“You know,” says Jeremy, pulling out his chair and sitting down, “I always assumed that you would scream if you jumped off a building.”
I pull out my chair and sit down too. The chairs match the table, jet-black iron lattice. There are a lot of people dressed in black sitting around us in the outdoor café. Faintly, I can smell a clove cigarette.
“I mean, he jumped off a building and not a sound. Wouldn’t you scream if you were jumping off a building?”
As he asks this, I take out my pack of cigarettes and shake one loose. He looks at me expectantly so I hold the pack to him and he takes one. I offer him my lighter, but he shakes his head and holds up his own. Together, we light up.
“Maybe because he knew it was coming,” I suggest, exhaling. “So there was nothing to be afraid of.”
“Maybe. But what about the pressure from the fall? I’d’ve thought that would force the air out of his lungs or something.” He flicks his cigarette ash onto the ground. I pointedly tap mine into the cut-glass ashtray on the table. His eyes shrug. “I should’ve paid more attention in school,” he adds, absentmindedly. “Of course, the physics of jumping off a building probably wouldn’t help with my sales numbers, but…” A waitress steps up to our table. “Two coffees,” he orders. “Black.”
The man had crashed through the roof of a silver sedan less than half a block from us. We had to walk past him to get to the café. He had made a deep dent in the roof, the sides folding around him like a womb. Blood puddled in the center of the dent, dripping onto the gray felt seats. Shards of hood dusted the pool. When he hit, the sound was so loud I thought my own skull had cracked.
I take a long drag then let it out in one big cloud. At the table next to us, a college-aged guy types frantically on his laptop. Jeremy loves this place and we’ve been coming for years, but I’ve started to feel a bit old for it lately. I look at my hand, the cigarette between index and middle fingers. I picture the skin drying up, getting leathery, peeling away.
“So do you think they were glued on?”
I glance at Jeremy, my eyes questioning.
“The feathers. He must’ve glued them, right?”
The waitress delivers our coffee, tenderly setting the mugs on the table. She’s wearing thick-framed glasses and has long dark hair tied back in a ponytail. I smile my thanks.
“Like superglue?” I ask once she leaves.
“I don’t know. The welts. Have you ever used a glue gun?”
“Yeah, when I was a kid in like, Cub Scouts. For the pinewood derby or something.”
“Same here. I burned myself. It hurt like a bitch.”
“You agree there were welts.”
“Yeah, man. There were definitely welts.”
They looked bad too. Thick and red, the tissue spongy, like maggots. And sticking from them were feathers. He was shirtless and the feathers mangily poked from his back. Others were tangled in his hair and plastered his arms. A scattering surrounded him. One, red-tipped, got caught by the breeze and blew into the street. Jeremy tried to stop walking, but I made us keep going. I could already hear a faint siren.
Jeremy stubs out his cigarette. “I hate to ask you, man. But I heard Adam found out?”
I nod. I stub out my cigarette too and take out another, jiggling it between my fingers. I light it and nod again. I try to say yeah, but all that comes out is a grunt.
He looks cautious. “And now?”
“And now neither of them will talk to me.”
“I’m sorry, man.”
“It’s my fault.” I shrug. It is. My cigarette has mostly burned away between my fingers. I knock the long ash into the tray and take another drag before putting it out.
“But it’ll blow over, right?” he asks. “Everything blows over.”
“Eventually, sure. I guess everything blows over.”
“I mean, no one’s going to jump off a building or anything, right?” He smiles thinly.
“It was a little funny.”
“Have you ever thought about it?”
“Of course not,” I snap. Of course I have. A bottle of whiskey and a bottle of sleeping pills. Easy and effective. You just float away.
“Me neither,” he answers. He finishes his coffee and plunks the cup down. Next to us a couple is laughing about some joke I didn’t overhear. I take a long sip and finish my mug. I wonder if the waitress will come back to see if we want more coffee.
“Hey,” Jeremy says after a long drag and a thick exhale. “Did you see the… well, the… the letter on his forehead?”
His head had snapped toward the street when he hit. The angle was unnatural, more like two boards nailed together than a head to a spine. His face was covered with welts. More than anywhere else, the feathers had fallen off his face. His right eye was open, but it looked no more alive than a glass eye in a museum. There was a burn among the welts. It was wrinkled and dark. It said J. Presumably there was more, but I ushered us past. I don’t want to know what a man burned into his head.
“What do you think came after the J? Jesus?” Jeremy asks. “Think he was some religious freak?”
“Yes,” I answer, “But I think it was something completely different.”
“Sure,” says Jeremy. “It could be practically anything.”