The Man on the Stair

Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 72

Photo by Lindsay Henwood on UNSPLASH.

“Yesterday, upon the stair,

I met a man who wasn’t there!

He wasn’t there again today,

Oh how I wish he’d go away!”

Antigonish – William Hughes Mearns.

It had been a long, tough day at work. I love being a massage therapist, but some days it can be exhausting work. I was eager to get into my apartment, take a shower, and lay on my heating pad for about seventeen hours before having to repeat the business of ‘making a living.’

As I climbed the steps to my cozy studio, a man was descending them.

As he passed me, he stopped for a second, tipped his hat (did people still do that?), then smiled warmly at me before continuing down the stairs. He looks as serene and as content as any person I’ve ever met.

Had he been visiting my neighbors? There are only two units at the top of the stairs; mine and the two women who live across from me. I want to say their names were Allison and Sheila. I’d foolishly asked during our first meeting, but, typical me, I forgot them right away.

I’d ask again when our paths cross – they seldom do – but I don’t want to give her the wrong idea.

I glance over my shoulder. Both her car and her roommates are gone.

But that’s not all.

I don’t register it right away, but as the man climbed down the stairs, I had felt no shake in the long staircase as he passed by me.

And when I’d glanced over my shoulder to see if my neighbors were home, the man had vanished.

How long had I stood motionless upon the stairs? Surely it hadn’t been more than a second or two.

The more I contemplate the nature of life, the more I’m left with the sobering and sad realization that it’s mostly chemistry.

I’ve never been the manliest of men. I write this off as being chronically low in testosterone.

Everything is chemistry.

And the activity in my brain? Whether I’d stood still on the stairs for two seconds or several minutes. All of it is chemistry, is it not?

I’m learning to make peace with these ideas, but I’m not there. Not yet, I’m not.

I don’t believe as the man passed that I’d stood vacant and vapid for more than a few seconds, likely even less.

The man had disappeared.

Where was the man? My eyes flit across the parking lot; I don’t see him.

I need to consider this carefully. Something important is at stake here. I will have to figure out this or finally see a doctor.

I set out on my patio that looks obliquely down upon the stairs. As I said, it’s a small place.

Sitting in my patio chair, I gaze down at the empty stairs and reconstruct what I perceived earlier.

It’s a meditation I’ve experimented with in the past.

In my mind’s eye, I see my car come to a stop, my fumbling around behind me for the unnecessary sunshades I keep in the backseat, arranging them in the windshield, first the left, then the right, exiting my car, clicking the fob (twice!) to lock it. Then slowly climbing the stairs, my heavy black work bag slung over my right shoulder.

I see the man descend. He wears blue jeans, a black sweatshirt, a hat, with sunglasses. He looks fit. He smiles at me. I recognize him with whatever part of my brain that is in charge of that faculty. But the part that is supposed to retrieve a name to go with the face apparently has the day off or is on the fritz.

Who was he?

The older man had looked familiar. But by the time you’ve reached my age, with over a half-century of seeing faces, you end up thinking everyone looks familiar.

After a time, I sleep. Then I dream. But these aren’t my dreams; these are the dreams of another. They are the dreams of the man on the stair.

I see him, resting there in his tiny home, his notebook computer opened in front of him. He’s a writer, like me! Behind him on the wall are hanging several writing plaques, awards from competitions, I assume.

I hear his thoughts. He worries he shouldn’t have passed the man on the stairs.

It was irresponsible to play with the timelines like that. If something happened to the massage therapist now, he might jeopardize his existence?

I wake as the first light drops of gentle rain land on my face.

The man on the stair had seemed familiar for a reason. He was me, from my future.

But I’ve never been as comfortable in my skin as he was.

I guess that is in my future. Smiling, I go inside my apartment to write it all down before I forget this wonderful gift.

That I will one day be comfortable in my body is such a lovely, utterly entrancing thought, I can already feel it.


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