As they came down I instantly recalled, in the time it took to flatten me to the ground, all the photographs, files, scrap books, snow globes, shot glasses, porcelain birds and hardcover books by the dozens that had been haphazardly stacked there. I knew what was coming before it hit me, so I wasn’t entirely shocked by the force of the impact. What I was surprised by was being trapped underneath everything that fell and the complete panic that swept over me afterwards.
It was dark when I opened my eyes and eerily quiet, as I couldn’t hear any of the cheers and noise from a moment before. I could move my head a little from side to side, but as I tried, found I couldn’t move anything else. Initially, I was certain I had broken my neck when everything fell and was paralyzed below my head, but little pieces reassured me I was whole: I could wiggle my toes, feel the chafing of my belt on my hip and the bruises developing along my side. I wasn’t paralyzed but I was trapped to the point of feeling as though I was.
The sheer weight of everything on top of me was too much to lift, which meant that somebody else was going to have to help me. Luckily this had happened with fifteen people watching, instead of any other time when I would have been caught on my own, with nobody to know that I was there.
I have this dream where I wake up tied to my bed in the same underwear and tank top I fell asleep in, except I’m not in my bedroom, I’m in the middle of a crowded downtown pedestrian avenue at lunchtime. There are people coming from all around to go for lunch, or go back to work, to meet their sister-in-law or lawyer or banker. I struggle to free myself but cannot, and call out for help. One by one people take notice of me and crowd around, some passing by with a steady gaze of interest and other’s stopping to watch and observe. Despite my calls for help no one steps forward to free me, they seem to consider my pleas, thinking about it as I yell to them, but they ultimately step back, waving their hands in dismissive neutrality. And there I lay out in the open, in my underwear and tank top, a sight to see; until I wake up in my room, unrestrained, unsure of any time that has lapsed, for in the dream the day went by forever unchanging.
If I were to crumble and fall on the sidewalk one day, how long would it be before someone stopped to help me back up? When you go outside each morning, isn’t there a blind trust that the strangers of the world would catch you if you were to truly fall? It’s hard to trust a world of strangers.
Softly, behind the muffling of cardboard and porcelain, along with a general ringing in my ears, I heard a man’s voice from beyond the black: “Margaret? Can you hear me?”
Another voice followed, a woman’s: “Are you OK? Margaret? Say something.”
“I’m here.” I sobbed against the boxes.
“Are you OK?” She asked again, I could hear that she was worried.
“I don’t know. I’m stuck.”
“OK. We’re getting you out of there. Don’t move.”
“I can’t,” I cried at her, “I’m stuck!”
“What do you mean, good?” I thought she was being ironic.
“You still have your sense of humour.” She said unexpectedly, laughing with me through the debris, which made me feel as though she was less of a stranger.
The man’s voice returned to say: “Margaret, I have good news and bad news for you.”
“What’s the bad news?” I wanted to know first.
“Most of the items that fell are broken or covered in what looks like developing fluid. Should we throw it all out?”
“Yes, please.” I gritted through my teeth, feeling stupid for leaving all of these belongings, that were obviously important, as an ironic trap to catch myself in, while managing to destroy them all in the process. “What’s the good news?”
“You’re outside. At least, the better part of you seems to be.”
“Just another minute, Margaret.” The woman added.
One by one the boxes and heavier items were pulled away to reveal the faces of fifteen people coming to my rescue, until finally hands reached down to pull me to my feet, which were on the outside of my doorway. As I caught my balance and found myself bruised, most definitely, but not broken, someone handed me my coat. And I looked at the street in front of me, the door behind me and offered: “Shall we go?”
I took one step forward, and another and again, and many more that night and the days to follow with my new friends and other strangers. While I thought of her again, I put the other Margaret to rest and continued to spend my time lost in thinking about the light fantastic.