Short Story“GOOD NIGHT or should I say, GOOD MORNING!” yelled Harry as he waved to his departing friends. With his right arm up in the air almost threw him off-balance. The gin and whiskey consumed earlier had also slowed his reflexes, but who needed reflexes at two a.m.; floating was a better term.
Again, they all had an adventurous night! Everyone agreed—he was just about the funniest guy in town.
“Take it easy, Harry, and watch out for the tiger!” a voice shouted. Loud laughter of the group in a Jaguar followed, mingled with the roar of its engine that burned the rear tires for few seconds before disappearing into the early morning.
Harry grinned. Sure, watch out for the tiger, he repeated, then turned around and stared up at the twenty-storey apartment building trying to figure out, which of the lighted windows on the sixth floor was his apartment. Spotting the light, he could have seen if his wife, Marian, the tiger, as the boys called her, was still waiting up for him or not.
After bowling, he spoke to her briefly over the cell phone. He told her that he would go for a short drink with the boys. Although he knew that she wouldn’t approve of him extending the curfew for hours and kill her Saturday night, he could not resist a free drink. Therefore, a wild guess told him he could be in for an earful. However, so what – he had only a few drinks, maybe once or twice a week? According to the boys, he was such a great entertainer. Married for two years, still, letting go of old bachelors habits wasn’t easy. Anyhow, he was far better as some of his friends who were on drugs. Who said that he was bad?
While Harry examined his situation, he searched his pockets for the entrance key. Doing so he also decided that if Marian was still waiting for his return, he wasn’t going to stand there and take all her nagging. He had to think of something.
Again, he turned all his pockets inside out but couldn’t locate his keys. He either forgot or lost them. Moreover, this occurrence he needed like another drink.
On the intercom system to his left and above the buzzer it read, Harry and Marian Webster, Apt. 610. Pushing the button would have been so easy; however, his better judgment told him — don’t wake the tiger. Was he afraid? Not at all! He was floating anyhow. However, why should he get into an argument? Then, on second thought why not? Maybe he felt like blowing up for a change, to show Marian who was boss. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure, first, how to get in and then, how to plan his defence. As much as he had in mind to lay it on the line, he wisely hesitated to buzz the apartment intercom.
As he collected his scrambled thoughts for the great attack, the elevator doors in the lobby opened. A young man in a bathrobe stepped out. He carried a pile of old newspapers that he threw into a paper bin.
“Great!” exclaimed Harry enjoying his luck and knocked with his fists against the glass partition. The young man turned his head. Harry waved and mimicked a few gestures to suggest that he wanted to get in. As he kept insisting, the man came over to open the door.
“Oh thanks,” Harry said. He was about to force his way in.
“Hold it, man! Do you live here?”
“I have never seen you before.”
“I’ve never seen you either!”
“And you are drunk, too — eh? Where exactly is your apartment, if I may ask?”
Harry pointed to the intercom list. “There, 610, Harry & Marian Webster, if you don’t mind. I forgot my keys. Get it?”
“I get it, so why don’t we buzz your apartment and speak to your wife?”
“No, no, I can’t do that.
“I don’t want to wake her.”
“Man, under those circumstances—no deal!”
Just then, someone left the elevator. Harry shoved the man aside, “Now, will you excuse me?” He said forcefully and entered the lobby. However, when Harry arrived at the elevator, the doors closed on him. He waved his hands in disgust, hurried over to the staircase, and ran up as fast as he could.
Walking along the sixth floor corridor, puffing away, he thought, man, you’re a bit out of shape. At Apt. 610, he stopped. Now, what was his plan again? In the next moment, the elevator door opened and the young man, who had blocked his way down at the entrance, stepped out. There he stood in his bathrobe, just watching. What a nut, Harry thought. Of course, if Marian had locked the apartment door, he would be in a tight spot. Annoyed, Harry waved off the young man, who was spying on him from the elevator.
After all the fuss, Harry was a bit wound up. He was even ready for some battle or to execute one of his offbeat acts to dilute the situation if need be. The boys always enjoyed his flair to entertain. Some nights he would direct midnight traffic at an intersection downtown; play a mouth-organ dreadfully for a hand-out in a subway station, while the boys stood offside, laughing; or bet that he would stroll through a ladies convention in the nude. Just a few hours ago, he had climbed one cement arch crossing the fountain on the town square at the old city hall. Unfortunately, a cop without humour gave him a fine, and, regrettably, Marian had no use for his pranks either.
Harry carefully turned the doorknob. What a relief, it was open! Again, he waved at the man at the elevator and tiptoed into his apartment. The floor lamp in the far corner was still on as well. How lucky could he get? Nevertheless, shortly as he praised his fortune and advanced half into the living room, a voice said, “How about that!” The lights came on as if it were a surprise party.
Marian stood at the bedroom door in her long turquoise nightgown. Her blond hair covered her narrow shoulders; one hand rested on the light switch, the other hand carried a book. Well, he thought, what is so frightening about that?
“Harry, you have done it again!” Marian exclaimed. “You promised three days ago that you would hang up your ugly habits. Now look at yourself. It is disgusting!”
“Yes, I know, but the boys . . . “
“The boys, the boys . . . To hell with the boys! Don’t you see? They just use you. All they are interested in is that you entertain them.”
“And why not?”
“Because they do it at your own expense.”
