“Electric City” by Hailey Heikkinen
Last week I purchased a TV remote from this little hole-in-the-wall place, between Electric City and the religious super-mart, on Gaiety Avenue, right next to the cable car turntable. When I got home, I clicked pause and everything froze. The clock on the wall, the garbage truck outside, the leaky kitchen faucet mid-drip. It even left Mr. Buttons in quite the scandalous position. He’s one of those cats who like to lick their butt. Anyway, I almost hit play out of fear or something, but luckily I was wrong about everything being paused and a man yelling into a megaphone on TV distracted me long enough to realize my life might be better this way.
I walked out into the street, where I found the postal delivery guy and tapped him on the shoulder. He didn’t respond. Not even a blink. Just as I was about go back inside to call my mother, I thought, why not double check, and so I kicked the mail guy—but still, he did nothing.
I checked the house. The dishwasher was frozen mid-cycle, the red humming bird frozen mid-flight outside the bay window, the apple core frozen mid-fall. So I stood in front of the living room TV, staring at the CNN live report like it might stop for no reason at all. Then I decided not to call my mother, because even if the phone miraculously worked and she was immune to the effects of the remote, she couldn’t possibly understand. What would I tell her? That I bought a universal remote and when I hit pause everything froze, except for the TV, and I’d love to hit play to see what happens, but I’m too afraid it might not work again?
It took me awhile before I realized the uniformed man on TV was my childhood friend, Abdul, who had a thing for megaphones. According to the CNN live report, Abdul was talking a potential suicide jumper down from a bank building, through a megaphone. When Abdul was younger, he would yell wishes into the orange megaphone his father bought him for his 11th birthday, right before leaving Abdul for good. Abdul’s mother told him his father moved mid-way across the world to a place without email. But everyone in the seaport city knew Abdul’s father died. He’d skipped town to go to a more holy place.
Throughout junior high, Abdul would let the kids at school take his megaphone during lunchtime and yell their own wishes into it. One girl asked that god make sure Abdul’s dad was in hell, in front of all the other kids. The girl even had the nerve to blame Abdul’s dad for being a radical Islamist, some term she’d heard her parents use. Abdul hadn’t heard of the word before, but he did say he didn’t believe in places like heaven or hell, and his mother didn’t have faith in anything anymore. So you can see why Abdul was always wishing into that orange contraption.
I’m not sure who told Abdul his wishes would come true if he yelled them into his megaphone. Maybe his dad? The thing never seemed to deliver, though. He’d asked for his dad to come home more times then he’d ever admit. And just when he was about to completely lose faith, one wish did come true. For his eighteenth birthday, a hooker showed up at the hotel room he and his friends rented. Or was she an escort? Almost the entire time she was with him, he commanded her by yelling into that orange thing. Not once did he look her in the eye and ask if she wanted to fuck. The whole hotel heard him get a blowjob. Every sound came through that megaphone. His friends thought it was really great, listening from outside the room, until they saw hotel security and scampered off, even though they promised Abdul they wouldn’t ditch him.
A sad thing happened when the men in uniform made Abdul mute his megaphone. He had to look the girl in the eye, and what he saw was that they couldn’t possibly have any connection whatsoever. She was a professional hooker, he a high school student. So even if Abdul had realized what made him afraid to look her in the eyes in the first place was exactly what he was searching for, it was destined to fail.
But then he met Janice, who was greater-than-great. He could look her in the eye without any fear whatsoever. In fact, he could look her straight in the eye and lie. At some point he realized he wasn’t being entirely honest with Janice. Because even though he continued to tell her he thought of her face before going to bed or when jacking off—which Janice thought was entirely gross—or when stuck in traffic, he wasn’t really thinking of her face. One day it’d come to him: he wasn’t really enjoying life, he was just acting like he was. And the more he became aware of it, the more he hated himself.
The truth is he didn’t even know the escort’s name. He didn’t even know if he loved her, but the possibility of a connection just a little bit more right, or a lot, isn’t something his mind could let go of. Maybe they wouldn’t have worked out, but maybe they would have.
