An Incident of Defenestration
by Francis Levy
The sound of her husband’s body hitting the mound of refuse wasn’t that much more dramatic than any of other occasional thumping that came from the dumpster, which contractors routinely used when there was a renovation going on.
Alice was still in a state of shock when the intercom sounded and the doorman, Alberto, announced that her delivery of Chinese food had arrived.
Jerry usually shook her when she cried out in the middle of a nightmare.
Her hands were trembling.
“Just send it up,” she said.
In a practical moment Alice realized that Jerry had taken his wallet with him. She considered running downstairs and rifling through his pants pockets. She never carried much cash and after all there was no reason why her husband shouldn’t pay for the dinner as he always did.
However, instead she decided to take her credit card out of her purse. She rubbed the new fit bit which Jerry had gotten for her birthday and which had become a treasured piece of jewelry.
“Hi this is apt 9B at 225 W. 106th Street. I’m going to charge my delivery.”
After she’d given the number, she thought for a minute, reluctantly adding a 10% tip.
“I made the original order before 5 so I get the discount, right?”
The delivery guy had leathery wind-burned skin. He muttered the few staccato words of English he knew without looking at her.
The window had been wide open. Alice was letting fresh air blow in from the Hudson. She hated air conditioning which made her feel like a canned sardine. Then she’d heard a distant siren.
They’d had one of those horrible unending fights, the night before, but she couldn’t imagine life without her husband. He was all that she had and it was too late to be considering other options. For a moment the anger at his behavior was supplanted by the blunt realization of senselessness of the loss. There was nothing she could do. No way of getting him back.
However, though now a widow, she still had to eat. She opened the bag and placed the plastic containers of wonton and hot and sour soup on the counter. She opened one of the lids, extracted one wonton and thrust it into her mouth—a habit she hadn’t relinquished despite Jerry’s death. It burned her tongue and she let out a sob both because of the sting and the deeper pain of loss, she was just beginning to acknowledge.
She put the cartons containing General Tso’s chicken, moo shoo pork and rice into the refrigerator. Jerry had loved General Tso’s and Alice wondered why he hadn’t stopped to have a bite before throwing himself out the window.
There were already policemen in the lobby waiting for her when she came down ten minutes later. A plain clothes officer who identified himself as Detective Ahearn asked if she would be able to come with him to identify the body.
He was on a gurney and when the EMS person pulled a sheet down from Jerry face, Alice instinctually felt critical.
Why are you just lying there? Why don’t you wipe the spit off your lip? Though the cracked bones and deep torn flesh were obvious, she took a tissue out of her purse and wiped off her dead husband’s blood and spit, as if she were removing a child’s chocolate mustache.
The blood reminded her of the way he cut himself shaving.
Now finally she had the attention of the super who’d come to express his condolences. She’d been trying to get the super for days.
“Can you take a look at that leak in my radiator? We just had the floor stained.”
“I just wanted to ask you a few questions, Mrs. Goldstein,” Ahearn said. He was both tall and massive with a cannonball shaped head.
She immediately looked for Jerry’s long dead mother. Alice, like a number of old-style feminists used her maiden name, but she didn’t bother to make the correction since she was fixated on cornering the super before he disappeared into the entrails of the building.
“Did your husband demonstrate any unusual behavior before he jumped out the window? Did he seem depressed?”
“I’ve had it,” Jerry had said, smiling broadly. He threw his hands out in front like Superman and started to run, jumping up in the air the way people do when they’re about to spring off a diving board.
“He was actually a student of it.”
“Student of what?”
“No, he was residential real estate broker who wanted to be a writer. He hated getting up in the morning to face another horrible day.”
“Did he know the other jumpers?”
“What other jumpers?”
“Your husband is the fourth in this building today,” Ahearn said as he scribbled in his notebook. “I don’t know if they were the ones who’d lost their Star abatements. Apparently, there was also an issue with the flip taxes.”
“I know you must be very upset and you probably have to make your arrangements,” Ahearn said, placing a business card down on the table. Alice picked it up.
“Richard Ahearn 24th Precinct,” she read aloud.
Jan Masaryk had shut the window after himself when he jumped back in l948.
Now Alice was beginning to feel overwhelmed. She couldn’t miss yoga or therapy.
“Did he give you any idea why he did it?”
“I actually thought he was kidding? Then I thought he’d tripped. It was like a bad joke that backfired.”
’m so tired of sightseeing. I won’t do Petra… Jerry’s last words had sung up through the alleyway. Then there was a thud followed by the sound of a body falling on a garbage can lid.
“Shuddup already!” a voice cried out, as Jerry’s body hit the ground.
You could hear the lid dancing along the cement due to the force.
Ahearn covered over his perplexity by preoccupying himself with his cell phone.
Depending on when the funeral was, she would have to buy food for those who would come to the house afterwards. Even though they were Jewish, she wouldn’t have a regular shiva which went on for a week. She wasn’t in the food services business. She couldn’t stop thinking, but it was the only way to stop herself from crying—which seemed like an even worse alternative since it was embarrassing and frightening. They hadn’t had many friends, but she knew that the display of despair in their upwardly mobile crowd was bound to keep people away.
“Would you like to see your husband before we take him away,” the EMS asked.
“No,” Alice pithily responded.
She had shopping to do. She was almost out of toilet paper.
Alice had only recently read an article about “The Pathology of Grief” in Psychology Today. And she wasn’t surprised to find that her husband’s death was having a numbing effect on the tragic awareness of her loss— that reminded her of Novocain. She couldn’t stop her mind which now was conjuring dating sites. She qualified for Our Time which catered to single men and women over 50.
