Stairwell to Heaven or The Halloween Office Party

(novel)

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I come out on the other side of a nilly of non-sequitur scenes to a grey, utterly banal hallway; stretching into the great beyond. A succession of doors stand erect and still like guardians on alert. Fluorescent lights buzz overhead. This doesn’t look like Heaven in June, or France, or any kind of Heaven come to think of it, but some lame joke. Not a soul to be found. I turn back to where I come from, or where I think I come from, to find, to my bewilderment, Weird Al giving me a thumbs-up, as the elevator doors are closing. With eyes full of stars, he leaves me with old classic. “Been spending most of our lives…” And the doors shut tight, so tight, that the elevator begins to crack; up the walls, in all directions, into serpents that silver away.

It is suddenly very quiet, and the hallway gets a little creepy. 

“Hello..?” The word splits into a thousand echoes, which sends me into a state of alarm. I stop, drop, and roll; an automatic response, under my 8th grade desk, and back onto the hallway, on my feet again. “Whoa!” Forgetting what I learn, due to the unexpected, I press into my ears, harder, to muffle the sound.

“I’m looking for the Halloween Party…?” Although still other-worldly, the question is received a little differently; spinning down the hallway, and flushing into silence.

As any logical person would do in such a situation, I reach for a door, but realize that it doesn’t have a knob. None of them do. There are only holes where knobs should be. Checking around for anyone, a sign, anything–there is no one and nothing–I crouch down, to see what lies on the other side. And a hand shoots out! Suddenly! Which sends me flying back against a wall. It stretches as if waking from a deep deep slumber, clasps into a fist, and snaps shut. Then a rumble at my back sends me ping-ponging down the never-ending hallway, as hands shoot out in succession. 

I poke one, quickly, and nothing happens. I tap another a little harder, nothing happens. I try to turn one, and nothing happens. I put a little muscle this time into it, trying to turn this hand in any direction, but nothing happens. Getting a little flustered, I return to my bratty self, and flick a hand out of defeat, which in turn reprimands me with a slap. Tisk-tisk, it gestures. “Well, HAND, what am I supposed to do?” The hand is not interested in speaking to me anymore.

“Ganeshly!” Bracing myself, at first, for another ingratiating sonar experience, the name instead hurls singular, loud, and clear.

After a prolonged silence, a faint beat begins to cymbal, gradually getting louder, until its vibrating against the walls like a subwoofer, from I do not know where. Is that A Tribe Called Quest? The song gets louder, and a fist on a door beings to quiver…how extraordinary! And the fist beings to turn…and opens! Not the door, but the hand it opens! And a young boy pops out with little wings on his sneaks and A Tribe Called Quest’s, “I Lost my Wallet in El Segundo,” now fully blasting from his backpack. He pauses in profile, speaker facing directly at me. Interference. A voice scratches.

“LITTLE ONE?!” 

The Kid Apollo pops his gum, shuffles through tarot cards. 

“Where in the bloody butthole are you?!”

Ganeshly?” I frown.

“Who do you think it is, the ghost of Dr. Seuss?!I can hear her signature snap of her fingers, which interestingly enough, is timed in perfect synchronicity with the popping of Kid Apollo’s gum. 

What?

“It’s called a joke Little One. You’re going to have to be able to get jokes, and a lot faster than that by the time you get here, because I invited you, lest you forget, to a Halloween Party in heaven, which, lest you forget, is one hell of an invitation–snap.” 

“I’m standing in a goddamn never-ending hallway. How do I get to you?”

“You know the way, as you all do. You just forgot, as you all do. You gotta get through the confusion part. But chop chop! Everyone is dying to meet you…”

“What do you mean I know the way?”

She pauses for a long moment, long enough that Kid Apollo turns towards the speaker, and pops his gum. 

“…Aren’t you going to laugh at my joke?”

Kid Apollo sizzles with amusement. “Good one Ganeshly.”

I’m not so amused. “What is this? Purgatory? What’s the way out of here, please Ganeshly!”

