The Human Pancake
I never thought about gravity much until Jared Walter hit the sidewalk in front of me and turned into a pancake. Not a regular pancake of flour, milk, and eggs. Hallucinogenic drugs weren’t consumed that day. A human pancake. He was flattened against the grimy sidewalk like he’d melted upon it.
I remember mornings as a kid, I’d arise in a frenzy and scamper to the kitchen when I heard my grandpa digging out his electric-powered griddle. My grandma kept it tucked in the back so it always clamoured off the strainers and copper pots. Once heated, my grandpa would mix the batter to a practiced consistency and ladle intricate designs onto the blackened surface as if the decades-old cookware were a blank canvas. It amazed me.
That was the kind of pancake Jared Walter looked like, but made with blood and guts and bits of cranium.
I stuck around and waited for the police. The siren wail wasn’t far off. Two police officers pushed their squeaky doors open. The smaller one was off like a blackfly and flitted about with security tape. The larger one had to place a hand on top of the car to lift his belly out. He produced a damp handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his forehead, then reached back into the car for his saucer cap. Quite the crime fighters. One could leave the atmosphere if a man puffed a cigar too close to him and the other could walk through a tornado. The latter inspected the body from where he stood. “Not again, these goddamned idiots.”
They asked me what happened, and I gave a detailed account. “He splattered on the sidewalk.”
“What do you mean… splattered?” The minuscule officer writing the report wondered.
“Well look at him there,” I pointed at the pancake, “if that’s not splatter, I don’t know what is. I dropped a can of paint when I was redecorating my bathroom, and I thought that was a pretty good splatter. But that was a speckle, at best, compared to this.”
“Okay,” the cop with the belly disparaged, “we’re gonna need you to come down to the station and fill out an official report. Is that a problem?”
“Nope. Right now though? I have a doctor’s appointment I’m late for already. And I had to walk today because my car’s in the shop.”
He handed me his card. “Anytime within the next couple of weeks would be fine.”
I left them there putting yellow pylons around Jared Walter’s body, which seemed unnecessary. Surely the mess was sanguinary enough to get pedestrians to alter their course. Humans rarely want to get their shoes dirtier than they are.
“Looks like it’s getting better,” my doctor announced, putting away one of the various tools she had for poking things.
“Yeah, I haven’t paid much attention to it.”
“Well thank god. There wouldn’t have been a problem if you had just left the damn thing alone. How many times do I have I tell you? Don’t scratch a rash, dummy.”
Dr. Harriet wasn’t the most technically gifted doctor. But I traveled halfway across the city because she gave it to me straight. “I know. But I’d be sitting there, watching some rerun of this or that. Then I’d look down, and it would be calling to me like an advertisement or something. Like one of those big billboards that has a lady in lingerie saying look at my chest then buy this perfume for your ugly girlfriend. How am I supposed to drive while there’s a boob the size of my car on the horizon? So I’d start scratching it, and it would feel better. Weird, isn’t it, how you’re not supposed to do most of the stuff that feels good?”
“Is there something else bothering you? Did someone hit you in the head with anything that may have been a shovel?”
I laughed. “No, nothing like that. Some guy did a suicidal swan dive into the concrete in front of me on the way here and I guess it’s got my brain acting like an air-popper.”
“Jesus, Mark. That sounds like a traumatic experience.”
“It should have been. It just made me think about pancakes.”
“Alright, I need to hear you stop talking. Or else I’m gonna have to send you for a psych evaluation. We’re done here.”
Dr. Harriet stood up.
“So, I can put my pants back on?”
“You didn’t need to take them off. The rash is on your forearm.”
“In regards to pants, it’s better safe than sorry, I always say.”
“Right. Well, I’ll be seeing you when I see you.”
The police station was squat and evenly pelted with bricks. Metallic railings glimmered in the afternoon sun. Plain, blocked lettering broadcasted the number designation of the precinct. Boys and girls in blue waltzed out of the opening with Styrofoam cups of coffee and granola bars. Unfortunately for officers who enjoyed donuts, they had to shy away from them to avoid being stereotyped. So they ate organic things like bran cereal or granola bars. You would never hear, “Hey pig! Why don’t you go eat a bunch of healthy, high fiber snacks!” from neighborhood punks.
Passing through the vestibule, I was greeted with a shivering blast of conditioned air. The beehive inside was awash with activity. Reports and file folders were thrown on desks with all-knowing gazes. The police chief yelled at O’Flaherty for blowing up a city block in pursuit of a delivery boy with ties to the Yakuza. Officers close to retirement were leaving to respond to calls that were more dangerous than they seemed. It was everything I imagined it to be.
A kind black lady manned the desk that divided the chaos of the floor from the general public. She greeted me warmly. “Next,” she said. But it was warm. You could tell by the way she didn’t raise her eyes as I replaced the previous complaint machine she had helped.
“Yes, hello,” I said, “I saw a man splatter on the concrete yesterday morning and the detective or whatever told me to come down and fill out a report.”
“Did the officer give you a card?”
“Yes ma’am.” I had the card ready and handed it to her.
“Hmmm,” she studied the card, “was this for that ten-fifty-six on Forty Seventh?”
“It was on Forty Seventh Street, yes. I’m not sure what a ten-fifty-six is. I only know what a number one and a number two is.”
She wasn’t amused, “The suicide, sir.”
“Uhh yes, sure. If that’s what you folks have determined it to be. It was my first thought as well.”
She whipped her chair around and burrowed into a filing cabinet the size of a condensed mahogany tree. Folders swept under her marching fingers as she searched. Once located, she spun back in my direction, slid a piece of paper into a clipboard, and laid it on the desk. A sticker placed overtop said, ‘Jared Walter, case 196703.’
