I was shaving when I first noticed it. Probably a third of the way through my face, I was trying to rinse the head of the razor before starting the next swipe, and the water stopped coming down. My first thought was that someone had turned off my water because of some unpaid bill. Of course that was ridiculous, but it’s where my mind went for whatever reason. But then I looked at the faucet and saw that the water was still coming out of the faucet, it just wasn’t coming down. Little droplets went in a variety of directions. Up, across, and one little rivulet that meandered, leaving a trail like a snake and never quite touching the sink itself. It gave the impression of being alive.
I turned off the faucet and watched for a bit, trying to determine if the water would get into anything, a light socket or something that would cause a problem. It didn’t look like it. I went out of the bathroom and said, “Honey, I think gravity’s not working.”
I heard Christine before I saw her. “You don’t say.”
She came into the bedroom before I had much time to guess how it was manifesting itself for her. Her hair was waving around, like she was standing in front of a fan, but moving slowly. “When did it start for you?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Few seconds ago. Not more than a minute, probably.” Christine sat down on the bed. A chunk of hair waved back and forth in front of her eyes. To her credit, she didn’t blink. Not that I expected to her. She said, “You going for a new style in facial hair?”
The last time that gravity had stopped working, it had only been for an hour or so. I thought I could wait it out and finish my shaving later, though maybe I was just being hopeful. “Yeah,” I said, “you think it’s sexy?”
She raised an eyebrow. “That’s not the word I’d use.” One of the pillows on the bed started to rise up.I knew that she had nothing to do with it, but it still seemed unfair. Christine must have seen my eyes go towards it, because she turned to look at it, too. When it got near her, she batted it lightly in my direction. We were silent as it slowly floated my way. I wished that I knew what made that one float up while the other ones stayed down. When it go to me, I grabbed one corner. “Maybe I can shave in the kitchen sink.”
Now the blanket on the bed started to float up a little around Christine. This time, she didn’t bother to turn towards it. The blanket looked like Christine was wearing some strange dress. “Maybe,” she said. “You think you can make it down the stairs?”
We’d both heard stories of people who tried to work against the gravity breakdowns. Stupid kids who thought they could dunk a basketball or skateboard off of a roof while it was on the fritz. It hardly ever turned out well for them. Just going down the stairs didn’t seem like it would be dangerous, though. I could hang onto the railing so that, if and when gravity kicked on again, I’d only fall a few feet. And that was if I started floating, which wasn’t a given. Of course, me making a point of going down the stairs now could have made me seem a little like a dick. “I guess I’m not in a big hurry to be clean shaven any way.” I leaned against the bathroom door frame. “Though we’ll have to go downstairs to eat eventually.”
The blanket kept floating up around Christine. Now it was like a hammock, but she was sitting the wrong way. She said, “Unless we have to end up eating each other.” She eyed me up and down. “If I get hungry enough, I think I could probably take you.”
I gave a little bit of a laugh. A second pillow started up, but then it eased back down. I tried to think about if I’d seen something like that happen before. “Let’s hope that we don’t have to find out.”
Christine curled up inside of the floating blanket. I kind of felt like I should go to her, like she was being playful. But every step could have been treacherous. Not so much the floor, but what if one of my shoes floated? It was hard to know what was legitimate, rational rather than ridiculous. “Just trying to sleep through it?” I asked.
Christine fake snored. I chuckled a little. Enough so that she could hear, I was sure. The shaving cream on my face was starting to dry. Maybe there was enough water floating around in the bathroom to wash it off my face. Maybe it would make the shaving cream float off with the water. Or maybe the water would be weighed down by the shaving cream. But there was first the problem of getting the water down and onto my face. It was hard not to picture myself not falling off the sink counter, one of the few things in the room that could fall. So instead, I just went into the bathroom, grabbed a dirty sock from the hamper, and wiped my face.
When I went back into the bedroom, Christine was sitting up again. “You abandoned me.”
Her statement had a dramatic effect, because her hair was floating in practically every direction. It looked a little like a painting of a sunrise. “I would never,” I said.
Christine stood up, and the blanket went up to the ceiling. She didn’t bother to look back the whole time. It’s possible that she didn’t even notice the blanket. Standing there and watching, I felt every part of my body itch as I tried to stay mostly still. I allowed myself to drag my left heel on the carpet a few times, but scratching the back of my neck seemed like it would be a little too much. As the last few pieces of the blanket pressed against the ceiling, I thought that she looked remarkably comfortable, though who knows if she really was.
