I couldn’t shake the feeling that a flood was coming and we were on our way to the ark, but if we didn’t hurry two others were going to take our place. Laura’s feet took no notice of my urgency, their strides steady and deep as oars while she sang a song about puzzles in a meter that lilted like a ship newly wrecked. Her voice was a breeze that could easily have been mistaken for a ghost.
She stopped and pointed at a black staircase that spiraled up off the street like the red stripe of a candy-cane wrapped around nothing. Threads of rain unspooled around us, perfectly perpendicular to the angle of Laura’s finger, which laid claim as boldly as any explorer to the fog-bound heights unseen above the stairs.
“There,” she said, and I agreed. A bead of water dripped from the slim white crescent of Laura’s nail as she bent her finger from the heavens to the loop of her shoelaces. I flexed my toes against the floors of my sneakers and wondered if we were to prance naked in the rain like the children of drought-stricken farmers. Laura gave each rabbit’s ear a gentle caress that undid it and dropped it into one of the rivulets of water forming a delta at her feet. When the laces were undone, Laura righted herself and took the first step up the black spiral, as if the knots on her shoes had not held her shoes to her feet but her feet to the ground, and only now that they were undone could she could float free. The white laces followed like wisps of fog in her wake.
Laura made a half-revolution of the spiral until she was looking at me from above. The rain had drawn the pale hair on her head into dark spears that channeled the water away from the pallid moon of her face.
“Coming?” she said.
“Yes,” I said, and began to climb.
The black stairs ascended alongside a wall of red brick broken every story by a blinded window. After four circumnavigations of the spiral, the street below was lost in gray and the rain was racing towards an end as vague as its beginning. A few steps later Laura’s back appeared in front of me, her head thrown back as if in the throes of an ecstasy that could only be greeted by her throat. The stairs ended in front of another window, but the slick lip of the roof was within easy reach. Laura put first one hand, then the other into the over-world but made no move to pull herself up. I moved up behind her and put my hands over the sides of the rain-darkened gray t-shirt that draped past her waist. Her sleeves were rolled up into her shoulders and when I lifted her she stretched out her pale limbs as if inviting a crucifixion. Then she was high enough and she laid her hands to the brick in front of her and transferred her weight from my arms to the roof. She turned on her knees and lent me one of her hands, which was more trouble than it was worth, but I took hold of it anyway and dragged myself up until I was next to her.
We found a perch opposite the black stairs where we could see the city, which was still as above us as below. With the clouds hanging heavy from the stars, the city’s skyscrapers seemed almost to earn their name, their orange lights muted and dispersed story by story as an eye followed them up. But Laura was looking down, not up, at the laces of her shoes, which were now dirty and barely white. They dangled and swayed at the ends of Laura’s feet as she kicked like someone accustomed to height who suddenly found that her feet no longer touched the ground. The laces yearned towards the ground like they were brethren to the rain.
Laura crossed her legs at the ankles and pushed her left heel free of her shoe. For a moment, she held the tongue tense on the ends of her toes like a pendulum caught at the apex of its swing. Then she curled her toes towards the building’s cold stone and let the shoe fall. We couldn’t hear the splash from where we sat above, but we saw the shoe resurface in the water which by now had risen above the tires of the cars parked in the street. The shoe floated south with the rising current.
Laura set her still-shoed foot on her knee and slipped her fingers in next to her heel to free that one as well.
“Wait,” I said, and she did, though she left her fingers in the arch of her foot. I stood up on the cornice and kicked my own sneaker so it was only half-on. I pointed, with none of Laura’s grace, across the river-that-had-been-a-street at a building much like our own but a story taller. An elegiac pair of gargoyles stood like goalposts upon the corners facing us and I kicked as hard as I could, sending my sneaker flying into the space between them. It fell short, connecting instead with a window that didn’t shatter but reverberated my sneaker down into the newer, higher, wilder water that had engulfed automobiles and made an aquarium of the city’s first story. By some twist of science my sneaker floated away north on an entirely different current from Laura’s, bound for a different half of the world.
Laura laid her hand on my thigh and I pulled her up onto the cornice next to me. She turned and spread her arms like a wire-walker seeking balance, though the cornice was neither narrow nor slick enough to be truly precarious. I followed her as she made her way carefully to the north edge of our building, where she pointed with that finger of hers towards a pair of towers in the near distance. The towers were neither the tallest nor most beautiful the city had to offer, yet they drew they eye by the way they yearned towards each other despite their rigid form and drew the heart by the space between them.
“There,” Laura said, and I agreed. Her remaining shoe had intent and mine did too, and she reached out and held my hand because when things go by twos it is right that they hold hands. We brought our legs back, not like a horse rearing but like a child tracing a line in the sand, and we brought them forward again. Our shoes leapt from our feet and the rain suddenly changed directions, falling up instead of down and carrying our shoes with it, and our eyes followed them up into the sky as it turned suddenly white, not emanating from the sun’s single point but from all over, and it blinded us so that we couldn’t see whether our shoes fell or kept going up and up into the space between the buildings and the blank sky beyond.