The apartment complex was infinite, but that distinction seemed theoretically irrelevant on the seven-hundred and fifty-eighth floor.
Eilidh would not have moved in if it were not for the glowing reviews as the building began to fill from the bottom up. Reports on the internet stated it was just as beautiful as the illustrations on the posters, as clean and bright and pristine as the colour-block design, and much more practical than its “infinite” claim made it out to be. There were cafés every fifty floors, periodic shared laundry units, a nursery somewhere in the building, and trash chutes to spare tenants the long walk down. That walk was usually avoided by the elevators, but a month after Eilidh moved in, the elevators shuddered to a halt, far below her modest studio apartment. An out of work order was taped to the shut doors of her floor’s main landing, a balcony with a view that made her head spin. She had no idea who bothered climbing high enough to tape it. She waited for several months for them to start working again. Then Eilidh learned to live without them.
She emailed her work, and her boss was very sympathetic once she made it clear that she could fulfil her duties writing self-help articles from home. She gave up on delivery and began a friendly customer-service relationship with Trayvon the barista on the seven-hundred and fiftieth floor. She cancelled her gym membership and began jogging up and down the stairs every morning to pick up her coffee, eight floors down, eight floors back up again. She barely noticed the young man who she sometimes passed on the stairs, his scowl and scruff half-hidden by the hood of a fluffy robe. She did not judge him for the robe. He deserved to be comfortable in his own home, no matter how high or low that home extended. She was surprised the day he finally spoke, his voice gravelly with disuse.
“There’s no way down,” he muttered.
“Excuse me?” she asked, jogging in place.
“I’ve walked all the way down,” he said, then shook his head. “I walked down. More than eight hundred flights…”
No one could walk down that many flights of stairs, let alone walk all the way back up again. And they were only on the seven-hundred and fifty-eighth floor. He could not have walked down more than eight hundred flights without descending into the earth.
“It is impossible,” the man agreed, then shrugged. “I guess that’s the problem with an infinite building. Infinity goes both ways.”
The man began walking up the stairs. Eilidh said nothing, but continued down the steps, avoiding the view from the balcony landing on the seven-hundred and fiftieth floor as she walked down a long hall, identical to her own long hall, though this one ended at the café.
“Medium coffee, milk and sugar?” Trayvon asked, unnecessarily.
“What floor do you live on?” Eilidh asked.
“Um… the seven-hundred and forty-eighth?” Trayvon answered, his practiced smile wavering.
“Are your elevators broken too?”
“Of course. They all are.”
“All the way down?” Eilidh asked. “Have you checked?”
“No,” said Trayvon. “I haven’t checked every floor. That’s impossible.”
“Because it’s infinite,” Eilidh said, mostly to herself. “It goes all the way down and keeps going.”
She did not expect Trayvon to laugh.
“Like the posters,” he said, nodding. “I’ll get your coffee.”
Eilidh had forgotten about the posters. Large, art-deco style, the apartment building was depicted as a long rectangle of pure white against a blue background. The clouds at the base and top of the poster meant that the sections depicted could have been any selection of stories, each with their matching outdoor landings and long hallways.
As Eilidh left, medium coffee clutched in her hand, she stopped at the balcony landing, took a deep breath, and looked down. Clouds. She looked up. Clouds.
She knew that she had more work to do, an upcoming deadline on an article for deciding which parts of your skincare routine were just taking up room on your vanity. But when she reached the stairwell, she found herself spiralling down.
She stopped every dozen-or-so floors to step out onto the landings. The only difference on each floor was the ever-darkening light, the sky changing from bright blue, to pink, to red, to vibrant plum. She looked over the edge of each balcony, for cars, for the tops of trees, for any sign of the earth, and saw only clouds. Her coffee grew cold in her hand, and she dumped it in one of the trash chutes. On the seven-hundred and tenth floor? Or had she reached the six hundreds? Eilidh did not know. She kept jogging, down and down, until she reached a landing lit by the gentle glow of safety lights lining the hallways in a world shadowed by the deepest black of night.
She looked over the edge of the balcony and for a moment her heart lifted with joy. She could see car headlights shining clear through a thin layer of clouds, the bright spots of streetlights, the windows of other buildings illuminating the lives of people who lived much closer to the earth. But as she stared at those still lights, willing the cars to move, the clouds parted, and her stomach dropped in horror.
Far beneath Eilidh, infinitely below her, she saw the glowing face of the moon, surrounded by the clear and bright spattering of stars.
About the author:
Alexandra Grunberg is a Glasgow based author, poet, and screenwriter. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Cast of Wonders, and more. She was recently awarded a DFA in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow. You can find a complete list of her published work at her website, alexandragrunberg.weebly.com.