was watching. They planted grass on top and bound it down with a cloth until the roots knitted the soil back together and it stayed still.

When my mother died—no surprise, but something that still felt sudden—I had her cremated. He didn’t know how to comfort me in grief so I took a walk in the woods alone, the footsteps I pushed myself down to the ground to make hovering behind me, and I alone took off the lid of the urn, shook it, loosened the cinders upwards, what was burnt in an electric kiln in these days after fire, ashes to air, dust to sky. Some collected in a cloud around me—I intuitively held my breath until I remembered I breathed packaged air, no danger of breathing in ash—but some seemed to rise.

When I got home I wanted the comfort a body can give so I went to him, not talking, took off his clothes, wrapped my legs around his waist to keep us locked, and the floating around the room didn’t make me feel jubilant, I felt uncentered, homeless. I got dizzy, my internal gyroscope tired of keeping up, and it wasn’t the dizziness of passion or desire, but of fatigue. I clung to him to remember where I was, which direction we were headed, I felt like I was sinking and only he could keep me afloat, I looked at him to try to remember why we were both here, in this weightless world, and he was looking right through me, as if I wasn’t there, as if I was air.

As a child I’d been comforted that the air wasn’t empty, that there were invisible particles between me and every object, touching me, containing me but leaving me free to move, encircling and cradling me, carrying messages from my surface to the surfaces of everyone else. I felt less alone when I thought the air encased me, entered me, came into my lungs and then back into what everyone else breathed. But now there are no particles, no invisible atoms, there is nothing there, and it is impossible to feel free, or held, or comforted, when making love to someone in a gasmask.

I thought he would stay unbound with me, bound to only me, our immorality would bring immortality, we would always feel as giddy and as unfettered as when we made the snap happen. But it couldn’t remain freefalling always, freedom, the same elation from the beginning. He and I weren’t enticed to pinwheel through rooms, didn’t throw the things we had thrown just to see them fly newly across space. I thought we would love the sensation always—no longer beholden we were emboldened, assented to ascent, gave in to the vertiginous spin. People used to think the stone fell to earth because it was made of earth, we fell to sky because we were sky. The gravity which bent starlight, made them appear to be in places they weren’t, no longer bent us to its will. But even that broken taboo became tedious.

We waited for other conventions to crack, for a breaking of another taboo to splinter a law. We wondered if it was still only our responsibility, if we were still the ones who had to do it.

I imagined electricity and magnetism breaking apart, becoming two phenomena. Light would no longer exist. No X-rays, no ultraviolet, no cancerous radiation but no light to see by. The bulbs all failing, even the sun no longer sending forth rays. I imagined entropy reversing, so that broken glasses mended, tangled sheets made themselves into a tidy bed, mussed hair styled itself. Clothes would fly onto my body, and all the tousled furniture coasting around our rooms would right itself, find a sustainable pattern that didn’t require gravity to hold it. Given a day the dishes would be done, the floor swept, the books tallied, the cracks on the sidewalk vanished, all surfaces varnished. The law of thermodynamics would no longer apply, heat not moving by contact, warmth not draining predictably from the hotter body to the cooler. We would flush for no reason, freeze without cause. Two touching bodies could be flaming and chilled, not affecting the other at all, not bringing the other into balance. If E doesn’t equal mc2 then energy could create itself without destroying matter, sparks could fly from my fingertips, light from my eyes, without singeing flesh, without sacrifice.

Light would hit us like sand, like water. The speed of light might shift, so that a flipped switch took days to react, light flooding a room before we thought to pull the cord. Sunsets and sunrises would happen instantly, or take days to take place, so that we’d exist in a constant state of dusk or dawn, like cars colliding, the light always coming, always going, never staying.

We wanted to feel we were in a new world again. We thought of all the taboos we could break, conventions we could disobey to smash laws. We brought home homosexual lovers, we had threesomes and orgies, we made love with children, with our siblings and parents, animals. In our hysterical desire not to be trapped again in a world like the one we always knew, we had sex with strangers and paid some for it. Fucked willing and unwilling partners.

And all we managed to accomplish was forgetting why we had done this first thing, why we had made love in an office, in a tower up in the sky, windows all around, exposing us to whatever strangers wanted to see. Because we’d been so drawn to each other that we couldn’t do anything else. We flung ourselves into each other’s arms and everyone got flung upward, and we couldn’t make it happen again, and we couldn’t remember why we leapt aloft in the first place.

And so today I just don’t want to do it anymore. I’ve stepped out of my house, I look at all the people burdened by silver reservoirs and even the stylish small ones look vulgar, and all they want is normalcy, all they want is to feel the same safe way they’ve always felt, feel it again if it gets disturbed. They want to go back to before, pretend none of this happened. I want to go back to after, pretend it just happened, pretend it happens freshly every day. I want an elation that lasts, never normalcy again—enthralled the only standard, the world always reflecting the euphoria my lover and I feel.

My faith was wrong. And even though all these people are just like me, wanting something they can never have, I don’t feel drawn to any of them. A woman walks her dog in its own mini-mask, a man in a suit gets in a modified jet-propelled car to go to work, a woman unloads groceries from her tiny helicopter hovering by her door. Two people float by, holding hands, and they have an oxygen-filled dome around both their heads so that they can talk, and kiss. Before, you had to remove the mouthpiece from your airtank, kiss while holding your breath—I hadn’t seen this solution before. They twirl, hold hands, I can hear their laughter even though it’s impossible for it to travel to me.

Today, I’ve stepped outside of my house without my airtank. I don’t want that weight, even in a weightless world. I look into the windows of the house I moved into, I see my One, his gas mask obscuring the face I fell in love with. He doesn’t look up, he doesn’t see me, his eyes don’t connect to mine one last time. He doesn’t know how to keep me, he hasn’t realized he just let me go, and so I slacken, I let myself lift and float away. The air has all been released, and I am breathless again.

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