The Eleventh Floor

Submitted into Contest #148 in response to: Write about an apartment building being demolished.... view prompt


Coming of Age

I got up at five and drank a hot cup of instant coffee as quickly as I could. The coffee was strong and chased away the half a night's sleep fogging my mind.

I thought it was important to really see the place one last time. Jay, my only friend left in Taiwan who can remember what happened told me the old place was coming down. I had chased away the memories for several nights with tall cans of beer.

Then one day I woke up and I thought I should look.

Then I thought I shouldn't.

The Pong game in my head. The ball, expertly flying across the screen of my mind and never out of play.

It was better to go and see. I know the memories could hurt, but I also needed to know that I did something about something I couldn't do anything about.

I picked the scabs on my knees and elbows as a boy, and now I pick at the wounds in my heart and mind.

I remembered the life before. The pain before Taiwan, and the pain now.

He said he 'sometimes thought he was a sociopath,' as he laughed eruptiously down on me. I wished to disappear into the earth. I was frozen in my seat in the coffee shop where I'd first met her. He'd hit on her, and I hung back resigned to failure. But my silence had appealed and my growing time with her and away from him had brought a change.

My life was changing, and his wasn't.

I expect now that this was a pain he saw easily how to change into a great pleasure. My pain was a food for him. I was cooked in his gaslighting and browned black in shame

He'd driven her away because I didn't believe he and his friend would, and because he could. And because she was a harbour safe for me from his scheming and controlling behavior. He broke it up because he couldn't have her.

This jealousy, once finally detected, became the bedrock upon which I could build my new life. It began to get easy once I could see. If he indeed envied me, and clearly, he did, then my value wasn't the zero I thought it to be, but instead, some unimagineable sliver only he could see. It couldn't be much, I thought, but it also couldn't be nothing.

He would never reveal it.

I'd need to find others. People who didn't control me. People who didn't demean me to others. People who didn't love hating me.

People like her.

I remembered her hair. Her skin that stretched a warm, healing world beneath my hands. Her lips and the promise in her eyes. The joy she felt and created as she sang along with the radio. Her face in the afernoon and evening. Her face in our one night of hot sweating car sex.

And her phone call soon afterwards.

A new world taken from me by my sociopath friend and his new friend.

The shame and the loneliness and pain.

Then, glacially, her love of cats, and my budding realization that people can also have nine lives.

In Taiwan, I met more like the sociopath from my youth, but the walls held. Soon, I had a home and a door people would knock on.

The life he'd knocked down had not grown back like a cancer, but was instead built back with rules and work and friends and change and love.

I got downtown after sunrise and the day was already getting hot.

The streets stood eerily vacant. Soon a sea of cars, trucks buses and Taiwan's signature, the motorscooter, would roar and scream and smoke impatiently over them, but it was still safe to trust I could be alone in the morning with an old memory scheduled so soon for demolition.

I saw a worker spraying the road as a dumptruck exited the demolition site. His face bored and his movements robotic. A river of brown clay apartment blood ground up by the parade trucks washed lazily down a drainage grill at the roadside. It shone gold and tree bark in the morning light. The noise of the workers and their machines broke open the day.

The building was wrapped nearly completely in a shroud of cloth to protect people and property below from any falling objects. The place looked as dirty, gray and dead as it clearly was. I looked up and saw I could still count the floors, visible through the blowing cloth, and fixed my eyes on the eleventh floor through the gauze around the building.

What had been the courtyard beneath the building was now a sea of brown mud cut apart everywhere by the snake tracks of the dump trucks. My mind recreated the courtyard's hard tile floor, flowerbeds and irongate easily.

And then the memories raced through me speeding motorcycle fast.

The airport in Taoyuan, the bars, the foreign cigarettes, the endless summers, the holidays, the plans and dreams and the endless nights of food and friends and drinks to safeguard us from life and the tropical sun.

Then Tommy. Still alive, but only in memories. His laugh and kindness. His love of books. His vacations to Bali. His taste in food. His CD collection and the blasting grunge rock that fed so many great times long past.

Then there the constructions. Memories formed by the magic of words spoken in explanation of Tommy's strange death. Words that painted pictures across my mind.

Tommy's shoes and socks found afterwards on the floor of the common balcony beside the elevators which promised an easy jump of one meter into his kitchen balcony where he could retrieve his house key and whatever else he needed and had locked himself out of.

His kitchen where we ate and talked with the beautiful girls from the bar.

His living room and 90's movies and work and life.

Then Jesse, his Taiwanese girlfriend telling me through gasps, snot and tears that the police had ruled it an accidental death and not a suicide because of the key found in the apartment and the shoes and socks found outside. Her Nirvana T-shirt. Her beautiful hair hanging limp and ugly. The red eyes. The All Stars she'd been wearing so much that summer.

She told me he made the jump once before.

It had worked out. That time.

Just once.

The pain is still real but not raw. Soon the building and the trucks will be gone. A new building will be and I'll see it. The pain will be older, but I see so clearly that will be sticking around like a squatter.

'I'm still fucking here I thought,' and looked up at the hot sun burning my tears away.

May 28, 2022 12:40

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Lily Finch
02:51 Sep 05, 2022

Robert, thanks for the good read! It's like these two lines don't go together: "that I did something about something I couldn't do anything about. I picked the scabs on my knees and elbows as a boy, and now I pick at the wounds in my heart and mind.", except they really do. I found this sorrowful. The ending was A Street Car Named Desirish a bit. But I thought is was a great ending just the same. LF6


Robert Gross
01:26 Sep 07, 2022

Thanks so very much for taking the time to read and comment, Lily! Best wishes to you!


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Graham Kinross
09:23 Jul 13, 2022

“ I also needed to know that I did something about something I couldn't do anything about.” With that much repetition of the word something this sentence should be clunky but I know exactly what you meant and I really like it. There are always exceptions to the rules and this sentence is one of them. This is really poignant. Great ending, grim, but with some defiant hope.


Robert Gross
09:38 Aug 27, 2022

Thanks very much for your comment and for reading my story. it's very kind of you to take the time. Again, cheers!


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Craig Westmore
11:27 Jun 28, 2022

Intense story, Robert. Some great lines. "The Pong game in my head." " I pick at the wounds in my heart and mind." "A river of brown clay apartment blood..." The part about the sociopath distracted me. Was it a real person or in his head? The woman he loved was also vague. I wasn't sure how they fit into the story. However, the dread and indecision about seeing the apartment at the beginning was a great build up. And the details about what happened were engaging. As well as the description of the distraught girlfriend. I loved th...


Robert Gross
13:31 Jun 30, 2022

Hi Craig, Thanks very much for your comment. I'm so grateful you read my story and used some of your time to comment. The sociopath and the girlfriend were supposed to be vague. I'm interested in learning more about trauma and I understand that memories can be very fragmented in people who suffer pain. I realize now that the part about the sociopath and the girlfriend wasn't really clear enough, but I was hoping to paint a person remembering pain and then sort of sent into a spiral. He remembers other hurts that are connected. I suppose I ...


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