about the author

Aram Mrjoian is a contributor at Book Riot and the Chicago Review of Books. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Millions, Kenyon Review online, Joyland, Colorado Review, Gigantic Sequins, Tahoma Literary Review, The Masters Review, and many other publications. He is currently working toward his MFA in creative writing at Northwestern University, where he is the Assistant Managing Editor at TriQuarterly. Find his work at arammrjoian.com.

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Floor to Ceiling 

Aram Mrjoian

On a brisk October day, gravity reversed and everyone outdoors drifted off into space and died. Anything not anchored to the ground flew away: cars and trucks, beach chairs and barbecue grills, dumpsters and recycling bins. The untethered world, gone in minutes. Among the unfortunate was Sandy’s husband, Carl, who was on the lawn, walking the family dachshund, Buster. Sandy imagined the apple tree in their backyard, branches fatigued with ripe fruit, whiplashing its bounty heavenward along with the man and dog she loved. She pictured Carl and Buster leashed together, rising through a plain of wispy clouds. Maybe they hugged in the end, before the atmosphere became unlivable. They were good boys, those two.

At the time, Sandy was baking a chocolate cake for Carl’s fortieth birthday. She thumped against the ceiling in a hailstorm of kitchenware. Utensils and mixing bowls clanked around her head. She feared a concussion. Her neck and back tingled for hours.

Unlike their mother, Judy and Lance, Sandy’s six-year-old twins, took to the ceiling without difficulty. They laughed the whole thing off like a new game. Sandy thought it a miracle none of the furniture rose up below them. They only cried after they found their mother wet with tears, still batter-stained, as if covered in mud, sweeping shards of broken plates and coffee mugs into a mop bucket in the corner of the kitchen. What would she tell them happened to their father?

It took three days to get the house in livable order. The twins helped, pausing on occasion to ask when Dad was coming home. Sandy scavenged three hundred-foot extension cords from the coat closet and lassoed them around her and the children. She knotted the other ends to doorknobs. Carl had purchased them so he could use his power tools far away from the house.

She told the twins they were playing astronauts. The doors and windows became portholes leading to airless space. Going outside meant losing the game. They slept together in a bundle of blankets on the ceiling of their living room, careful not to step on overhead lights. No one was allowed upstairs, because there was no discernible way back to the main floor.

The kitchen appliances were kaput after the initial rise, making cooking a challenge, but Sandy was accustomed to living in the boonies and always stocked weeks’ worth of food. Somehow the utilities continued running without problem. She filled glasses of water from an upside down faucet for her children, who giggled at the novelty of the peculiar scene. Six-year-old logic could comprehend such a cataclysmic event, which is perhaps why Judy and Lance were much less surprised than their mother when the doorbell rang on their fifth day living on the ceiling.

Sandy didn’t expect anyone to search for survivors in their neighborhood. They’d moved into the house to take care of Carl’s mother, Thelma, a cantankerous, lifelong Pennsylvanian who taught middle school math until the day she became bedbound from a severe stroke. She had always been a flagrant homebody, prone to grading quizzes in front of the television. More plainly, Thelma’s life was unremarkable until the day she died. The neighbors were scarce, and more people moved away each year. The houses nearby sat untended.

Carl worked from home and therefore could work anywhere. Once Thelma passed, Sandy wanted to leave, but she knew they didn’t have enough money to move anywhere decent, and with no mortgage there was a better chance of sending the twins to college without fretting over finances if they stayed put.

When Sandy opened the front door, a man in a mountain climber’s harness, perhaps in his sixties, all stringy muscle and gray hair, veins like earthworms, hung from the porch above.

“And here I always thought it’d be global warming that did us in,” the man said.

“What do you want?” Sandy asked.

“I’m trying to form a network,” the man said. “Figure out who’s left so we can keep more people alive.”

“Well it’s me and my two little ones,” Sandy said. “We’re okay on dry goods and water, but we’re out of fresh food.”

“How have you been cooking?” the man asked.


“And waste?”

“We built a ladder up to the fireplace,” Sandy said. “It all goes out the chimney.”

The man smiled. “I’m Bud. It takes a while to get around, but a few of us are figuring it out. I think we can get the infrastructure in place so people can leave their homes. I ran into some military guys working on zip-lines and hamster tunnels.” Bud pulled a bag of carrots and apples from his backpack and tossed them up to Sandy. “That’s all I got for now, but I”ll be back soon.”

It would take Bud a while to get anywhere, so Sandy waved goodbye and shut the door. When she turned around, Judy and Lance were spying from the corner. She wondered if Bud had noticed them.

“Is he a spaceman, mom?” Lance asked.

“No honey,” Sandy said. “He’s just a man trying to help us.”

A week passed and Bud didn’t return. One morning, Sandy attempted to heat the last of their oatmeal for breakfast and didn’t notice Lance wander toward the front door. He jumped to reach the doorknob and was outside by the time Sandy heard the hinges creak. She rushed over and grabbed the unraveling extension cord. He was heavy, but she pulled until finally his fingertips appeared below the top of the doorframe.

She yanked him through the threshold, tripping over his body as he rolled inside. Outside, the world shrunk below her, until the cord around her waist went taut. There, she floated in place, like a kite, knowing she would have to pull herself back down to Earth, but, for a moment, she twisted her body around and stared up toward the cloudless sky, wondering where in the vast expanse her husband could be.

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