Does the somewhat understated tone fit with the story? Does the ending work or is it too simplistic? Should the story be longer or is the current length sufficient? All critique appreciated.
Felicity realized that she should have brought a jacket with her. It was a lot colder up here than she imagined, and she nestled against the corner, hoping the low wall would block some of the wind that was picking up, irrespective of the bright mid morning sun. The back of her neck prickled with shivers and she rubbed her cold elbows and up her shoulders. She paused, arms across her chest and hands wrapped around her shoulder blades. It almost felt like a real hug.
The cracks in the concrete plaster poked into her back and she shifted back and forth, trying to find a smooth angle. She should have at least worn a long sleeve, but there was no point in going back to get one. She wanted all the sun she could get today. So she pulled her knees up close and folded her arms on top, resting her chin on them.
In the apartment across from her she could see the maid on the roof hanging up laundry on a makeshift clothes line. But every gust of wind blew the sheet over her face, she’d stumble around like a ghost for a second or two before pulling it off, revealing her human form. And then the wind would puff again and she’d revert back to her phantom state. On and off, on and off, the wind and the the woman wrestled. Felicity smiled a little as the wind took the game one step further and tossed a sheet towards the edge, the woman’s mouth rounding in a shriek as she chased it and snagged the corner before it had a chance to go over.
The beeping of her watch interrupted her spectating and Felicity immediately pressed the mute button. She wasn’t going to that meeting; she knew the minute she stepped into the office someone would ask about her sister, and she just didn’t have the energy to lie today. Besides, the weather was nice outside; the sun was still shining, pretending that all was warm and cozy.
A horn blasted below her and she peered over the wall at the street below where a bus was trying to make a right turn during green light. A swarm of motorists were barricaded by the slowly turning vehicle, several of the more daring ones making a run for it, zipping out and around the rolling bus, their bikes swerving and twisting to avoid the angry rebuke of the bus’ horn. On the sidewalk a group of teenagers waited for the chaos to disperse so they could cross the road. They nudged each other and laughed, passing their phones around like secret notes in a classroom. As soon as the bus turned they meandered out onto the road, dodging cars and ducking past trucks to get to the other side.
Felicity thought she heard her phone ringing and felt around her pockets only to find she hadn’t brought it with her. It didn’t matter; the only people calling today would be her boss or her mother, neither of whom she wanted to deal with. She wanted one last day of peace and sanity and she was determined to have it, even if she had to imagine it. Digging in her pockets she pulled out a pack of cigarettes and her lighter. She should’ve quit by now, in light of what happened to Alice last year. Today would be her last smoke, then. She lit one and stuffed the pack behind her. She would leave it here when she left; perhaps some other addict trying to break the habit would find them and start smoking again.
The sun starting backing away, behind the skyline, and the wind took over the skies, dropping the temperature down by degrees. The smoke from her third cigarette blew back into her nose, making her sneeze. It might have been the cold, too, but by now her arms were already numb. Her fingertips tingled and she pressed them into her icy cheeks.
Below her came the cartoon voices of her neighbor’s favorite television show. He seemed to be binge watching that show this month because she would hear the same jingle every evening at seven. And he always left his windows open, even in the middle of winter.
The voices babbled on in that loud, overly clear and enunciated way. They were saying some kind of inspirational bullshit about how everyone is the star of their own movie, and everyone has to go through tragedy and get treated like crap. “Otherwise the end won’t be as rewarding,” the character intoned.
Felicity chuckled to herself as she got up and sat on the wall, her feet swinging against the edge. She thought it was ridiculous, really, that whole movie star speech. It only worked, she reasoned, if you were the star of a Disney or Hollywood movie. But if your life was a foreign film, for example, then you had no guarantee of a satisfying ending. She knew how those movies ended, with the protagonist being alone or dead or raped or in jail. And sometimes the endings didn’t even make sense, they were just shitty and unfair.
She flicked the ash off the end of the cigarette and took a deep breath, puffing out the smoke in little wispy white clouds. The chatter below stopped and the neighbor poked his head out the window. “Hey your ashes are getting blown into my--oh. Felicity. Are…you okay?”