“Please fill out this witness report over there and turn it in when you’re done.”
It didn’t take very long. I filled out my contact information and put, ‘a man splattered on the sidewalk in front of me,’ in the blank box designated for statements. When I returned the clipboard, she examined it and sighed about the stupidity she had to deal with on a daily basis. As I was leaving, I spotted the belly of the policeman from the day before. He was eating a donut. “Excuse me,” I yelled.
He noticed me and waddled over, licking the jelly from the inside of his fried pastry. “Yeah?”
“I remembered something you said yesterday. You said ‘not again’ and called the pancake an ‘idiot’.”
“Oh, um, I believe his name was Jared Walter.”
He furrowed his brow, “Just stay away from that building son. And don’t read any books about gravity.”
I was so confused. What was so bad about gravity books? And what did the building have to do with it? Was it a library full of gravity books that bored people to death by suicide?
I intended to find out.
It wasn’t a library. It was a conventional office building, full of dreary-eyed capsules in mid-priced suits.
I went to the actual library and rented all the books I could on gravity. I sourced articles online. Galileo, Georges-Louis Le Sage, Einstein, Schwarzschild, Eötvös, Nordström, Newton. They varied somewhat, but they all essentially concluded that when you dropped something, it fell downwards. I was perplexed. There wasn’t anything I didn’t already know about in the books except the math equations, scientific formulas, and most of the words.
My girlfriend became enraged with the hours I was spending on research. Three weeks in, she slipped a copy of the Kama Sutra into my reading stack. I asked her how an old sex manual could help solve my gravity conundrum. She told me it wouldn’t, but that I should read it because it wasn’t just about sex. It was also a guide to ethical and compassionate living. I told her it sounded like horseshit and that I wasn’t about to take advice from some strange, two-thousand-year-old pervert. She left me.
I returned the books after months of reading and rereading. The librarian totalled the late fees on her calculator with oversized buttons. She still had problems making out the signs and symbols. “These are all the books about gravity you have, right?”
I had disrupted her calculations. She wavered over the calculator, then hit the ‘all clear’ button. “Let me do one thing at a time,” she said.
My late fees went into the high double digits — nearly equal to the amount of time it took the librarian to tally my fine. I had to use my credit card. She swiped it through and we were playing the button game all over again. The receipt printed out. “Is that all the books on gravity you have?”
“What in the hell did I just goddamn say? Let me do one damn thing at a time. I’ll check on your goddamn gravity books after you sign this goddamn receipt and give it back to me.”
“My apologies, I thought you might have forgotten.” I scribbled my name along the bottom of the receipt.
She took it and tucked it under the drawer in the vintage cash register. “I haven’t forgotten a goddamn thing in my life. I haven’t forgotten that hideous shirt you wore last time you were in here, and I haven’t forgotten to check for more goddamn gravity books.”
I kept my mouth shut. She tackled the keyboard with the grace of a giraffe fight, and before I could recite the history of the known world I had my answer. “Oh yes, we just got one back.”
She seized a tattered book from the return shelf. “Do you want to take it out?”
The book was called ‘Gravity is for Morons!’
The exclamation point seemed out of place. The cover was a horribly doctored picture of a man floating above a pool. You could tell he was displaced from some terribly boring photo obligation, like class pictures or a family reunion, because he looked entirely spiritless and was standing as you would on level ground. It was written by a Dr Clifford. The book jacket revealed the ‘Dr’ to be a shortened version of ‘Darius.’ The first line of chapter one read: ‘If you believe in gravity your a stupid moron!’
The book was strictly poorly-worded instructions. It was the work of a delusional madman. Tips for ‘seeing how dumb gravity is’ included ‘stop farting,’ ‘pretend your swimming,’ and ‘step really high and walk for a long time.’ The last chapter was titled ‘The Ultimate Proof of Stupid Gravity’ and had a blunt, nonsensical list. It said:
Follow All Book Instructions
Four Quarter Pounders
Building Across Street
Jump When You Feel It
The reference to Forty Seventh Street spiked my adrenaline. It was my first. I always thought my first rush of adrenaline would happen when a supermodel was trapped under a car with a baby and a puppy. Instead I got it from recognizing a street in a lunatic’s ramblings.
I still wondered how Jared could even remotely think any of the things in the book could work.
Forty Seventh Street was crowded and it was embarrassing to high step past people like I was leading a marching band. My arms ached from waving them at my side in a front crawl motion. It took forever amidst the yelling patrons and apathetic employees to get four Quarter Pounders at McDonald’s.
I climbed to the roof, presumably as Jared had done all those months back. I had no intention of jumping; I simply wanted to put myself in his place before he leapt. I shuffled to the edge and looked down. I passed gas, but it didn’t make me feel like I could float. Wind gently massaged my ears and muted the sounds from the street below, giving me a relaxed feeling of separation from the scattered chaos. It was serene.
Abruptly, a force carried me upward. I shouted in terror. I was moving with such velocity I couldn’t hear the sounds of my scream. I stopped as quickly as I had started. My knees wobbled uncontrollably and I fell against the side of a metal canister I was in.
“Food’s here!” a voice echoed.
“Hello?” I shouted.
A Caucasian man with dreadlocks and a novelty t‑shirt appeared in front of me. A slit opened on the canister and he reached in and snatched the McDonald’s bag out of my hands. “Good to go, Fred?”
“Hold on one second there Greg,” a second voice replied.
“What’s going on?” I demanded.
“Alright. Good to go, Greg.”
Fred pressed a button on the outside of the canister and the floor beneath me opened up. I shot out of the canister like bad Mexican food. I saw the earth, the sky, Chicago, then the sidewalk. My body splattered everywhere.
My brain stayed active for a few seconds after I hit the ground. I thought about pancakes.
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