Cataclysm Freiborg Page | 5

The steady sound of traffic wafted upwards like faint prayers on air currents to where Tobias stood, leaning over the edge of a balcony from outside his high rise condo. The strangers below him seemed small in comparison to the steel giants they stood between, and their lives just as insignificant. Tobias couldn't breathe from the sheer scale of it all, the actual size of everything. He remembered learning how the desert is really made up of tiny grains of sand. His life was like that, a culmination of tiny moments, mostly all just as dry and abrasive. The October air was a cool, abrasive rush across his face. The gust had sent a chill down his vertebrae and left him wondering vaguely if his wife had made it to work all right; if she had dropped off their daughter Eliza at school before or after she stopped to grab her daily morning coffee. He shuddered at the thought of her flashing her credit card and asking the barista for her usual, skinny extra hot Mocha Caramel Latte with whip cream and two Splenda 'on the side'. The bastardized coffee she couldn't go a day without. Tobias preferred his black, bitter, and strong as hell, but this morning he hadn't made himself a cup. Today was a Thursday. His morning had started routinely. His alarm had gone off at exactly 5:30 A.M. and he had hit the snooze twice, rolling over to find the sheets beside him already cooling. He had run a hand over the adjacent pillow, smoothing the wrinkles away- the only evidence that he hadn't slept alone. Sliding reluctantly out of bed his feet had touched the beige carpet in the same pattern they had for the past ten years, first the right, then the left. He had pushed the heels of his palms into his eyes, rubbing the sleep from them with unnecessary force. Tiny white explosions ricocheted around his eyelids and he groaned unhappily. He stood and walked to his dresser and he pulled out his favorite pair of blue jeans from the bottom drawer. Tobias pulled them on and buttoned his forest green collared shirt from the bottom up. He stood in front of the full length mirror and scrutinized every angle. His wife had come out of their master bathroom mid button, emerging from a cloud of vapor. He recalled the way the steam had risen off her shoulders after her shower this morning; shoulders he used to worship with kisses every morning as the sun rose. The way she used to grin through sleepy eyes and writhe under the covers as his hands splayed over her stomach and thighs. Tobias was not quite sure when or where, but all these things had dissipated somewhere in time. Today she had smiled at him with empty, drowning eyes. Clutching her towel closer to her breasts she had made her way to the walk-in closet she packed full of designer shoes and Gucci hand bags. Material goods she collected to fill an emptiness that had been growing in her- a vat chasm that had split insider her one day and had been budding ever since. Tobias felt too full. His brain shook, bursting with thoughts and an unbearable energy that often caused the ground to shift beneath him. Tobias remembered the first morning he had woken up beside her. Her hair had splayed out across the pillow in the night. Her lips were parted as she breathed softy, and her hand still rested on his shoulder where she had placed it the night before after they had made love. For the first time in his life Tobias wasn't just fucking around; somehow the warmth and the tenderness had breached a barrier he hadn't known existed. Brushing her bangs from her forehead he kissed her awake the way he imagined Prince Charming would have done it to Sleeping Beauty- real debonair and with tangible affection. Her eyes had fluttered open, the green irises effervesced in the morning sunlight and just like that he had a new favorite color and a goal worth living for. "Good morning, I love you," he had whispered, almost inaudibly. And she replied, "Let's get some breakfast." He sighed at the realization that there were no "good mornings" exchanged anymore.
After he dressed he walked down the hallway to where his daughter lay sleeping in her miniature four poster. Her favorite stuffed animal clutched to her chest as she drooled heavily on her Disney princess sheets. The room was a cacophonous assault of pinks and purples but Tobias did not regret creating this small haven for her. He sat beside her sleeping form and bent down to gather the sheets and comforter she had kicked off herself in the night. Her cheeks were flushed and her brow furrowed. Tobias placed a hand on her forehead and felt the fever. He had frowned and covered her with her comforter, tucking her back in. His wife had burst through the door, checking her watch.

"Why isn't she up yet? Come on, I gotta go." Before he could protest his wife shook Eliza awake and urged her to dress. Groggy and miserable Eliza struggled to pull on a dress.

