by AC Koch
Mark began levitating during the Friday afternoon meeting. He and his co-workers despised these meetings, but on this day Mark’s sense of dissatisfaction was particularly intense. His girlfriend had recently left him, the cafeteria had been out of salads, and his shoes were too tight. Almost imperceptibly, he felt himself lift a fraction of an inch off his chair.
He glanced around the table but no one noticed. Later, walking to his car, he swore there was a tiny cushion of air between his shoes and the pavement. It wasn’t a good feeling. Uncomfortable, like a toothache.
The condition persisted for weeks, and he got accustomed to the sense of floating. When he received an unexpected bill, he rose a full three inches off the ground. The bill rattled in his hand and all he had to do to stay afloat was to glance at the number in the amount payable box.
After that, people began to notice. Walking down the street, sitting in a cafe, at his desk at work – no matter what he was doing, he was always between two and three inches off the floor. All he had to do was remember how many bills he had to pay, or how irritating his job was, and he could gain an extra inch of air. There has to be a way to take advantage of this, he thought, but he couldn’t figure out who would be interested in paying him to levitate, and that just lifted him another inch.
He met Sarah on one of the rare occasions when he went out for a drink. She moved up next to him at the bar, looking him up and down with a grin. ‘You’re floating three inches off your bar stool.’
‘Yeah,’ he cracked. ‘Because life sucks.’
‘Show me how you do that!’
‘There’s no technique. It’s just a curse.’
‘Who cursed you?’
That was an interesting question. Was someone responsible for this? Had he wronged some deity along the way? The thought lifted him another inch, and it was only when Sarah bought him another drink that he settled back down to his previous elevation.
Everything changed with Sarah. She was a beam of positivity, and she seemed to find his situation fascinating. ‘How high can you go, baby? Theoretically?’
He pondered. ‘I guess a really big disappointment could send me through the roof. I hope I never find out.’
The more time he spent with her, the closer he got to the ground. Three months into their relationship, they spent a weekend in a cabin surrounded by pine trees and chittering squirrels. Walking along a trail in the mountain sunshine, Mark felt his feet crunch on the gravel pathway. ‘Oh my God – I’m back!’
Sarah threw her arms around him, beaming. ‘You’re happy! You’re finally happy!’
He couldn’t control his grin. It felt so good to reconnect with the earth. He didn’t even notice how her smile faltered just a bit as they walked up the path together.
She broke up with him via text when he was in the middle of another Friday afternoon meeting. Within moments, he rose up far above his chair, looking down in anguish at his astonished colleagues. He rose so high he hovered just below the ceiling. Tears glittered in his eyes. ‘A text!’ he roared. ‘She dumps me with a goddamn text!’
‘He gets this way when he’s angry,’ one of his co-workers said. ‘It’s just a response to dissatisfaction.’
‘Well, someone get him to come down,’ their supervisor said. She sent the secretary to go fetch a cup of coffee with vanilla flavouring, the way Mark liked it.
He went on levitating just below the ceiling, bitter tears on his face. He bumped up against the light fixture like a helium balloon. The secretary came in with a cup of coffee and held it up. He lowered a fraction of an inch. Someone had to climb up on the table to hand it to him.
‘What else does he want?’ the supervisor wanted to know, exasperated.
‘He likes those cookies in the vending machine.’
‘Bring some cookies!’
His co-workers spent hours trying to get him to come down, long past time for everyone to go home. The table was piled with treats and objects of tribute—his favourite books, some homemade brownies—but nothing could bring him down more than an inch.
When it was close to dark, he bumped his way along the ceiling, out the door, and down the hallway. Is he leaving? Is he going to try to drive home? He’s headed for the atrium!
In the building’s lobby, he rose up within the lofty atrium like a small and boiling thundercloud in a suit. The scream he gave as he reached the top was pure, inarticulate rage, and the sound had a profound effect on his co-workers. Some dropped to their knees and prostrated themselves on the lobby floor. Outside, news crews were arriving with lights and cameras. More people flowed in, harried and desperate, carrying armfuls of treasures, which they piled up far below Mark’s hovering body.
‘I just want to be happy!’ he moaned as he bumped up against the glass ceiling. ‘Love me. LOVE ME!’
The people cowered as the cameras rolled. Unnoticed among the gathering crowd, Sarah made her way through the vestibule, craning her neck up. She’d seen the television coverage and could hardly believe her eyes. Now, as the atrium echoed with wails and clicking camera-phones, she stood beneath her man as a smile slowly drew itself across her face.
Mark, bumping up against the dome atop the atrium, moaned and cursed and ignored the pleas of the gathering throng.
Sarah held up her phone. ‘My friends,’ she cried, ‘let me intercede. He’ll respond to my ringtone, just give me your messages.’ A giddy feeling coursed through her as all eyes turned to her. ‘Trust me,’ she shouted. ‘Have faith! Believe!’
A.C. Koch is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee whose work has been published in Mississippi Review, Exquisite Corpse, and the Columbia Journal, and two of his short stories have been awarded first place in the Raymond Carver Short Story Award at Carve Magazine (2003, 2007). He lives in Denver, CO where he teaches linguistics, dabbles in photography, and plays guitar in Firstimers, a bossanova power-pop ensemble.