“Doesn’t cost me a thing, Marian, listen . . . “
“Harry, I am not talking about money. Sure, they feed you booze, so they can get you going and you become reckless. Something is going to happen if you don’t stop. You’ve got to grow up and quit clowning around—audience or no audience!”
“So you think I’m a clown, eh? All right, watch this. To show you that I also play tragic parts – what would you say if I jumped off the balcony?”
Marian looked away, shaking her head, thinking, for sure he had again too much booze. “That in itself proves you are going off your rocker”, she said, trying to keep her composure.
However, when Harry made this dramatic statement, it occurred to him that it wasn’t such a bad idea. That was it! He was going to teach Marian a lesson. Of course, he wasn’t going to jump. He would lower himself on the outside railing of the balcony, then hold on to the bottom steel rod. This would be one of those funny acts, which the boys might want to hear about.
Before Marian had a chance to react, Harry dashed through the balcony door as he had anticipated. Sure, it was way up on the sixth floor, but in his floating condition, he was certain he could pull himself back up anytime.
“Harry, stop! Are you crazy?” She cried and rushed after him. “O, God, he has disappeared. Harry!” She called again, frantically, as she leaned over the railing and looked anxiously down into a dark space.
“Hello there,” Harry’s voice came from below, casually.
Marian spotted him at once: “Harry, Harry! Thank God. You’re still here. Please, hold on. I’m sorry. I promise . . . Never again . . . I’ll get help—get a rope or something.” Swiftly she returned to the apartment, repeating to herself, what a fool, what a fool!
Harry moreover, was quite content. Man, was his plan working or what. She was at his mercy. This would be the last reproach to his lifestyle.
Through the open door of the balcony, he could hear Marian. She went confused from room to room, opening, and slamming doors and drawers; she was talking to herself, then getting impatient, angry and finally ended up crying. Then it became worrisome quiet.
Harry decided to end her torture. He was ready to pull himself up to the next steel bar, so he could get his knees onto the cement ledge. The rest would be easy. Yes, he was ready, but no matter how much he tried, he failed to reach the other steel bar. It was incredible. He didn’t seem to float anymore either. On the contrary—it felt more as if one had filled his body with lead, while the gin and whiskey played games with his mind. Stay cool, man, he said to himself but realized that he might have stretched his luck.
Looking down, the distance to the ground was a lot more than his body could absorb. Again, he gathered all his energy but he failed to grasp the top bar. “Jesus Christ,” he mumbled, hoping Marian had come up with a good plan because he hadn’t much strength left. An odd quietness lay in the air, not a soul to applaud or pity him. Wouldn’t this have been an enjoyable site for the boys?
“Marian,” he whispered. God knows where she had gone. Maybe she panicked or fainted. If so, there was for sure only one-way to go — down. A fine lesson he was about to teach her. He could feel the cold sweat on his neck, running down his back. The pain in his arms and shoulders gradually gave way to numbness. Oh God, was this a sign that he was going to lose control? He had read somewhere that before one freeze to death, a feeling of warmth and comfort would surround the body. Similar, his pain easing off could be a sign of his doom.
“Help!” He cried. His head kept swelling, as if hooked up to a compressor. At any second, his eyes could have popped out of their sockets. Harry had lost track of time. It seemed he had hung there for hours. A feeling of desertion overcame him. Then, faintly, didn’t he notice a light on the balcony below him; hear voices, shouting? Didn’t someone just call his name? Perhaps all that was an illusion. His fingers began inevitably to lose their grip. No matter what, he had to let go of the steel bar. His clinched hands opened slowly, and he was perhaps on his way to greet his maker. Just then, something pulled at his ankles and a second later Harry slid down a mattress that covered the railing of the fifth floor balcony. There he bounced off, rolled over and hit his head on the cement floor, where he came to a stop.
“Harry,” uttered Marian, kneeling traumatized beside him. She wiped the perspiration off his face.
Harry lay on the ground with a bump on his forehead and all his muscles ached. For a minute, he felt dizzy but when that eased off, he looked up astonished at his fifth floor neighbour. Did he see right? He had met the same guy earlier in the lobby. His spouse in a nightgown stood beside him.
“So, we meet again,” the young man, said. “Look at that!” Addressing Marian, “Are you sure this is your husband?”
“Yes, I am,” she replied while drying her eyes. “Well, you see, this is a long story.”
“I bet it is.” Turning to his spouse, “Would you believe me if I told you, he is the pushy guy, Harry, down in the lobby?” Then, approaching Harry – “Anyhow, I’m Tim. This is my wife, Jenny. Hope you’re O.K.” He stretched out his hands and helped Harry to his feet.
“Thanks, Tim, more than O.K.; I’m a thousand times better than if I had landed down in the parking lot,” Harry muttered embarrassed as he leaned against Marian, still trying to catch his breath. “Sorry I’m such a jerk,” he added.
Tim looked at Marian: “Harry, you should know whom in the first place to thank. Yes, I agree, you were a jerk but that’s not really my concern, ’cause I’m not married to you. I just hope I don’t have to regret helping to save your butt. However, if I were you, I wouldn’t try it again, because next time we might not be here.”
Marian took Harry’s arm, went to the elevator, upstairs to their apartment with the door still open, telling a tale. Exhausted and still a bit shaky he spoke no more, except, “oh boy, “and surrendered his mind like a ship sinking to the bottom of the sea.
painting- “Friendly Avenue” / Watercolour / 1959 / JR.