Beautiful Ashes: Madison Smartt Bell


Presented by Jen Michalski, for PANK. For a description of this guest series, click here


“Fall on Me”


Rewind: the blocks and steel and window frames roll up from the belly of their collapse.  They reassemble, fall in place.  There it is: so simply, easily, reordered and resolved.  The bloom of flame is reabsorbed into the building.  The fire unburns.  Thumb down tighter on the button.  Pull the poisoned barb of the plane’s hooked turn.  See the plane sucked backward, off the screen.  Away, unthought-of.  Unimagined.  Thumb down tighter.  The day hums backward.  The towers lift their empty faces into the blue sky of the dawn.

Gerald Ryder rockets upward in the elevator, cradling a paper sack with coffee, light and sweet, a poppy seed muffin he shouldn’t eat, should have bought bran.  From the other hand dangles a slimline briefcase containing Palm Pilot, cell phone, CD-player he takes to the gym before work.  Still a burn in his arms now, from the rowing machine, and he’s still sweating lightly, through the oxford cloth of his striped shirt.  Half-blind to the other passengers in the box, he nods to one or two or he knows, not looking at them.  Someone’s yakking, a pair of women, the dominant voice grating and shrill I told her if she’s just going to let him get away with— Ryder shuts it off, repeating his mantra, silently behind dulled eyes, we’re going up up up up up we’re going straight up to the top because this is the moment when the acceleration of the elevator gives that thought its power, and with that lightness, looseness underfoot and in his legs Ryder always thinks of the last bit of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where the elevator blasts right out the top of the building and sails away into the wild blue; sometimes he wonders what a therapist would say to that if he was fool enough to waste the money or had the time to visit a therapist.  Never happen.  Now a lurch of the stomach and the lightness rising to his head as the elevator slows and stops.  The doors open.  Ninety-ninth floor. Continue reading