by Ross Mayo Jr
Every day in today’s world is chaotic. Most people are either riding on a fast-moving train or are in desperate need to catch a ride on one. Whether it be an occupation or leisurely pursuit, that fast-moving train of life is an addiction whose rush is sought by those who believe it will fill the voids in their lives with the hope that it will give meaning to it, at the same time swearing by their pursuit as if it were a religion. All the while they never realize that they do indeed have a choice in the matter. For Kyle and Kelly, the condition that they are afflicted with forces limits in their life preventing them from having the choices so many of us take for granted. They cannot see over the mountain that many of us make of life, but instead, both are forced to live in the valley below. It is a bubble that they cannot escape, and in fact, it is all they have ever known. They both know and accept this, but what has made their acceptance palpable is that they have each other, even though they are only separated by a short distance. Thirty floors high in an apartment building, Kyle and Kelly live three doors down from each other on opposite sides of the hall. Even though they never leave their apartment because mentally they are unable to, they are always connected to each other because technology enables them to be connected to each other. Most of the time, they are only separated by a voice or face over a phone. Those phone
calls throughout the day accompany two events that bookend their everyday lives. Every morning, Kyle calls Kelly and asks her to describe the morning since his apartment has no windows while hers does. At 8 o’clock p.m., both Kyle and Kelly would sit as far outside their doors as they are mentally able to and roll a baseball to each other for thirty minutes hoping that it would encourage them to overcome their fear. Either by fate or coincidence, they found each other two years ago, both with the same condition, and both in close proximity to each other. From that moment on, this would be the way that they would share their lives.
“Describe what you’re seeing as you look out your window this morning, Kelly?” Kyle asks her on the phone, a question Kyle asks every morning.
“Today is a rainy day, and the clouds are shielding me from the sun. When I look down below, I can see the empty benches and people walking by each other carrying umbrellas.”
“Nothing special, then, huh?”
“Not at all. I may miss the song of the birds this morning, which would ordinarily fill the air of a sunny sky, but the rhythm of the rain more than makes up for it.”
“Your ability to see the glass half full is something that I admire about you, Kelly.”
“It doesn’t do me any good in life.”
“We both know that’s not true.”
“Maybe. At least we have each other.”
“That’s enough for me.”
“May I ask you a question, Kelly?”
“Do you ever get tired of me asking you the same question every morning?”
“Never. It reminds me that every day is different, and every time I look out my window, I see something different. At the same time, every time I look out my window, I see something special. Besides, Kyle, I would miss that question if you ever stopped asking me it. My mornings wouldn’t be the same without you. I would miss your voice. I would miss you,” Kelly replies.
“I would miss you too, Kelly, and it’s not because you’re my eyes and ears to the world. Believe me when I tell you that you’re incredibly special to me in ways I’m afraid to admit to you.”
“You don’t know how good it makes me feel you telling me that.”
“It’s the truth.”
“I know it is, because I feel the same way.”
As usual, the spirits of both Kyle and Kelly are lifted after the call ends. Their solitary lives in their apartments do not lend well to generating positive feelings as confinement without human interaction usually leads down a darker road. The phone calls they share ensures that the road that they walk down together leads them towards greener pastures when it comes to their emotional state. In a strange way, they not only have a life that they live alone, but they also have a life that they share together, albeit in spurts throughout their typical day. As a result of this arrangement, when they are not talking to each other, they are working. Kelly works from home as an accountant. Kyle is self-employed as a web site developer. Both professional occupations, but also counter to the chaotic world around them, as they try to build their individual lives as much as possible in a bubble that they both know that they can never leave.
Kelly opens the door to her weekly delivery of food, but after she picks it up, she forgets to close the door behind her. Not realizing that her door is open, she follows her usual routine and proceeds to fill up her cabinets and refrigerator. Once everything is in place, she turns around, and in her rush to close the door, she knocks over a table. A small box of personal items on that table falls to the ground. All but one item falls in place. The most important item among them, her mother’s wedding ring, rolls out the door to the opposite side of the hall. Kelly hurries to the door but struggles to exit in order to retrieve her prized heirloom. She closes her eyes, takes in a deep breath of air, and makes an earnest attempt to walk out of her apartment and recover the ring. As much as she might try, she continues to succumb to her condition. After a few minutes, a teenager runs down the hall. Kelly captures the young girl’s attention and asks for her help. What initially seems like a stroke of good luck turns out to be a turn for the worse as the girl picks up the ring. The two women’s eyes lock, and in that instant, Kelly knows what the girl is going to do. Kelly can do nothing but watch as the girl absconds with a symbol of her family’s generational treasure. Kelly slowly closes the door with this incident in the forefront of her mind as an example of what she perceives as her strongest shortcomings as a human being, something that is as immovable as a mountain.