Abdul’s megaphone is grey now. At least that’s how it looks on TV. Either time wore the color off, or it’s an entirely different megaphone altogether. Abdul looks to be a detective. He’s yelling to a jumper up above. Some woman in stilettos and a black dress that wouldn’t blow in the wind if a tornado swooped down at this exact instant and enveloped her. Some would call her a hooker, others an escort. But when the news camera zooms out, she looks just like any other woman.
On the street corner down below, some guy eggs her on. He yells, “Jump!” But even if she can’t hear him, because she’s too far up in the sky, she can see him and knows what he’s thinking.
But Abdul’s better at this game. He’s been yelling wishes into a megaphone longer than that guy has been alive. He yells, “What’s your name?”
The woman on the edge of the bank building doesn’t even look to move, though she must have said something because her name passes though the chain of uniformed men leading from her—or as close as she would let them—all the way down to Abdul. The uniform closest shouts: “Evaline Houser!”
“Evaline, my name is Abdul,” he says into the megaphone. “How can I help you?” Like dominos, the answer, “You can’t,” or something like it, eventually travels from her to him.
“I hope you’re wrong about that, Evaline,” he says, looking down at the rap sheet his guys printed off on Evaline Houser.
Though she’s aged, he’d know that face anywhere. The escort. Just as he’s about to tell Evaline who he is, she jumps. All of this caught live and streaming into my living room. I hit pause on the TV remote, again and again, but Evaline keeps plummeting. Then I hit play and she freezes twenty or thirty feet from the ground. Who would have guessed a remote could pause live TV by hitting play? Crazy-fucking-tastic. Buttons continues licking his butt. The apple core hits the floor, the garbage truck shifts forward and the postal delivery man yells in pain.
I grab my coat and take the trolley to the spot I left Evaline paused on TV, but ambulances and every TV Station in the city swarm the area. Just in case, I find the most gigantic trampoline money can buy and I wait until the sirens and news cameras clear out before leaving it there.
When I get home, I see the stilled image of Evaline twenty or so feet from the ground on the TV screen, and I hit pause. Buttons instantly freezes, chasing his tail. The CNN live report plays, but they’re not reporting on Evaline anymore, they’ve moved on to another story. I hit rewind, but the screen turns black as if fast-forwarding into the future or nothingness or the unknown. Then I hit fast-forward, out of fear or something, and I watch the whole gruesome fall play in reverse. I stop it exactly where I left Evaline paused before, and somehow an even more bizarre thing happens: the trampoline appears out of nowhere, and when she falls the springs absorb her body and propel her back upward—you can see her surprised and tense reflection rocketing toward the sky in the mirrored windows of the bank building. She bounces up and down until her body comes to a rest on the trampoline.
Seven days later, I hear one of the EMS people on-scene was hospitalized with permanent brain damage. Word on the street’s that he was in a bar fight over how that trampoline appeared out of thin air, and how the media is already rationalizing it as some sort of illusion, a trick of the eye and nothing more. I can’t help but think that by saving Evaline I possibly fucked the world up even more. And knowing that, I disable the remote and ride the trolley back to that little hole-in-the-wall place. Walking up to the counter, I see Abdul trading his megaphone in for something else, but I don’t see what. Once I return the remote, we talk about Janice and Evaline. Janice was not very understanding when Abdul told her about his feelings for Evaline, but I tell him that’s okay. Because who is he to choose what Janice’s happiness is? But then I think, who am I to say that?
Abdul tells me when the trampoline appeared, he knew the day he wished for love, well, yelled for it into his orange megaphone, his prayers hadn’t really been answered; it was nothing, blind dumb luck that he met Evaline on his eighteenth birthday. She may be the closest thing to an answer from the big man up above, but that’s probably a lie. Does the big man even exist? Would he approve of Evaline’s job? Who knows? Abdul doesn’t, and he doesn’t care anymore, because none of it matters without Evaline.