Spiral of Despair
The ship spiraled downward towards oblivion. Women and children were leaving first. There were wives crying tears for their husbands, widows praying to their dearly departed, singles dressed fabulously in their gowns shaking from excitement, young boys and girls, some of which were crying, teenaged students who looked lost from their world, the list went on. The lifeboats were lowered slowly, faces disappearing from sight of those who were left to their cruel fates of not being chosen. Men were busy trying to help others get to safety along with few companions. Meanwhile others were cowards trying to steal salvation for themselves. They could not be blamed, for what lied below was dark, cold and eternal.
The poor and unfortunate were locked away below deck, grasping for any scrap of hope they wished to get their hands on. They wanted to leave, to be free. They ultimately would not have their desires granted. Those who were unable to leave their rooms were attacking the doors and when they came down they would squash any who would dare linger before their presence. Trampling, stomping, shouting they all disregarded their fellow man, woman and child. Some were already doomed before any water had entered their presence, and still they fell deeper and deeper.
This chaos would be ended, rest assured. Time slipped by, and the ship broke in two. Slowly the pieces danced in the waves and sank deeper. The lifeboats were gone now, leaving many to their doom. Rich, poor, simple and complex; each of these erupted in their own chaos as the waves embraced their bodies. The cold seeped its way into their souls one by one by one. Those who were safe on the ocean’s surface saw many faces, many bodies fall into the spiral below. Their tomb was forever sealed in a dark spiral never to be seen again.
The stairs seemed to go on forever. It felt as if he had been walking down them for eternity, the dull white slabs blending into each other so that they appeared as a white spiral against the black walls. There wasn’t a guardrail to be found, and at this point he thought it must only be the divine intervention of God stopping him from slipping off the spiral and tumbling down to the bottom.
Always assuming there was a bottom, of course. He couldn’t even remember when he’d started going down, or indeed if he’d ever done anything else. Maybe this spiral staircase was all that existed. Black and white, in a design that drilled into his brain with alarming ferocity.
He felt as if there ought to be other colors, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember if there were other colors. What was a color, anyway? What was black? Maybe the stairs were. Or did black describe the size of his foot?
Come to think of it, he didn’t even know what a foot was, either.
The appendage at the end of his leg (although to be quite honest he wasn’t quite sure whether it was called a leg or an arm) slipped on the edge of the next step and he fell flat on his bum. By the time he was standing again, he’d forgotten about the incident entirely and couldn’t recall what a bum was.
The spiral staircase ended suddenly, though his eyes had not seen it. He now stood on a black floor, although if asked he couldn’t say what was black, or whether the floor was even called a floor. For all he could remember, it might’ve been a tree.
Spotting no means of escape (although he couldn’t be sure if he knew what a means of escape would look like), he shrugged and glanced up at the stretching spiral above him before taking the first of countless steps back up.
Ten seconds later he’d forgotten that the bottom even existed, and was wondering if the stairway up ever ended. In fact, aside from the basic motor functions, the only thing he could remember was that he was a male of some species. He couldn’t say what a species was exactly, he just knew he was a male. Maybe that meant he walked up stuff. Whatever walking was, that is.
He didn’t even remember that by the time he reached the top, and even his motor functions were beginning to fail. Halfway back down his dead brain forgot even those, and he toppled to his death four miles below.
There is a certain beauty in descent. A paper as it falls spirals through the air like a ballerina mid-pirouette before gently kissing the ground, its miniscule weight leaving nary a sound. A leaf, too, will ride the air like a wave before landing on the grassy down, itself its own parachute. The sun as it sets casts the sky alight with fiery orange, gold, and crimson, a last hurrah before it tucks itself away for the night.
And then there was Danielle. Homeless. Jobless. Hapless. Sometimes she wondered if even a depressing poem could make her descent seem attractive.
Her only possessions were the clothes on her back, worn sneakers, a coat for which she thanked the Lord every day, a shopping cart, a hat, and a cardboard sign reading “HELP THE HOMELESS — PLEASE DONATE”. Not many people donated, but even a few dollars went a long way. Eating a soft pretzel at Wawa was far better than digging through a dumpster.
The life of the homeless is far from glamorous; pride has no place among the stark rocks of misfortune.
* * *
Sometimes people muttered as they passed Danielle like she was either an ugly insect or an intriguing display in a store window. She could only catch snippets of their conversations, but more than half of the time she would hear, “Oh, I wish we could help her.” If only they would!
Whenever she could, she would find a temporary “home” near a populous area. She lived in perpetual fear of someone coming upon her in the night: she alone, the stranger malicious. Her only weapons were her fists, and what crude weapons they were.
Concrete was not a comfortable bed, but neither did such a humbling situation condone pickiness. Danielle had left her dignity with her home and her debt: in the past, far behind her.
The city towered above and around her, silver extensions of humanity jutting toward the sky in a desperate plea for greater heights. Sometimes she wondered if the implied thoughts of those who saw her were right, and she was only an insect beneath the shoes of giants.
Danielle never succumbed to drugs; she suspected they would make the skyscrapers seem to come alive.
* * *
Danielle perked up, drawing her coat from her eyes and looking into the sunrise-softened face of a middle-aged man who slouched above her. She rearranged her features into an expression hopefully resembling polite attention and swallowed her annoyance at being woken — a comfortable position on concrete was hard to find.
“Hi,” she replied.
The man drew back a little but stayed near. “Are you okay? I mean, uh, I saw you just lying there...”
“Yeah” — the response was pure reflex, and Danielle’s suddenly disturbed gaze was a clear signal of that — “I mean, no, because I’m sleeping on the street, but what else am I supposed to do?”
The man paused, then dug in his pocket. His right hand emerged with a ten dollar bill. “Here,” he said. “You don’t — pardon me — look like a drug addict, and even if you are, I don’t want to, y’know, take the risk you actually need help.” His voice sounded stiff as if he were reciting a speech from memory.
Danielle nodded. “Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
“Uh... welcome.” The man began to retreat. “And by the way, there’s a church around here. I think they’re serving food to homeless people today. Maybe you could stop by?”
“Yeah... I, uh, really appreciate your help.”
“Okay.” He paused as if wanting to say something more, but then turned away and was pulled more than directed around the corner.
Sometimes Danielle wondered if good people were like cars in the street, here one moment, gone an intersection later.