Oh, Inverted World
By Dave Gregory
The world has flipped. My room looks normal – bed on the floor, window right, door left, ceiling above – but outside the sky is below and an expanse of gravel stretches overhead from the house to the neighbour’s parked cars. The vehicles respect this new gravity by keeping all four wheels on the ground without falling into the sky. A stand of trees dangles beyond the cars. Soaring birds and twitchy squirrels appear unfazed by their upside down-ness.
No amount of blinking or head shaking restores order.
I step into the kitchen, whose window normally overlooks the driveway and a low-rise building next door. Instead, I see an overturned yellow brick house that should dominate the view from my neighbour’s kitchen.
Ten steps take me to the living room where the bay window faces a busy street. The view looks normal – but completely upended. Or I am. I can’t tell. My semi-detached home must appear right side up because traffic whizzes by and no one slows down to gawk; the aging woman from the corner house walks her oversized pug along the sidewalk but neither casts a curious glance.
I back away from the window and consider what tragedy might have turned my life upside down: death of a loved one, losing my job, cancer, or eviction. Although I’m unaware of any such calamity, shattering news is never more than a phone call, email or doctor’s visit away.
And what could have spun the planet head over heels? Global warming, chemical contamination of food and drinking water, or pandemic reproductive failure? The planet teeters toward doom but today’s headlines are no worse than usual.
From the front closet I grab the baseball my dad and I played catch with on our front lawn, when I was young. I head for the back door to experiment. When I release the ball it thuds beside my toes. Then I pick it up, open the door, and toss it outside.
The white leather orb arcs downward until it crosses the threshold, where it pivots higher and bounces off the small porch before rolling across the patio. Next I locate a tennis ball, then a marble, and each experiment yields the same confounding result.
It’s one thing for small, inanimate objects to transition to the other side but I wonder if I can cross over as easily, burdened by size, self-awareness and a soul. (Though my last girlfriend claimed I had no soul since I didn’t donate to charity or love animals enough.) I might fall upward and land on my head but my senses tell me I’ll plunge straight through limitless sky, and continue descending until I freeze or suffocate at the outer edge of the earth’s atmosphere.
Afraid of the result, I stay indoors for a week. This strange inversion coincides with my vacation, so no one misses me at work. I planned on staying home anyway, to catch up on Netflix and make a dent in my “to be read” pile.
I’m ashamed to discuss my situation and feel I’ve done something wrong. The next door neighbour must also be affected but I haven’t reached out because I wouldn’t know how to cope if he claimed everything was normal.
I consider calling my parents. They’ve always been supportive but how can I explain the apartment they helped find has turned upside down? They’ll think I’ve been drinking or doing drugs.
When my provisions dwindle to pasta, nuts, and soup, I become desperate. Rather than starve, I grab my wallet and fully-charged phone. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and bolt through the open back door.
One foot thumps on the wooden porch. I open my eyes when the other foot descends farther than expected, due to the difference in height between porch and patio. I stumble and scrape my palms before rolling toward the parking area.
Everything in the apartment appears right side up when I look through the door. The inversion is over.
I dust myself off, retrieve the baseball, tennis ball, and marble, and set them on the porch. After locking the door I go for groceries, relieved, despite stinging hands, to have my feet on the ground. I appreciate uprightness, yet feel closer to death, having glimpsed apocalypse.
I buy less meat and dairy, hoping that will make a difference. Before leaving the store, I donate a bag of perishable goods to a homeless shelter and comfort a whimpering dog tied outside.
Back at my apartment, I unlock the front door and give it a push. Everything appears normal, so I look to my sandaled feet and step across the threshold. I turn back and the porch is where it should be, with the sun high above.
While unpacking groceries, I glance through the kitchen window and see the low-rise building next door. There’s no trace of anything having gone askew but at least I’ve learned what to do if my world, or the whole world, should invert again: take a deep breath and march confidently over whatever threshold needs crossing.
But then the phone rings. My mother sobs, “It’s your father …”
The world flips again and I start running. I charge through the front door and drop into limitless sky. The air cools as I plummet. The oxygen thins.
Dave Gregory is a Canadian writer who worked on cruise ships and sailed around the world for nearly two decades. He is an Associate Editor with Exposition Review and a Fiction Reader for Gigantic Sequins. His work has appeared in numerous literary publications including Exile: The Literary Quarterly, The Nashwaak Review, & The Blake-Jones Review. Please follow him on Twitter: @CourtlandAvenue.