The sound of metal on concrete — Jane placed her hands on a wooden rail, looked down, saw a man pulling a garbage can away from a door. The door opened, a woman’s head emerged. By the tone of her voice Jane could tell that she was asking a question. The man swore loudly, angrily, then slammed a cover on top of the aluminum can before rushing back to the door.Jane suddenly realized how far above the alley she was. Wings’ apartment was on the fourth floor of a complex with no elevator; Jane had been out of breath that evening after finishing the climb up the stairs. She remembered horrible stories from years past, of children falling to their deaths while playing on balconies similar to the one Jane was standing on now. She looked down at the handrail on which her arms rested; on the outside of the wooden guard rails (spaced wide enough for even a slim adult to fit through) she saw a thin honeycomb of metal fencing. A guard against future tragedies. She reached down, pulled at an edge of the fencing; two staples immediately flew out of the wood as if being released from captivity. “Jesus.” She watched them disappear into the blackness of the alley, then looked down at the six inch hole she had just created in the fence.
Jane could barely see the concrete of the alley beneath her. In the dark, the space under the wooden balcony seemed like an abyss.
Abyss. She remembered a conversation she had with Dr. Patel, not during her first or second session with him but certainly early, perhaps the third. He had asked where she saw herself going in the next five years. “No idea. Maybe I’ll Be at my current job, maybe not. May not even be at Crasob, for all I know. When I think about the future, all I see is darkness. Like staring into an abyss.”
Dr. Patel’s response was quick. “An interesting word, Jane. Most people look down at abysses — literally.” His right index finger was pointing down, the tip planted on his desk. “The word has many other negative associations.” She had replied that she hadn’t meant to sound so negative. She was uncertain, not pessimistic.
It was one of the few times she had withheld the truth from Dr. Patel. Because that truth had scared her.
In those first few weeks after her world had suddenly changed, she couldn’t avoid asking herself disturbing questions — If my life could change so dramatically, so instantly, and for no apparent reason, how certain can I be of anything? How can I continue acting as normal in this new world, when I have no idea how I got here in the first place? What if tomorrow I’m back to my old normal, or wake up to yet another abnormality? Legitimate questions, given what had happened since her kitchen table started playing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. But she had no answers, had no idea what additional changes to expect in her life or how she’d react when they came. There was only one answer that provided absolute certainty — a descent into the darkest abyss.
She hadn’t been surprised when Dr. Patel returned to that word at the start of their next visit. “Do you still feel that you’re staring into an abyss?”
“To be honest, that word choice last time worried me.” Dr. Patel had nodded knowingly. “It bothered me the moment I said it, and since then, I’ve been doing my best to avoid thinking about it.” When Dr. Patel asked for the details of her avoidance strategy, she’d replied that she’d focused on (re-)learning how to do her job at Crasob, had worked with Wings to figure out how to use the technology which was suddenly available to her, identified adjustments she’d need to make in this world lacking the transportation options with which she had been so familiar.
“Ah!” Dr. Patel clapped his hands victoriously, and she saw a smile bloom on the face of the man who asked her to call him Sumeet, or Sam. “That is not avoidance, Jane — that is acceptance!”
Jane hadn’t been sure about Dr. Patel’s analysis at the time, but she’d noticed her anxiety begin to lessen that day. The future remained dark and uncertain, but as the weeks and then months progressed, she felt she could stumble around in the dark as well as anybody else. She had even learned to attend parties, like this one this evening at Wings’ apartment, without feeling like a visitor from a strange land.