Nobody understood this could be a thing, until they saw jumpers at a certain height, five hundred eleven feet, tumble upward. Unlike fallers, upfurlers didn’t make spectators jerk their shoulders in revulsion or crunch up faces to stave off crying. Seeing upfurlers made the emergency responders slack-jawed the way a miracle can. Like if you woke up and had the 20-inch curling fingernails: it made no sense, but you’d seen pictures and here they were. Philippe Petit kind of lay down in the air up there once, but this? There was one woman in a skirt suit, hounds-tooth-checked, who spun like a saucer without rising or falling. Her hair swished behind her, swish, swish, like a sickle. They call her Frisbee now, but her name is Andrea Masterson Giacobazzi, and whatever magic, whatever science, whatever god held her spinning like a barefoot plate, dispersed when the first tower fell, creating voids. Floor by floor boom-pancaked, boom-pancaked, and Mrs. Giacobazzi, in perfect Lagrangian coherent structures, trailed boom-boom down through the c-shaped vortices of air. Cause of death was an adult equivalent of shaken baby syndrome. Maybe there was a level in the atmosphere where gravity recoiled in surprise that day. “It was a sweet pocket,” science said, also concluding that any jumper below her event, at the unfortunate measure of 509 feet or less, fell. Mrs. Giacobazzi’s children fell sadder. Downfurlers made a horrible meaty thunking thud, then recoiled from their own private LZs, momentarily ghosted in sticky pink mists, before continuing to fall. What was most interesting was jumpers at 511 feet and higher. They rose—tumbled and laughed and blew kisses until eventually they sensed the chill, understood they’d surpassed Everest, fell asleep, and crisped up like leaves on the way out. From a distance, upfurlers shimmered like a murmuration, gently hovered there, like some air current snapped a soft blanket below their soft forms; their tears plocked down, but wore away to nothing before anyone could know. All science knew were puddles of blunt force trauma, cranberry and Burberry and snozzleberry and, listen. I get a little choked up thinking about it. It’s that meat thock. Give me a minute. I’m not a hugger. By family request, I cannot say more. But I’m up here. I’m up here.
“Upfurler” is a Finalist for Best Small Fictions 2017, Judged by Amy Hempel. It was first published in Australia by Editor Matt Potter at Pure Slush: FIVE, and has been reprinted at Flash Fiction Net, and Flash Flood 2016.
Author’s Note (from Flash Fiction Net)
This is my September 11 story. There is a small mountain near my home, Washington Rock, an old promontory where General George Washington could survey the movements of the British fleet in New York harbor. When the news broke one cloudless 2001 morning of a plane hitting the World Trade Center, I assumed it was a Cessna and pilot error. These things happen. I was listening on the radio. I had interviewed David Halberstam the evening before, and he said in his speech on September 10: “We are so blessed, to have these two great oceans protecting us.” I was writing up the interview to file it while listening to news radio. But then a second plane hit. I could not discount that to a confused student pilot. I stopped writing my report. We called our neighbor who worked on the 54th floor, but which tower we could not remember. My husband and I went up Washington’s Rock, to see the plumes of smoke with our own eyes, because it was not to be believed, and we had to see the smoke drifting east over Brooklyn. We soon lost our television stations, all the broadcast antennae fell with the towers. We listened on the radio. In the newspapers, there were pictures of fallers, those who leapt, one a couple holding hands. I think still of fallers, of the decision that precipitated the jump. The heat. I wished it didn’t have to end like that, for anyone, to be pulverized into some terrible pink mist hanging over the ground. A few years later, an artist whose work I admire, Eric Fischl, created these marvelous bronze sculptures. One of them, of a World Trade faller, was called Tumbling Woman. It captured the obscene and tragic humanity of the moment of impact. I recall feeling discouraged when, once those sculptures were put on display, Fischl bowed to public pressure to have them removed, as commuters found the work too disturbing. I was so happy that the fallers had been commemorated so specifically. These things happened. There is something beautiful in a suspension in air. Something beautiful in clasped hands. Something of the Pieta in how we hold grief, deep in the mud of what we are. When Twin Towers architect Minoru Yamasaki was asked about the meaning of the World Trade Center before his death in 1986, he said it was a living symbol of man’s dedication to world peace, adding how it was “a representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through cooperation his ability to find greatness.” Steel, and bronze, in the right hands, can be lyrical. I only have words. And so here I give the fallers a new moment, a softer exit (except for the legendary Mrs. Giacobazzi). The truth, of a strong building sweating drops of life while desperately maintaining, is surreal and strange. No stranger than the human story. May someone find loving comfort in this very small fiction, which reverses some law. It means to bring peace. It means to pack that heavy day, entire, in a very light valise of flash.