“Hold on.” A sudden jolt, followed by some strange noises. Some “woo’s,” some “boo’s,” some “who’s,” that end with a soft-spoken gentleman with a Brazilian accent, giggling. “No no Ganeshly, I couldn’t, well ok, if you insist.” I try to interject, but to no avail, so I give into the shushing, and the snickers, until all falls silent. A guitar is strummed, and a familiar voice weeps. 

Feelings…”

“Oh no…”

“…Nothing more than feelings…”

I pinch my nose; Kid Apollo applauds. “Morris Albert, ladies and gentlemen…”

“…Trying to forget my feelings of love…"

“Morris…Morris. I really love your…one song, big fan, but could you get Ganeshly please?” 

As tickled as a feather, “Sure, Little One.” 

Ganeshly gets back on the line. “Get it? Follow the feeling, now CHOP CHOP.”

“A feeling, what feeling?”

Kid Apollo snaps his gum. “A feeling. What’s your feeling? And leaping into the palm from which he comes–”see you on the other side, Little One, or whatever your name is. Good luck”–the Kid Apollo shrinks out of existence.

I cast my glance down the never-ending hallway like fishing line, and it hook onto the tiniest point of light, hovering in the unmeasurable distance. 

“A feeling…”

A phone starts to ring. The hallway refracts at the slightest angle, and I burst into an apparition in pink, like a rose yet to be plucked, into the corridor of my old dormitory. My bag is too disorganized to find my phone quickly, but I feel it, in between my notebook pages, no, my Art History book. A hand starts to shake, and from it Lucy explodes, who pushes me into our dorm room. 

“Maria, Oh, My God Maria! Literally, literally literally!!” Chucking my bag across the room, slapping me across the face, I cry–“Lucy what, WHAT?” 

“Remember those French guys we met…”

“Yes…” 

"I'm with them right now…”

"But you’re here right now…”

“it’s called technology Maggie! Get with the program. They ran into Matty J at some bar last night and he gave them my number..." 

"Way to give out our number to strange men..."

"Whatever, that Buffoon is literally all over my nuts…”

"Yes, Lucy, and?"

“And, I met their roommate.

“So?”

“You literally have to come to this bar right now. Right now.” Grabbing me by the collar, she spins me out the door, across the hallway; now in a fit of cosmic confetti, through a crowd ringing in the new year, a gorilla cage at a Zoo; it happens too fast to tell you which one, and into 1849; the bar I almost do not walk into, where I crash into Frenchie.

*

I end up at a restaurant in New York City. Sicilian olives are being poured into bowls on the bar. My flip phone—how ancient that seems now—hangs in my hand. It’s empty in here, just before the doors open for dinner. I don’t know what to do. It is my first night on the job, and the last night of my father’s life. Or, at least, I think it is? A little dazed, I put the phone in my apron, grab a stack of cutlery and set the room for dinner.

White, white, white, all I see is white. “Are you ok?” That’s all I can hear, setting down cutlery, in perfect lines. I don’t know to whom I am addressing the question, to him, to me, or both? The question feels foreign to me, as if posed by a strange voice.

“ARE YOU OK?”

Startled, I look up. I cannot quite compute why the other server is so frightened, pointing below my belly-button. “You’re just putting knives down, over and over again.

My head drops to the white tablecloth, to a pile of blades, that form the sharpest interrogation–“I think my father is dying..?” 

It’s December and it’s snowing. 

Ganeshly snaps her fingers–“Grab that drink little one, it’s time to move on!”

She’s right. It’s the natural progression of things.

Snap–snap–snap, she keeps me on her kitten heels, and on the beat. “One foot in front of the other now! It’s time to really get this party started!” Pivoting towards the elevator, pushing her way through a crowd of souls, that doesn’t seem to end–have an end–the floor is changing shape once again. 

“But what’s happening to heaven?!”

“Heaven moves with you Little One.”

