The Balcony by Vanessa Choo

Second place honours in the short story category, Mensa Canada 2020 Literary Contest

An oldish looking building of thirty-four stories… yes, that’s the one.

I live on the thirty-third floor. The penthouse on the top floor has a floor area smaller than the floor below; so on my floor, four of us, we have these massive uncovered balconies that are the full lengths of two sides of our apartments. I love that balcony, I used to be out there all the time and my bedroom opens out to it.

Stop here. You’ll pay the cab fare? Great. Let’s get into the lobby.

The lift’s here. Pardon the slow elevator – old building you know.

I don’t know why you are asking me about everything again. You must have heard them all in our sessions. But ok, I’ll go over again.

I was in that state, half awake, because of the thunderstorm outside. Thunder, lightning and flashing lights heralded his arrival. My first reflex to scream upon finding a strange man on my balcony vanished when he looked at me with those eyes… and I was hypnotized.

After the first time, he comes to me frequently, always with a flash of lightning and arriving on different places on the balcony. I must have asked where he was from and how he comes and I’m sure he has replied me; but I never quite remember the next day. Alien? Traveler from another dimension? Figment of my imagination? I could never quite comprehend but as soon as he comes he has me under his spell and it doesn’t seem important to sort that out.

I became obsessed with him; I wanted more, I wanted more than just apparently in my dreams and just sometimes; I also wanted to go where he came from. I examined my balcony in detail and marked out the spots he had landed on. I had even noticed that he leaves on the same spots that he arrives on.

I measured with compass, protractor, and measuring tape, and connected the spots in different arrangements, hoping to see a pattern. I calculated distances between spots and angles, I tried to overlay constellations and other more esoteric patterns.

Maybe, just maybe, some of these landing spots are also departure spots. Maybe with the right time and atmospheric conditions, I could go where he comes from. Or perhaps with the right incantation.

Oh, here we are, on the thirty-third floor and that’s my door. Voila! – The best apartment I ever lived in. Want a tour? Here’s the kitchen and dining area, and there you can see the huge balcony from the living room.

Let’s go out to the balcony.

Oh yes, those are the spots I have marked. In case there’s a pattern you know. There is definitely one, you can see it is not random, but I’ve yet to figure it out.

Oh yes, I was saying, eventually I lost it.

That’s when they put me away. And when I got violent, wanting to be in my own home, in case he comes to me again, they put me in a jacket with sleeves that are too long. Aggressive treatments, they decided, and they put me on course after course of drugs and other therapies I now try to forget.

However, eventually science won over imagination and they “cured” me. I no longer believe he was real. They released me from the hospital and life soon went back to normal. I got a job writing product descriptions for a mail order catalog company, a far cry from the prestigious magazine I was writing a feature section for but, hey, what do you expect from an ex-loony. I ought to be grateful the asylum’s Outplacement Director bothered to find me this job instead of the usual waitress or doorman jobs.

Also, I have to see you regularly. You know all these.

I threw myself into work, putting in long hours and taking up more projects. Life is good, I suppose, for within a year, I’ve received a promotion and two pay raises.

“You are so imaginative with your words!” they all say. If only they knew how imaginative. But to be very honest with myself, a part of me, the imaginative me, died in that hospital and for that I’m sad. I would have preferred to keep the mad or diseased part of my psyche that knows he is real. I was content to remain in that state of reality, if only I could get back there again.

I hadn’t dared to go out on my balcony for a while after I was released home; it wasn’t that difficult, with the long hours I was putting in at work. But after my second pay raise, I felt obligated to invite my colleagues to my apartment for a celebration. Of course they all wanted to be out on the balcony, and after a while I joined them, cautiously.

Yes, the markings are still there. As my guests wandered around the balcony, nibbling and sipping, I thought I saw a new pattern! I took out a measuring tape and started making some more lines.

The next thing I know, you called, saying I hadn’t gone to work for two days and insisting I go to your office. It is really good of you to agree to come back with me to see that everything is ok.

So you can see, I am perfectly well. I just was overworked and needed those two days of rest. But look at the spots and tell me they are perfectly random. They are not!

Hang on… I see my problem now. The pattern would extend to the next balcony. Of course!

I need to go over to complete the pattern, then it’ll work. I’ll just climb over. Now, pass me the compass and the tape. Here, a mark on west-south-west, then two feet up, a mark on south west and then following the existing marks…

<Flash!>