“I have so much promise within me, but I have the incapability to offer it to the world, not to mention my inability to act in my own self-interest, or another’s, and that is my greatest failing,” she says to herself.
“What’s wrong, Kelly?”
“Yes, there is. I can hear it in your voice.”
“Maybe a conversation for another time.”
“We’ve known each other for two years now. A friend knows when something is wrong.”
“Is that all I am to you; a friend?”
“Let me put it this way, even though we’re talking to each other on the phone right now, you’re someone who I can’t get through my day, even life itself, without knowing that you are somewhere close. I don’t feel like I want to do anything unless I know that you’re here, near me. I can hear you on the phone. I can see you on the phone. It’s at 8 o’clock every night that I look the most forward to, because I can see you in person and know for sure that your there.”
“We could see each other more often during the day than just at 8 o’clock every night,” Kelly replies.
“I wake up every morning. I eat. I do my job. I talk to you. The only time I see you in person is when we roll the baseball back and forth between us. If it were more often than that, I wouldn’t look forward to it as much. I’m afraid I won’t look forward to seeing you as much. That fear is what I cope with every day. At 8 o’clock every night, we sit as far outside our doors and roll the baseball back and forth to each other in the hopes that it might help us overcome our fear by giving us the incentive to go further outside our apartments than we’re usually capable of. For me, the ball roll is more than just therapy to help us cope with our condition. For me, it’s personal.”
“I mean that much to you?”
“Yes, you do, Kelly, so if it’s such a burden for you, you don’t have to go into detail. You can tell me in broad strokes. It might make you feel better.”
“Something happened today, and I failed to act the way I told myself I would act if a situation presented itself like that ever occurred.”
“That’s nothing to be ashamed of. These things happen so we can learn from them. The next time something like that happens, maybe you’ll act the way you’ve always wanted to. It’s like climbing a mountain. You don’t get to the top in big leaps. You get to the top in small steps. When you finally reach the top, that accomplishment will belong to you, and it’s something no one can ever take away.”
“But I lost something that meant a lot to me. I wish that time would have been then. I have to wonder out loud if I’m ever called upon to act again whether I’d be able to act despite my condition.”
“When the time is right, I’m confident you’ll find the strength to do what you couldn’t.”
“How can you be so sure, Kyle?”
“I can be so sure because there’s been something I’ve been waiting to do as well. When the time is right, I have faith that I’ll find the strength to do what I’ve been wanting to do for some time now.”
“What would that be?”
“When it occurs, you’ll be the first to know.”
Kelly opens her door and waits for Kyle to do the same. The phone calls throughout the day pale in comparison to seeing Kyle in person. During the day, when she feels like she does not have the wherewithal to do work, it is a simple text message, call, or video chat that gives her that one little push to get her day going. It is different with the ball roll, though. She can see Kyle, and Kyle can see her. After today’s failure with her mother’s wedding ring, she is especially looking forward to the ball roll as a way to lift up and reinforce her spirits.
Today, Kelly has the ball. Sitting just on her door threshold, all smiles from cheek to cheek, she anxiously awaits the sound of Kyle’s door opening, seeing his real face, and hearing his real voice. As quickly as the minutes pass by, so does her concern. It is five minutes past eight and Kyle is never this late.
“Kyle! Can you hear me? Are you there?” she shouts as several neighbors emerge.
Other than Kyle and Kelly, all their neighbors are transient. There is not any neighbor that she knows well enough to call upon. Kelly knows deep down inside that something is wrong with Kyle, and at this point she is unabashed at calling upon anyone that would listen.
“Hi, my name is Kelly and my good friend down the hall there is Kyle. He isn’t coming to his door and I know that there’s something wrong. Can someone go down there and check on him?” she asks the three neighbors.
“Why can’t you just go down there yourself?” a neighbor asks.
“I have an anxiety disorder that prevents me from leaving my apartment. So does my friend, Kyle, down the hall.”
“You mean you both have agoraphobia?”
“Yeah. That. We’ll both have a feeling of being trapped if we leave our apartments.”
