The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
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By Robert S. Warshow, '33
The Magpie, June 1932, v. 33, n. 2, p. 61.
A young man, tall, slender, and dark stepped from the elevator on to the top of the great skyscraper. A uniformed attendant lounged in a chair to one side of the small roof, engrossed in a magazine. Save for him, the roof was empty. It was a clear day, but a cold wind swept the city's housetops and the man shivered slightly as the cold blast struck him. Then he strolled slowly over to the side and looked about.
For miles he could see the panorama of the city a million uses, all the same. His gaze shifted. Far below he could perceive the inhabitants of these houses, like small mechanical dolls, walk on artificial streets, or driving about in ridiculous toy automobiles. rather terrifying height . . . Fifty floors . . . The view, of course . . . Intermittently he looked at the scenery, but those tiny playthings below him to interest him more. His eyes kept returning to them, little, unimportant people, rushing about on futile errands. He felt very great and superior as he watched them.
Only a month ago there had been a suicide from this building. Had that man felt great and superior? He must have; he must have laughed at those toy humans from his great height. And then he jumped. How long did he debate with himself before that leap? . . . How long did it take to gather up his courage? The man laughed. Of course he wasn't contemplating suicide, but it was rather amusing to consider the idea.
One split second of resolution was all that would be required. One leap, over in a flash the rest was easy. There would be no choice left. Why, he himself could do it, if that necessary bit of courage would come. In another moment he might be soaring through the air. It ought not to be hard. That was how one took cold showers ... a single resolved, impulsive leap and it was all over. Simple. One impulsive leap . . .
Somewhere he had heard a joke: "It isn't the fall that hurts, it's the sudden stop." Clever, that. It isn't the fall . . .
How did it feel? It must be a strange sensation, falling like that. Fifty floors. Did one have time to think . . . time to regret? Hadn't some doctor said they die while still in the air? How did he find that out? Well, if he ever got tired of life he'd have liked to try it himself. Something enthralling and terrifying about it. A beautiful gesture. One grand leap, with everybody looking on. All those people would stare at him in horror and admiration. And they would wonder how he felt while falling. But he would know; he would know lots of things that puzzled the rest of them.
He continued to stare at the mechanical dolls, far below. One spot on the pavement held him, one tiny point on the narrow line that was the sidewalk People walked over it, it was obscured, but he continued to gaze, fascinated, at the ground exactly below him. An impulse, one brief, mad coordination of his muscles, and his mangled, bloody body could be lying on just that spot, right below. One impulsive leap . . .
And those little mechanical toys, walking by so unconcernedly . . . he could frighten them, make them scream in horror, perhaps kill one two of them. Silly fools! In another moment if he wanted to, he could destroy their calm composure, dissolve it into screams and fainting. He would descend from Heaven into their midst . . . a gift from God. Ha! Ha! A gift from God. He felt a bit like God himself, so high up. He had power over those people, he held them in his hands.
One impulsive leap . . .
That spot upon the pavement held him, drew him irresistibly. The place where his body would lie, if . . . His eyes were drawn by it. What was the matter with him? He began to get a bit panicky; he couldn't tear his gaze from that point. He felt that he stood upon the very brink of death. There was so little that separated him from eternity: a stone parapet that he could scale in a moment. One flash of mad resolve and he would be dead, lying crushed on the pavement . . . on exactly that spot. And those little people below, so unaware of his existence . . . by God, he would make them stare!
He would do it . . . he would make them look at him! He felt a fierce resolve, and knew it was the courage he needed. He would make them open their eyes! He launched into space. With a horrible sensation he felt that there was nothingness beneath him, and he was falling, falling. But he knew that everybody was watching him, in wonder and amazement and horror. Silly fools! One brief thought crossed his mind. "Now I know!" Exultantly he felt that now he knew, and nobody else could know.
He was God, descending in wrath upon the unsuspecting ones below. Now he knew how it felt! He had made them pay attention to him. Everybody was watching him! Falling. Blackness.* * *
"Something damned strange about it, sir!" said the attendant to the hastily summoned manager. "I was watching that guy; I've been pretty careful since the suicide last month. A little while ago I noticed he was staring at the same spot all the time, without moving a muscle."