I dig my heels to hold onto that Heaven in June a little longer, before you go downhill, when you are still alive, so I can speed-through all the things I understand now. The floor rejects this base human desire, but I have the hubris to think I can win this fight, so I refuse to move–Before you go, I just want say–about you–about me–I’m sorry for youth–that it reminds you how fast we are growing, both of us older, too fast, too s…”

Sassy fingernails fan out like fireworks–“Fuck this elevator, it’s going to take forever!” Ganeshly changes directions once again, and I am flung like a dirty rag into the snow. Soft and dense beneath me. A sidewalk, Christmas lights. I’m on a street in New York–downtown–Nolita. Ganeshly flies past my nose; and grabs onto my wrist, knocking over souls like a bowling ball going I don’t know where. “Oh hell no, I don’t have time for this...” We’re dashing so fast, that everything begins to swirl into a flurry of a tunnel, that freezes into an icy blue, the color of ice in cartoons, that kind of fake frost looking blue, whatever that means. But the air has a hint of other in it; a color I cannot find in a Benjamin Moore booklet I’m looking through with my father. The color of breath disappearing. It is really snowing.

“Ganeshly, where are we?!”

“Does it look like I have time to look at the scenery?!”

We take a sharp right into a break room–past a microwave, packets of instant coffee, ramen noodles, and a couple of soft-speaking employees sipping mugs. From where Ganeshly procures it, I do not know, but before I can blink, a sack hits me in the face. “Put the shit in there!” Snatching supplies in a fury, I can barely catch it all as she launches–trail mix, fishing rod, multivitamins, magic markers, whiteout, a lightbulb–which she tests with a flick of her fingernail–and a pair of socks. 

“Always good to have an extra pair…”

“But…”

“Zip it Little One!”

Kitten heels tick-tick to a stop, and she taps taps, impatient, at a wall. It slides open like an automatic door, and time accelerates; a mysterious sound. Through a white picket fence, past a gardener mowing the lawn, she swings open a red front door, and we arrive on a magic carpet that speaks in a calm voice. “Please contain all limbs, thoughts, and feelings inside the parameters of the carpet. We shall be leaving and arriving everywhere in no time.” A stewardess is handing out coconuts and pineapples adorned with colorful umbrellas and fruits, and up in the box seats, reaching into the majestic scene of eggshell clouds, are couples in evening gowns holding up ivory opera glasses. “Wow, Ganeshly, this is…”

Arms crossed, standing straight and serious, Ganeshly puts on large black sunglasses. “Stay close Little One. Everyone tells you that heaven is all banquets and clouds and concerts and shit, but anything can happen in heaven. And you get all sorts of weirdos. Especially on a night like tonight, Halloween, or do I have to remind you? Souls all over the fucking place. So many souls going in and out of heaven. Too many ghosts disguised as people, too many people disguised as ghosts, you can’t tell the difference! A Little One like you could really get twisted in a place like this.” 

An attempt to interject, to ask for clarity, for an answer, anything that will help a mortal mind make sense of the intangible, unreachable, and unknowable–where are we, where are we going, where do we end up, what opera are we going to see, why did any of this happen, why are you my sister, and why do we keep finding each other here–is shut down with a pinching of her fingernails. “Dismissed.” With her free hand, she taps my nose with a shiny metal black card.

“Is that a black AMEX Ganeshly?!”  

“Yup num-nut, it’s our badge! And you don’t have one!” Rocketing off the carpet, that I am not sure even moves, we hurl down a corridor of moving boxes, stacks of files, and Jerry Lewis taking a swig of Whiskey. “Oh my!” “Don’t get distracted!” Past a line of ravers with candy necklaces, a cowboy spinning a lasso, through which stumble an old pair of bewildered Floridians with beach chairs, Ganeshly and I arrive at an industrial chic door, with a black box next to it. Tapping her black AMEX badge against it, Ganeshly swings open the heavy door to a stairwell that is a two-lane highway at rush hour, and everyone is drunk behind the wheel. The speed at which the bodies are moving, is whipping up such a mighty wind, that my hair is flying all over my face.