“I thought that it was the fear of wide-open spaces?” another neighbor asks her.
“There’s a spectrum. For the two of us, our only safe place is our apartments. We’ll both have severe panic attacks, or worse, if we leave. Trust me,” Kelly replies.
After that quick exchange, the three neighbors go down the hall towards Kyle’s apartment. They ring and knock to no reply. Silence is all that remains among the four people along the hallway.
“He’s probably just in a deep sleep,” another neighbor tells Kelly.
“You have to get in there,” Kelly replies.
“I just have a bad feeling.”
“We’re not going to break down a neighbor’s door over your bad feeling.”
With that, the three neighbors return to their apartments as Kelly counts down the time that has elapsed towards what she feels could turn out to be something that could be detrimental to Kyle’s life. Kelly retreats inside her apartment and immediately makes a call to 911.
“911, what’s your emergency?” the operator asks.
“I need an immediate welfare check on a friend that’s not answering his door.”
After Kelly gives the operator Kyle’s address, she asks how long it will take for the police to respond. After hearing that it is dependent upon the nearest patrol car, Kelly hangs up to a feeling of impatience. There is a germinating feeling inside her gut that Kyle is in trouble and needs immediate help. Kelly does not know where or how she has come to this conclusion, yet she finds herself believing this religiously. Her door is still open to the hallway. She turns and looks at it and knows that she must face her destiny and that Kyle’s fate depends upon it.
Kelly’s time has come. She is now at the threshold of her door. Courage to overcome her fear is a mother that is urging her to take a leap of faith. As she looks out at the hall, she becomes disoriented, so she closes her eyes. As she takes a step out her door, she can feel the beating of her heart throbbing throughout her body. Panic attacks her body like millions of pieces of shrapnel, and she knows she must find a way to alleviate the pain. Instinctively, she clings to the wall which calms her soul. Kelly and the wall have become one entity like the fluidity of water. She is now gliding like a leaf on a stream toward Kyle’s apartment. Every movement she makes generates ripples pulsating in every direction.
“In the past, I could only image that there would be moments in my life where I might feel as if I were floating outside my body, looking at myself from above, and this is one of those moments for me,” Kelly says to herself.
After counting the number of doors she has passed, she realizes that she must now be directly across Kyle’s apartment. She opens her eyes and that theory has now become a reality after she sees the apartment number. Kelly realizes the magnitude of her accomplishment. What was once unthinkable to her is now real. In a nanosecond, she realizes only a few feet separate her from Kyle. In that same moment, she realizes who has given her the strength to overcome her fear and do what she once thought was impossible. It is the person she loves the most.
“Kyle! Can you hear me! Please, say something if you can hear me! Please, come out if you can hear me!” she cries out to no response.
“You’ve given me an aurora of invincibility that I was unable to accomplish on my own. You’ve given this gift to me and I now know that it’s my turn to give something back to you, Kyle,” Kelly tells herself.
Kelly jumps over the hallway and forces Kyle’s door open. She sees Kyle’s body motionless on the floor. Her instincts take over. She goes over to his body. His face is blue. She takes his pulse. He is still alive. She sees a half-eaten hot dog next to Kyle’s body. She touches it, and it is still warm. This must have just happened. She knows the Heimlich maneuver, so she performs it on him. There is no response. Kelly does not keep the time. Kelly keeps her focus. She continues undeterred. Suddenly, the piece of food flies out of his mouth and there is a gasp from Kyle. He begins to cough before his airway becomes clear. His eyes open. His body is no longer limp. He can now breathe on his own and is stunned that he is alive.
“I had food stuck in my throat. You brought me back. You saved my life. Kelly, there’s nobody here but you, though. How did you leave your apartment? How did you get to mine? How are you here, Kelly?”
“The answer is more obvious to me now more than ever. The answer is because of you. Because of you, I’m not afraid to stand up and fight. Because of you I’m not afraid to stand up and be free.”
“Thank you for saving my life, Kelly.”
“Thank you for saving mine.”
“When I fell to the ground, the first thought I had was that I would never be able to do what I’ve always wanted to do but never had the strength to and that is to tell you how I really feel about you.”
“You don’t have to, Kyle. I already know.”
Ross Mayo Jr is a writer based out of Maryland focusing on flash fiction and short stories primarily dealing with inspirational issues and the human experience. His work has appeared in such places as The Scarlet Leaf Review.