She nodded. “Why?”
“Um…you should probably go inside soon…and get a sweater.”
“Yeah, I probably should,” she sighed.
The man glanced down at the city below, the dirty yellow streetlights highlighting the small crowd gathering on the sidewalk. “Also you’re garnering quite a following down there.”
“Finally.” She tapped her cigarette on the edge. “It’s nice to be noticed, I guess.”
He craned his neck up, squinting against the night. “You know someone’s called the cops by now. Don’t think you want to get yelled at by them.”
“Oh I’ll be long gone by then, don’t worry, I won’t hear a thing they say.” She stubbed out her cigarette and tossed it behind her.
“Don’t litter,” he warned.
“Okay, fine.” She picked it up and pushed it back inside the pack. “You want?” she mumbled through the next cigarette between her teeth.
“No, thanks, I actually quit a year ago.”
“Wow. Was it hard?”
“Yeah. The hardest thing I’ve ever done, really.”
“Your life must be easy,” she muttered. “Did you finish the your tv show?”
“Almost. Until you started breathing ash into my living room carpet.”
“Ah sorry about that. I heard that thing about the movie star speech though, and it sounded so stupid. I mean what if you’re the star of a horror film and the only reward you’ll get in the end is getting hacked up by some psycho clown?”
“You do know that in most horror movies the protagonist is the only one who survives, right?”
“Yeah but then he’s gonna be fucked in the head and spend most of the rest of his life in therapy.” She nibbled on her fingers. “You have an extra jacket I can borrow?”
“Sure, if you come down and get it. It’s a lot warmer here,” he gestured inside. “Plus I made popcorn. And there’s probably some cocoa somewhere in the cupboard.”
“Hmmm. What flavor did you make the popcorn?”
“Ugh. Yuck. Gross,” she sputtered. “Caramel maybe is tolerable, but really the best way to make it is just salt and butter. Chocolate and popcorn is disgusting.”
“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” he laughed.
“I just did. In my mind. It tasted horrible.”
“Fine.” He raised his hands. “I guess that means you’re not coming down then?”
“No. I’ll be gone in a little while anyways.”
“Okay.” He turned away but then stopped. “Just think it over, please. It’s not as bad as you think.”
“How do you know?” she challenged.
“How do you know?” he answered. “Maybe today is shit, and so was yesterday and the day before, the year before. But what’s to say about tomorrow or next month? Or even in five, ten years?”
“Ten years?” She choked on a mouthful of smoke. “Why the fuck would anyone wait that long? What if it just gets worse?”
“Maybe.” He shrugged. “I don’t know, no one does. It’s fifty-fifty, a toss of the dice. But at least you’ll have a dice to keep rolling. You never know. Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“It got stabbed. And decapitated. And then chopped up and fed through a meat grinder. Twice.”
“Ouch,” he winced. “I guess you need to piece it back together then. Like those ten thousand piece puzzles that no one ever finishes.”
“And then when they finally do some dickhead kid knocks the board over.”
“Exactly.” He glanced down at the red and blue lights swimming through the traffic towards them. “The cops are almost here. If you change your mind just ring my doorbell. It’ll save you a trip to the hospital.”
“I wasn’t planning on going to the hospital,” she pointed out.
“You never know. That’s the problem with life, you can never know for sure. But that’s what makes it worth living, right?” He smiled at her, or at least she thought he did. It was too dark to see for sure but she thought she had felt it. Then he was gone, ducking his head back in and closing the window.
She swung her legs around and off the wall and then laid down on the floor of the roof. The sirens below sang as she buried her hands into her pockets. She shouldn’t make a mess for others, she could at least be considerate for once in her life. The pharmacy downstairs was still open for another hour, her couch would be a lot more comfortable than the sidewalk. But then maybe pills would make a mess too. She hadn’t researched that part so she couldn’t be sure. That’s what he had said; you can never be too sure about anything.
The moment she pressed the doorbell her eyes started filling. She bit her tongue and blinked hard but by the time he opened the door the tears were running down her cheeks. He pulled her in for a hug. “Hey,” he whispered.
“Okay,” she sobbed. “Okay…okay.”