"She's sick. I could stay home with her."

"She has a test today. She can't miss it. I've already packed her bag and lunch so let's go." His wife had gripped Eliza's wrist and lead her out of the bedroom and into the kitchen, thrusting a green apple into her hand.

"There's no time for breakfast now sweetie since daddy let you sleep in. You can eat this in homeroom." She gathered their things and slammed the door on the way out, causing the coffee mugs to rattle in the cabinets. Tobias stared after them, too distressed to demand she stay home.

He had stood beside the fridge covered with Eliza's original artwork. His favorite she had brought home to him only last week. She had run through the door, heaving her book bag off her shoulders onto the hardwood floor of their entryway. "Daddy!" She was out of breath and had the flush of childhood exercise. Eyes bright with excitement she had partially crumpled the drawing in her eagerness to thrust it into his hand.

"Hey kiddo, whatcha got there?" He took the paper and smoothed it onto the kitchen counter. She had drawn him with two heads, standing outside the cookie cutter house all children draw; the box with the triangle roof and two identical windows, outside which stood a tree and birds in the sky that looked like wilting V's. The sun in the sky was massive and smiling and there were no clouds to be seen. She had drawn them outside on rampant green grass playing Football. Tobias had wondered how she knew what a Football looked like, and how she knew how to play. He hadn't taken her to a park in...well, ever.

His devoted father had taken him every Sunday after church and brunch to the local park. There he had taught him to fish, how to throw a good spiral, and how to pitch a tent. "C'mon son, let's go play some ball," he had said, every Sunday afternoon until the day Tobias had told him to "Knock it off," because he was "too old for that kiddie stuff."

His mother had cried and his father had become a man of stoic melancholy.

"What do you say to going to Central Park this weekend, sport? I hear the sea lions are pretty friendly." Her jaw had dropped in total surprise, as if he had said "We're going to Disney World!"

Tobias thought about all the things he could be doing right now, instead of contemplating concrete and what sort of modern art he'd create on the sidewalk below. He could be working on his annual report for the publishing house; gather all the tedious data in an Excel spreadsheet. He could tally all the successes and losses the year had brought. Boil it all down in a few hours' time. Life was funny like that. Tobias thought about his life in spreadsheet form- his whole existence in a graph and figured by now he was in the red. He imagined his boss frowning at the statistics, sucking his teeth unhappily like the guy from Office Space. Something crawled over the back of Tobias' hand causing him to twitch uncomfortably. The ground below waved like seaweed. Tobias wondered why no one bothered to look up like they did in the movies. Where were the concerned onlookers? Why the cops hadn't hadn't show up yet. The faces below were downturned, all watching the sidewalk pass by, counting the cracks as they crossed them. Time had passed differently since he had crawled over the railing, seeking a thrill, something to jar him from this reverie. Tobias' feet slipped slightly and sent shards of concrete plummeting downwards into to stream of foot traffic below. His hands firmly gripped the steel pole that separated him from oblivion. He was a little beyond exhilarated, the endless flow of thoughts had ceased momentarily its perpetual assault on his mind and all he could hear was the rushing of prayers on wind and the shuffling feet of the crowd below. The two sounds coalesced into a kind of heartbeat that matched his own, calming him. Tobias luxuriated in the feel of the push and pull of the blood coursing through his heart at 90 cm/s. He shuddered to feel every neuron fire, every spark of electricity and knew then that he did not want to die. He wanted to live- more than anything. Through the billowing curtains he heard the phone ringing. Telemarketers, he thought, or maybe his boss calling to see if he could stop by with his report. The phone rang again and again until finally the answering machine clicked on.

"Daddy?"

The sound of Eliza's sobbing voice had him turning around, shifting his grip to accommodate the movement but the metal railing was slippery with the sweat from his palms. The sky just looked so damn blue, he thought, as he climbed back over the railing.

"Daddy, can you come pick me up?"

Tobias picked up the phone from the receiver.

"I'll be right there sweetheart."