This week Monkeybicycle is pleased to present a collection of three fiction pieces from three different authors—A. Harding, J. Robert Lennon, and Virginia Zech—on one central theme. The collective title is Falling Down the Stairs, and the pieces will run on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Read A. Harding’s piece here.
Falling down the stairs, he thinks: I’m falling down the stairs. He’ll get where he was headed, and faster than anticipated—that’s putting a positive spin on the situation. However, he won’t be able to get his hands out fast enough to break his fall. He was carrying a tray of cupcakes, and his mind has privileged the cupcakes over his physical well-being. That was a mistake. The cupcakes are for his daughter’s birthday party. They’re iced in pastels and sprinkled with coarse dyed sugar. There are two dozen cupcakes. They’re hanging in the air before him, lifting off the dropped tray, abandoning the tight pattern he arranged them in, back on the kitchen counter.
The girls at the party haven’t noticed him yet. They’re seated around the buffet table wearing party hats, animatedly chatting. He was nervous earlier when one of them, the one named Hannah, was delivered by her father. That’s because he loves Hannah’s mother. Hannah’s mother loves him. They’ve been having an affair—meeting once or twice a week at a motel. He wants to leave his wife, his daughter’s mother, and go live with his lover, Hannah’s mother.
Instead, he’s falling down the stairs. He’s halfway to the bottom now. A little table is standing there, at the bottom, a hardwood table he built himself. It supports a framed family photo: himself, his wife, and their daughter. He’s going to hit the table with his face. The cupcakes are turning over in the air, drifting apart. One has struck the wall over the handrail, leaving a pink smear of icing on the brown plaid carpet that lines the rec room walls. Another cupcake is headed for the framed photo. Of the twenty-four cupcakes, two were intended for Hannah.
Yesterday, he made love to Hannah’s mother in the motel bed. Today, his wife asked him to carry the cupcakes down to the party. He’s not doing that anymore. Now, he is falling down the stairs and wondering what it will be like if Hannah’s mother divorces Hannah’s father, as promised, and he becomes Hannah’s stepfather. Will his own daughter come over to visit Hannah, his stepdaughter? Will that be odd? It will, he thinks, as the table draws closer and the beginning of a shout escapes his lips and the girls’ heads begin to turn. The cupcake heading for the framed photo has missed the framed photo by an inch. I wish, he thinks, that I wasn’t falling down the stairs. He had planned to tell his wife about Hannah’s mother, tomorrow, after their daughter left for school. But now he’s falling down the stairs and tomorrow he will probably be in the hospital. Everything will be ruined.
But no, he thinks, as the cupcakes crash into the floor and wall, and his smiling face and his wife’s smiling face and their daughter’s smiling face gaze up at him from the rapidly approaching photo, and the girls begin to scream—everything was already ruined. It was ruined long before he fell down the stairs. Everything is ruin, he thinks, even love. Especially love, he thinks, and the table hits his face.
J. Robert Lennon is the author of seven novels and two short story collections, including See You in Paradise, out this fall from Graywolf Press. Find him on Twitter at @jrobertlennon.