by Chelsea Ruxer
The tower is full of bodies still sleeping. A staircase winds through its center, a steep corkscrew of a spine.
It felt like dreaming when I crept down it. I started slowly, one step at a time, but ended flying to the bottom like from one of those great twisty slides at an amusement park. I was out of breath when I reached the windowless room where the staircase ends.
There are a few dozen of us here now. The others look like me, probably had histories and questions like mine.
I am like them all, on the first day, shouting for joy when I see faces looking back at me. This is how it is, when another wakes and reaches the bottom of the staircase. They cry out, sobbing and babbling about dreams we will never know, until they see that no one understands.
When the shouting dies down, our murmurs turn to soft, long sounds, and we go back to trying to understand just words.
I thought we must be same, that I might ask the whys and hows and somehow get back to the life I remember, to the words I know. But we are mainly pointing now, pointing up and pointing down. By the second day, I am pointing, too.
It’s mostly dark in this room, but some light shines down through the staircase. The third morning, I am the only one awake at dawn. I climb the staircase again, all the way to the top, and look at the bodies lined up along the windows.
It was only a matter of time before we started pointing at each other. My sixth day in the tower, we stop trying to talk all together in the center of the room, break into smaller and smaller groups.
I think most of us have given up the words that matter. I stopped with questions early on. Now, am I am trying pronouns, “building,” “people.”
One stayed with me, an older man with frizzy white hair. He doesn’t like to sit down. I think he is more agitated than the others, more restless, but his voice is quiet, clear.
“Laf,” he says, pointing to his hair again, or maybe to his head. He can’t let this word go. Then he points to the ground. “Laf.”
“Laf,” I repeat. It’s all he’s said so far. I have tried pointing, saying it back to him, but he doesn’t think I understand.
He is standing again, staring into the wall behind me as though he can see through it. He jumps, says the word again. His feet land softly on the stone, and he looks at me like I might understand now.
“Laf,” I repeat, with nothing gained. It’s not jumping, or hair. It could be everything, of course, which wouldn’t mean anything.
He walks in a circle, jumps, says it again.
That night, I dream of white rabbits. The man probably dreams, too, in his language, of laf. The dreaming is not new. Sometimes, when I’m asleep, I hear murmurs of others talking nearby, words I know. But then I wake, and it’s quiet.
I must sleep a little longer the next morning. The others are already awake, whispering.
The man is not with them. I go back up the staircase to look out the windows and find him lying with all the other bodies again, asleep.
Chelsea Ruxer is an MFA student at the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her work has appeared in Jellyfish Review, Hermeneutic Chaos, The Higgs Weldon, and others. One of her short pieces was nominated for 2016’s Best of the Net.