Allister thought it sounded so simple. So, the stock market crashed. So, the stock market fell. Things so often fall, he thought. And they did and do and have always and will always continue to do so. And someone, some thing, or some force will pick them back up again.
And yet this fall felt different. This fall was documented in all capital letters and exclamation points. This fall, in one sudden drop, aged young faces directly into their twilight years.
The stock market fell and there was nothing left to pick up.
And so men leapt from the tops of buildings.
Some picked their buildings with care- choosing one that held meaning, perhaps a place where they had first kissed their gal. Some made their choice in haste, sprinting to the roof of the building closest to them and hoping it was high enough. Some went feet first, some went head first. And so on and so forth.
The stock market fell and people fell with it.
Allister remembered the first jumper he saw. He been walking up 65th Street and turned on 5th Avenue. Directly in front of him and across the street was the oasis of green that was Central Park. But, to his right on 5th was a huddling of people. He had missed the initial jump, even the initial fall. But, the people had preserved the half-arc ring that was left for his landing. Some still screamed. Some whispered that the man had patted the gargoyle on its back before jumping. Some whispered that he had not.
Allister heard a particularly small gasp and looked down to see a squirrel, its hands still in the position of holding an acorn. But, the acorn had fallen. And the squirrel quivered. Its eyes were full of terror. It must have stumbled upon the gathering of people and stopped to watch, like someone captivated by a particularly intense foreign language film without subtitles. But, when the jumper jumped, the plot was suddenly filled in. The squirrel's tiny mouth with its tiny buck teeth opened and shut in little puffs, trying to find words in squirrel or human language. But, it could not. Now, it did not know any language.
The squirrel took a breath and filled its lungs with the air of desperation that, for all the squirrel knew, had been pure and clean just that morning. It had gulped down a heaping dose of despair, which would certainly have killed a smaller animal (a chipmunk or a common sootywing butterfly, for example). But, the squirrel was alive. It stood as still as a statue. And Allister saw the terror shoot through the squirrel, shoot through its eyes, its hands twitching, each and every single hair on its body standing straight up. Its mouth wide open and agape.
Sirens wailed so loudly that it felt as if each direction of the city was its own ambulance. But, to Allister, (whose eyes were still affixed on the squirrel), it looked as if the sirens could only have come from the squirrel's little lungs.
And the squirrel turned on its feet, tripped, ran two steps to outrun the trip, and ran back to grab its acorn with its teeth. That was all it had. That was it. And that was the exact moment that Allister was fully aware of what the squirrel was going to do.
The squirrel was going to jump, too.
Allister watched its tail bobbing madly as the squirrel sprinted into Central Park. And Allister followed. Yes, it was madness. No one would argue that. It was all madness. Horns honked at the squirrel and, then, Allister. The sirens blared louder and louder, getting closer and closer. And Allister's heart thumped with each pounding step.
He made it into the park just in time to see the squirrel dashing up the largest oak, still clutching the acorn in its teeth. The oak poked at the sky as high as nature could. And the squirrel ran to the top and out across a branch, balancing on two feet, acorn in mouth.
And Allister shouted as loud as he could, over the sounds of the city, over the walls of its sirens. Allister shouted, “Wait!”
The squirrel twitched nervously and the branch shook.The squirrel teetered on its feet, barely steadying itself. But, there was something in Allister’s voice that shook the squirrel awake and back to sanity for a moment. It opened its mouth to gulp some clarity and dropped its acorn. And, as quickly as the clarity came, it disappeared again, falling with the acorn. And, in one sudden motion, the squirrel hurled itself off the branch after the acorn.
Allister screamed, “Noooo,” as if the force of this command could push the squirrel back to the branch. But, it did not. For a split second, Allister felt the urge to catch the acorn. He could not help it. But, he did not. He…well…
It all happened so fast.
The squirrel fell through the air, its legs were wide open and ready to smash into the ground.
But, when the time came to land, Allister was there to catch the squirrel. And he held the squirrel tight as the squirrel shook and shivered and mumbled and sputtered.
Allister patted the squirrel's back and whispered, "Sh, sh, sh, no, no, no. What can we do, what can we do? Sh, sh, sh." He whispered as if the squirrel could understand the human vocabulary. And the squirrel attempted to say, "I don't know," perhaps in answer to Allister's question. But, more likely, in answer to its own unanswerable question. But, no words of any language would come out of the squirrel's mouth. And, in the end, none were needed. A whimper translated clear and succinct throughout all the languages of the globe.
Moments later, Allister and the squirrel sat on a Central Park bench. The squirrel had calmed. And Allister had purchased a beer to split with his bewildered friend, Allister drinking from the bottle and the squirrel drinking from the cap. Allister tried to tell the squirrel that all would be well. That they would find the pieces to pick up. He even tried to tell his new friend about the time he had lived on nothing but lint for days, maybe even weeks on end. "You'd be surprised what we're capable of surviving," Allister said.
But, the squirrel did not know what he was saying.
And, as each siren faded into one of New York City's compass points, Allister and the squirrel sighed and Allister held his bottle up to the squirrel for a toast. The squirrel raised his capful to Allister's bottle and Allister said something the squirrel understood quite clearly.
"We can only start small, my friend. We can only start small."