She came to me and touched my elbow, a playful expression on her face. “You can’t promise me that.” She ran her hand up from my elbow to the middle of my upper arm, where she patted me lightly. “What if you float off one day?”
The weirdest thing was that, under different circumstances, it would have been a very serious question. Either of us could have floated off some day, like the water from the faucet or the blanket on the bed. Or Christine’s hair. What if one of my intestines started to float off? But I knew that Christine didn’t want to hear anything like that. “Well,” I said, “That’s exactly why I’ve been eating more.” I patted my belly. “It’s an insurance policy against these kinds of disruptions pulling me away.”
She pulled her hand away from my arm and touched my belly button. It wasn’t really pleasant. “Is that why I keep you around? Someone heavy to hold onto so that I don’t float off?”
When she said it, I had an image of a little child floating away. It was the kind of stupid urban-legend image that everyone had heard of at this point. The child who floated into space and froze to death. The child who floated into the sky and was hit by a plane. The child who floated into the sky and, when gravity returned, fell to earth and died. Of course, you never met anyone who actually saw any of these things happen, but they seemed vaguely plausible when you heard them. I looked at Christine and realized that she was probably waiting for my reply. “I thought about myself more as a big cuddly teddy bear than as an anchor.”
Christine laughed and put her forehead against my shoulder. She put one hand on the unshaven part of my face. That was pleasant. “You’re furry enough.”
I smiled, but my heart wasn’t totally in it. It seemed like she must have been able to tell. Or maybe I was just paranoid. “And fluffy enough,” I said.
Christine went back to the bed. I knew that I was supposed to do something, but I wasn’t totally sure of what that might be. “We can cuddle as you float to the moon, then,” she said.
The left side of her hair started to drift down towards her head. “Sounds like something out of a song,” I told her.
“By Hozier or by 21 Pilots?” She wisped her finger through the floating bit of hair. I’d never been a big fan of Hozier, but it would’ve been an odd time to complain about him.
“Maybe I should take up songwriting,” I said.
Christine laughed. I went into my back pocket and took out a quarter. I flipped it to see if it would float. Instead, it dropped to the floor. “Tails,” I said, “guess I won’t go into music.”
Christine said, “All this talk of coin flips and the moon is making me hungry. I think I’m going to spare you my cannibalism and try the kitchen after all.”
I touched the quarter with my big toe. “Sure it’s safe?”
She stood and shrugged. “If I start floating, then I can tell my mother that I’ve finally starting losing weight.”
It didn’t seem like the kind of joke that I should laugh at. Saying that I thought she looked good also seemed stupid, so I just kind of smiled. For some reason, her hair started to stand out in back, like a strange ponytail.
Christine raised her eyebrows and headed out of the bedroom. I tried to listen to her footsteps as she went down the stairs. It would have been easy to yell and tell her that she was wrong for going downstairs after telling me that it might have been impossible. Of course, I understood that the whole act of going down the stairs was a gesture. So much seemed to be these days. And I knew better than to worry about her floating off or falling. She would have called out for sure. Unless she enjoyed the feeling of weightlessness. Which I suppose I could understand. The very first time that gravity cut out, it was exciting. The floating, the levitation. A friend of mine told me about how he and his boyfriend had sex while floating. Apparently it was some boundary shattering experience, though I didn’t fully get it. He was a little graphic, and I probably got distracted by that.
The point is, it was exciting at first. Or at least that’s how I remember it. The strangeness and even danger made it interesting. Now it was an even combination of annoyance and dread. I walked to the top of the stairs and looked down. Christine had made it all the way down. I couldn’t hear her walking, and an image of her floating in the kitchen popped into my head. Her hand opening the fridge with her feet touching the ceiling. If I went down, maybe I would find her like an astronaut, or Peter Pan. Or I should let her enjoy it on her own, not interrupting her fun.
On top of all of this is the uncertainty of whether the events will continue, get worse, or stop. Despite all of our knowledge, all of our science, we can’t seem to either predict or control them. What if I regret missing my last chance? What if I don’t prepare for an even worse event? In the end, I just take a few steps forward, feeling the carpet press down, I think. It’s so hard to tell. And even if I feel like I’m losing my weight, it could be in my mind. I won’t know for sure until a foot floats into the air. And what then?
Zeke Jarvis is a professor of English at Eureka College. His work has appeared in Post, Moon City Review, and Cicada, among other places. His books include So Anyway…, In A Family Way, Lifelong Learning, and The Three of Them.
Image: “disappointed” by Yousef Abdelmagid