Through stream of bodies going in opposite directions, chatter and footsteps slap hard against concrete steps. Pipes shoot in and out of walls in all directions; clanking, clamoring, beating with voices in a fit of avant grade jazz. I trip on a step covered with snow, grab hold of the railing. There are too many snowflakes, too many bodies happy and loose on booze descending, ascending; their voices so loud. Why do people always scream in stairwells? Is that a keg? What kind of office is this? I bump shoulders with Chewbacca, make sharp twists and turns around I Dream Of Genie, a pirate with parrot, the cast of Looney Tunes. Every apparition reminds of things I watch with my father who would call the musicians present—SIA, The Week-end, Beyoncé—“a bunch of noise” which is what became of his mind. Every memory is ripped from the ground so he starts stacking papers and papers. The air is flying with as many snowflakes as strangers, limbs as papers, I don’t know what else to do but to keep moving.

“Maggie hurry up, hurry UP!” 

Up.

The trunk of Ganesh falls over the railing. Fluorescence forms a halo around the floppy ears of a drunk god. She smiles lovingly at me, my sister who looks nothing like me. Juliette appears next to her and pours like honey from her halo—“I see thee, now thou art so low, As one dead in the bottom of a tomb! Oooooooohhh!!!” Ganeshly throws Juliette some major shade, but Juliette is too committed to her ghost costume to notice, and flies up the steps flailing her arms like a lunatic. Suddenly my feet hurt, I’m not sure how many stories we’ve climbed. 

“Hurry UP!” She cries. “I’m holding the door!” 

“Ganeshly!” How many stories did we climb?” 

“One, keep drinking!”

“You call this one story?!”

“I told you to wear flats!”

I cannot get to him in time. So I don’t. It feels too inhuman to receive such news on the NJ Transit, and spend another two hours in some dingy train car unable to move by my own volition. As it is at the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, the case with him and me. Too much space, time, and age between us to ever reach each other. So I wander through the streets, gazing into scenes from our life through shop windows; amazed at how even the most garish and hideous pieces can soften and glow in the right lighting. 

Shakespeare bumps my shoulder–“I was so high when I said that…” Tupac snickers–“Oh, yo Ganeshly…nice webs.” Flashing her nails as he passes–“Hey girl heyyyy…”

In the twilight of winter, I don’t know what else to do, but to keep moving through snowflakes and strangers; changing shape one after another.

 

 

Inspiration

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Past and future, far and near had joined together and fused in the life of my mind
— The Blind Owl, Sadegh Hedayat
Love caught us suddenly, leaped at us like a murderer appearing from out of nowhere in an alley, and struck us both down at once. Like lightning, like a Finnish knife! However, afterward she insisted it was not so, that we had loved each other for a long, long time, without knowing one another, never having met.
— The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
No dramatics, please no dramatics, Azazello responded, grimacing. After all, my position isn’t enviable either. Punching a house manager on the jaw, or kicking out an uncle, or shooting someone, or other trifles of that kind–those are directly in my life. But talking to women in love–thank you kindly!”
— The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
Seen from high above...Rebecca, the tall, black-haired high school students, imagined as a toddler–made me think, as I drifted idly beside a small upside-down omelette pan, of fairy story scenarios featuring shrinking children and gigantic babies ugly toads ‘kissed’ into princes, and paupers crowned as kings, the whole inventory of enchantments and transformations that describe life in the realm of the unconscious.
— The Verificationist, Donal Antrim
It is my hope...say something worthwhile about what I call the verifiability in emotional experience
— The Verificationist, Donald Antrim
And I wonder if that seemingly feeble thing, my voice, does not perhaps embody the substance of thousands of voices, the hunger to speak out of thousands of lives, the patience of millions of souls who, like me, have submitted in their daily lives to vain dreams and evanescent hopes.
— The Book of Disquiet, Fernando Pessoa
Life is nothing but a fiction, a mere story
— The Blind Owl, Sadegh Hedayat
I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her. Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
...
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer and these the last verses that I write for her.
— Tonight, I Can Write The Saddest Lines, Pablo Neruda