THE TABLEAU by ken poyner

        The falls are beautiful this time of year. They have a quickness to them; a full-throated brevity lashed between points of sullen gravity; the nonchalant character of a summation. We can ingest them all in one staggering horizon’s breadth, cause and effect seen as one line, forced into one round. A clattering instant of electric discharge. It takes no effort to understand them. Neither winds nor cold, nor even a seldom rain, intervenes. The weather in this season complements our mission. Each fall is pure, crystalline.
        Carefully we rate every one we capture. That woman’s trip was but a two: she stumbled, pitched a half step forward, caught herself, and continued without even searching for the interruption. The man half an hour ago was a seven: he took two quick hops, lilted to one knee, pulled himself around to see where his foot had faulted, to hopefully discern what environmental leprechaun had felled him.
        We converse on the proper score. Archetypes from past experience are recalled and mental comparisons made. Unless everyone agrees to the score, there can be no standard. Given the infinite ways in which a fall can be accomplished, our deliberations can be contentious. Feelings are hurt. Tendencies understood. One of us might value falling backward more than falling forward. Another might have a fondness for windmill arms, or landings with legs out vice landings with legs curled. Each element lends its peculiarity to the whole. It is important to respect all inputs, to consider the unlikely as well as the obvious. The fall may be judged as a unit, but it has oh so many fingers and toes and each has its own voice.
        Once a man went sideways to keep from going flat out and, with this ungainly maneuver, in the end broke his underdeveloped leg. It was the first serious injury to befall us in our occupation. He was taken off by an ambulance, gasping at every bump when the gurney was hoisted into the back. After that we left off rating the falls for several days. We stopped hoping ordinary people would catch and collapse. We became citizens less of observation and more of noble intention. But in the end, we realized that, rated or not, the falls would occur. People – observed or not, counted or not, graded or not – would go down. No matter how we apprehended the physical manifestation, the underlying events would stagger cold-bloodedly on. People would fall. Injuries would be no gosling pleasure for anyone, but the fact of our artistic appreciation, of our ranking the aesthetics to be wrung out of the occurrence, would itself damage no one.
        And this was that special time of year, when those who fell would be wearing their summer attire, often in shorts or shirt sleeves: some even sleeveless, with elbows and forearms likely to suffer abrasion if, as with the best of the falls, the stubbed actually were to go all the way down, splay out like a cephalopod dropped from a cooler onto the pavement. In this season, no fall can be blamed on coat tails or trailing scarves; no mere hitch in locomotion can be hidden in layers of outer garments. Every misstep is cinematic: the writhing of the muscles as they attempt to compensate can be with an open line of sight enjoyed; the aerodynamics of collapse can be tasted.
        Imagine the falls we have seen. All those thuds and thumps that most people would let pass unnoticed. And consider the joy we feel when, ourselves pinned unaware, we stumble and pitch forward or back, falling, falling, momentarily unable to crack gravity in the shin: wholly without a break to the physics of the matter, taken out of ourselves and given over to mass and common attraction. Our joy. And every one of our own electrifying falls is a ten.
        One unknowing performer once said: someone is going to break their neck one day. And we knew it to be true. Someone will: someone ungainly, inelegant, too slow to right himself. Maybe someone unmanageably careless in attention: focused on the task ahead, the approaching end rather than the current means. Or simply someone strapped by his or her own hubris to a developing series of events: a series that ends with a broken neck. And when it occurs, it should be at this time of year, on a day as glass-edged as this one: the fall a clear geometry of fallow flailing, the gravity washed body deserving, the fall so righteous as to independently glow. That fall would be a ten, and we would feel the proud physics of it in our stomachs as though it were ourselves falling: surrendering; reliving every fall we had ever seen; loving with near sexual verve that final crack of exposition, that snap of affirmation.
Ken Poyner lurks with his power lifter wife in the lower right hand corner of Virginia. He has published over 600 stories and poems, and is hoping to batter the world with yet more of his output. His e-book, Constant Animals, 42 unruly fictions, is available for download at the usual e-book retail sites. His latest work is due, or recently out, at Conte, Analog, Cream City Review, New Dead Families, Garbanzo, and elsewhere.