Before leaving to shop, the wife of one of the other suicides had rung their bell.
“I know he’s here,” she said. Alice had nodded to the woman for years but had never known her name. She was a frumpy creature, whose blouse was unbuttoned and who wore the kind of scruffy boots with rubber soles that Alice despised. She looked like an inmate from an asylum who’d been pulling the hair out of her head.
“He jumped out of another window, I’m afraid.” However cold, she didn’t know what else to say. Who knew how long the hysterical woman would have remained, if Alice hadn’t cut the conversation short?
Even as his suicidal thoughts had become a reality, Jerry had tried to keep their sex life alive, something he was better at maintaining than his own life. He always wanted to test whether he could still do it and Alice was the perfect Petrie dish.
Not having to have the weekly sex event with Jerry was actually something to look forward to.
As she headed up toward the elevator there was another loud crashing sound and she wondered about copycat suicides. She’d read in some travel magazine about the fact that despite the beauty of Norway, bodies were falling all over the fjords. Could it have been S.A.D., seasonal affective disorder that killed Jerry?
As much as she hated him, it was unthinkable that she would never see her husband again.
“Yeah, there goes another one,” Alberto said with his usual noncommittal tone, as another body smashed into the pavement.
Could there be something in the water?
Alice knew the entitled tone you had to take when you were ordering smoked fish from Barney Greengrass, the Sturgeon King.
“I’d like two pounds of belly lox, a pound of cream cheese, a dozen plain bagels and a quart of borscht. We’ve had a death. Can you deliver by tomorrow morning?”
Alice could hear more sirens as she sped down to the lobby. She was feeling paranoid and afraid of being accused of starting something. There had been recent news reports about a woman on the upper west side who was shoving people onto the subway tracks.
“They have got to put down some of that pigeon netting,” she barked. “Or a trampoline or something. It’s not the circus. People are getting tired of these high wire acts.”
Jerry had made his arrangements, a package plan which included both the cremation and memorial service. So once the body was returned from the medical examiner it was only a question of getting someone to speak to the few remaining friends Jerry hadn’t alienated.
The 4’oclock hot Yoga began with a sun salutation. She started on all fours and gradually raised her ass high up in the air. Everyone looked at her as she started to laugh aloud. Jerry hated people who looked for answers and he particularly detested the paranormal crowd who believed in astrology. Once of his favorite comments had been, “my moon is in windshield.” As she moved into her “downward facing dog,” she felt like she were channeling Jerry’s spirit. Still she felt nervous.
Wouldn’t the average person who saw their loved one about to jump have tried to get in the way?
What she had told herself was that he’d simply caught her off guard, jumping before she had a chance to realize what was happening, but maybe she was so fed up with Jerry’s negative attitude about travel and his hatred towards self-satisfied people who enjoyed their lives that she actually wanted him to die.
As she started towards home after class, she realized that it might be better if she spent the night in a hotel. There were all kinds of bargain sites which offered discount rates on rooms in luxury hotels and it would actually be fun to get out of the house. Things had been actually going well and there was no sense in allowing herself to get fearful and started having neurotic thoughts, like Jerry didn’t jump I pushed him that were sparked by all the other bodies falling out of the windows and now the increasingly routine visits from the police.
She went on Nest and found room at the Warwick on 54th off Sixth Avenue for only $118. From there she would be able to coordinate with the undertaker and Barney Greengrass without having to worry about the police.
When she got back the next morning, she had to pass through a gauntlet of cameras and reporters who surrounded the building which had now become an object of curiosity due to all the falling bodies.
“Any comment on your husband or any of the other jumpers?” one reporter asking.
“What about window bars?”
The minute the elevator opened Dr. Weiss’s shepherd jumped onto her. It hadn’t been the first time. Weiss was constantly getting into altercations with other shareholders about the behavior of his pet, who was now required, by the building’s board, to wear a muzzle. She wouldn’t have been worse for the wear if Weiss, a retired osteopath, had also jumped out the window, along with that depressive Marvin something or other on 5.
When Jerry was alive her greatest fear had been getting stuck in the building elevator. Now that fear had been displaced by the fear of being hit by a body on the way out of the lobby door.
The containers of soup were still sitting on the counter. Jerry liked the hot and sour, which Alice couldn’t eat due to her acid gerd, but she poured the wonton into a bowl, put it in the microwave and flipped on CNN—in time so see a Breaking News story about the impeachment. She sipped intently on her soup, as she watched the broadcast.
Usually there was something consoling about the scandals. However, she was caught up short when she realized she was no longer immune to trouble.
When the weekend came there would be no one to argue with about where to go to dinner.
Jerry’s favorite activity was eating popcorn at the movies, but she had no intention of going to the movies on her own. Ideas popped into her head. She had yet to join Netflix.
During the bombing of Britain Londoners took cover in the Underground. She’d pay the few dollars extra to have her yoga instructor come to the house and have her therapy sessions over the phone, until the bodies stopped falling.
Poor Jerry. He’d always been afraid that his life wouldn’t earn a Times obit, but he’d ended up being a news item, albeit a small one that would soon be forgotten, about a rash of residents jumping out of the windows of their Upper West Side apartments.
Francis Levy is the author of the comic novels Erotomania: A Romance, Seven Days in Rio and Tombstone: Not a Western. He blogs at TheScreamingPope.com.
Photo: Tom Barrett/Unsplash