Head over Heels, a short story by StevenHunley. Date added: 2011-01-07. Times viewed: 2813.
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- Intro: A London executive has sudden change of values and heart
Head over Heels
Bird Men 101 Ornithology class. New London University 2120
Professor Feather was an odd bird in that he taught the history of our race of bird-men, Homo-Avian-Erectus, and religion too. He knew all the obscure classic works.
I was in his class because I’d just started school. Everybody who was just starting university took it. Probably because they had to.
The professor was about to deliver a lecture on the history of our winged race.
“Stuffy room, smells like a pet shop or something.”
That’s what I thought if I remember correctly. I decided to sit by a window. The girl that sat directly behind me was preening herself. Feather cleared his voice and warbled,
“Before men could fly we have evidence that they walked the earth on two feet.”
A hush enveloped the class. Many were skeptics. One student was so shocked she dropped her spray of millet. It embarrassed her. She knew she wasn’t supposed to be eating in class.
“We can tell from the skeletal remains we’ve discovered around Old London near the Thames.”
“He’s out of his mind.” said the girl behind me. Just the thought of men being nothing but ground-walkers at one time ruffled her feathers. This upset her. She’d just had hers permed.
The professor held up a book and continued,
“This manuscript was found in a trash heap on a farm not far from the ruins of the city.
It was written by an executive named Harry Palmer. He looked just like Michael Caine.
Palmer led an uneventful life in downtown Old London. High-rise office sort of thing. Grey sodden city. And the rain, always the rain. The rain was relentless.
Harry returnedto his wife faithfully every night. Janice the Ice Queen. Ex-beauty Queen. They made love by the clock with regularity, went through the motions, didn’t communicate at all.
On the way to work every day he picked up a newspaper from a girl. Plain girl. They’d talk, kid each other, and communicate. He found a four-leaf clover in the grass between the pavement and the street and noticed that the puddles there were beautifully streaked with oil. The girl was extra busy. Her father had died and she was managing the newsstand by herself. Help wanted sign propped on the counter.
Harry was thinking about taking a promotion but didn’t want the extra responsibility it would
bring. He talked about it to his wife. All she cared about is the new car and vacation it would give them, not his uneasiness about it. That was her. All about the money. So it was true. Beauty was only skin deep. With her anyway.
Up in his executive office he stared out the plate glass window. He’d been watching all day long.
The city below looked as rainy as could be. There was nothing new in that. The Thames wound its way off in the distance and the rain made smaller rivers while running down the window. Always dripping downward.
It occurred to Harry that the water was somewhere in its endless cycle. That this same water had fallen on dinosaurs and Dr. Johnson and Shakespeare and now it was falling on the windows of his high-rise. Outside the people seemed to talk of nothing but the weather. When Big Ben struck five times he picked up his coat and made his way out to the elevator, then to the parking garage, and finally wound his way home to Bayswater.
Janice was making a cocktail, and handed it to him as he entered. She drank nothing. She never drank anything with him, though she drunk like a fish with others. They ate dinner, and precisely at 10:30 went to bed. When they made love she never said a word. While he was coming and closing his eyes she merely looked at the clock. Afterwards they went to sleep. Another day, another night, gone, like so much spit wiped off glass.
Janice had been a beauty queen, and was an attractive woman still. She was his trophy wife. Some times he thought she belonged in case locked up tight.
The next day he stopped by the newsstand on the corner to buy a copy of the Times. The girl who worked there was plain but well kept. We really don’t know much about her other than her hair was mousy brown so we call her Lucy after Leaky’s African find. A sign was up in the corner looking for someone to hire. When she handed him his change he noticed that her hand was warm and soft and her eyes were as green as the sea. With these she smiled.
“See you tomorrow Mr. Palmer.”
“Looks like rain again.”
She looked up and noticed a flock of gulls heading for the coast.
“It always does. Makes you want to fly away doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” he said thoughtfully, sometimes it does.”
Inside his boss came downstairs and made an announcement. A promotion was in store. More money, more responsibility that was the gist of it. It filled him with terror. When he got home he told his wife.
“Why that’s enough to buy a new Bentley and take a trip to Bermuda. That’s enough to buy us a new this and that.” She went on and on.
She didn’t give a damn about his misgivings. That’s just how she was. So much for marrying your childhood sweetheart. Now you’re all grown up and don’t know what to do with her.
Later they went to bed and labored through various repetitive, empty, meaningless, sexual motions. Love? He’d forgotten what love was about.
That day in the office he had an epiphany, whatever the hell that is.
He was lost in thought while looking out the window over the grey rain-streaked city. He saw the news stand far below. He noticed the four-leafed clover still in his pocket and suddenly realized there may be another in the newsstand. The girl herself. A symbol. His four leafed clover.
He called his solicitor who owed him a favor and asked him to file for a divorce. His solicitor mentioned his promotion and hinted he wanted a fat fee. He told him,
“I think Old Boy, that’s out.”
Again Big Ben struck five times and he picked up his coat and made his way out to the elevator.
His boss, a stuffy old fellow who resembled Nigel Bruce was in the elevator and remade the announcement. The promotion was imminent.
“More money, more responsibility, all that sort of thing.” he huffed and snorted.
The next morning the city looked grayer, drabber, and more foreboding than ever.
Two movers wearing blue coveralls lifted his heavy executive desk and put it on rollers to move to his new corner office. Then it was time for tea and they took a break.
“We’ll be back for it later after tea Mr.Palmer.”
When they left the room got suddenly quiet.
' I simply have to get out of here. Any place is better than this.’
He leaned on the desk and it moved. It gave him an idea. He stood behind the desk and gave it a shove. Then he took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves. Grunting and sweating and pushing he rolled it farther, then farther and faster, then clean through the plate glass window. Head over heels.
He hurtled down behind the desk. After reaching terminal velocity he saw he was heading for nothing but sudden pavement. He began praying.
“Oh Heavenly Father, deliver me from a fate worse than death.”
Then the miracle happened.
His shirt started to tear in the back. Not from the strain of terminal velocity mind you. That wasn’t why it was ripping. It was tearing from the inside out. Something was poking up from underneath. It was his wings.
A pair of the finest wings appeared to be sprouting from his back. Just before he hit the ground he did a swoop and a turn and landed in the park across the street on the lawn. He tucked in his wings and walked to the newsstand. The sun poked through the clouds just then. It’s rays were hitting both he and the girl. Big Ben struck on the quarter hour but this time it didn’t sound like a death knell. It sounded like a symphony.
He ripped the help-wanted sign in two. The girl’s face brightened. She was noticing just then that her back felt odd too. It was her wings sprouting.
The whole thing was a bit miraculous when you think about it. Kind of angelic.
They kept it a secret of course and for years sold newspapers and magazines as if nothing had happened. Finally they retired and moved to the country and lived on a farm and build a tree-house in a gigantic oak tree. They were as happy as “two birds in a nest” if you’ll pardon the expression. The nasty world outside ground by without notice. It had simply slipped their attention.
Something happens and you’re head over heels. Maybe it’s your four-leafed clover.
It’s funny how time flies.
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