That morning started out like countless days before it. Autumn was in the air; the temperature in the city was around 70 degrees and the sky was a cerulean blue that seemed to stretch into infinity. The elevator was packed, people looking everywhere but at each other. She reached her office on the 94th floor of the North Tower a little after eight o’clock, late as usual, she thought. Once, in an attempt to cure her of her tardiness, the supervisor had waited in her office, sitting in her chair but with the back turned towards the door. What a shock that had been when, upon her breathless arrival, he spun around to confront her! Yes, that had frightened her into compliance for a while, but as the tedium of the days wore her down, she found herself slipping back into her bad habit.
As she put her sweater on the back of the chair and started to put her purse under her desk, she suddenly thought of a Krispy Kreme. The convenience store that sold the doughnuts was only a short walk from the tower. She looked around; nobody seemed to be paying attention. Stealthily, she turned her computer on, moved some items on her desk around, flipped her calendar over to the new day, September 11, and then faded into the background. She cut through the lunchroom and checked the time; it was twenty after eight. She hesitated, but her growling stomach won out; a few seconds later, she was in the elevator heading toward destination - doughnut paradise.
Out on the street, she perceived the hustle and bustle as being cover for her escape. Her spirits lifted as she headed down the sidewalk. Once inside the store, she grabbed a medium-sized styrofoam cup and filled it with cappuccino. There was a line already; she pulled out her debit card and prepared to pay. It was always a jungle in the morning – anyone who didn’t have payment at the ready might be subject to numerous murderous glares and rude comments and noises. Finally, she was at the front of the line. She selected two plain doughnuts, justifying her meager purchase as a way of denying herself the added calories of fillings. Her husband scrutinized her weight like she was a jockey preparing for a race, noticing every movement of the scale. He would notice the debit charge though, because every morning he checked the bank accounts. Online banking had truly made her existence a living nightmare.
Making her way back past the line of customers, she looked up at the clock and noticed with panic that it was almost a quarter to nine. Oh, Lord, she thought, how am I going to get away with this? Please, God, she thought, don’t let them notice and I promise I won’t do this again for a while. But even she knew that this was a weaseling sort of prayer, because she probably would do it again, and soon.
She had only taken a few steps back toward her office when there was an explosion that rocked the very ground she stood upon, and her coffee spilled from the cup. Stunned, she reeled into the wall. Her ears rang and the very air around her seemed to have disappeared, leaving a vacuum in its wake. Everywhere she looked, people were behaving oddly. She followed the general consensus of gazes and looked up fearfully, little by little. She saw the area where her office had been. There was nothing but fire; she could feel the heat from 93 floors and several blocks away. Dropping her purchases, she turned and ran, blindly, headed in the opposite direction. She passed other people who were still in raw shock, mesmerized by the billowing fire and flying debris, and murmuring to each other. Suddenly she could hear again, and the cacophony of noise burst upon her. She tripped and almost fell.
To her screaming nerves, it seemed as though flashbulbs were imprinting the scenes in her mind. Blunted by the horror and surprise of it all, she finally slowed and looked back. Although she felt like she had been running for blocks, she was still not that far away. She could smell fire and fear and blood; looking back later, she realized that she had smelled death itself. She heard staccato noises like pumpkins smashing on the ground, and a woman standing next to her began to vomit. A man to her left whispered, “People, those are people.” She glanced at him, then back at the inferno, and she realized what that noise was. Everyone and everything around her started to become colorless and gray. She thought maybe she was dying or just starting to faint but then she looked down at herself and saw that it was dust. Dust and ashes. Sirens filled the air, mingled with the cries of people watching, and the screams of those who were frantically waving objects from the windows, death imminent against the eternal, limitless cerulean blue. She blinked in disbelief.
Hearing the sirens, thinking that perhaps the worst was over, and the universe was starting to right itself, she sank down on a curb. Her cross-shoulder purse was covered in dust, and she thought about calling her husband. They had not been speaking for about a week, another spat about money. Money or sex, that’s what she thought. That’s what married people fight about. The fucking online banking, she thought bitterly. Considering calling anyone, she bitterly and stubbornly told herself that she would not.
There was another explosion and she was rocked to her feet. Now the crowd began to carry her along and she let herself be swept away with it, be borne along with the tide. She didn’t exist anymore. Her world was gone, and when the towers collapsed, she disappeared into the madness.
One month later, she looks at herself in the hotel mirror. She has gained some weight and she likes her new appearance. She has dyed her hair back to its original color. She used her debit card at several different locations on the evening of that awful day and was able to accumulate a substantial amount of cash. She turns this way and that, looks critically at her reflection but is satisfied by what she sees. She considers her options - she could return home, maybe claim amnesia and shock, and begin her life where she left off. A soap-opera ending. Or she could use her credit cards for as long as she could, until he assumed someone must have taken them and so cancel them. She could start anew someplace else. The world, in its agony of chaos and confusion, did not notice her singular absence or presence. She could get away with it. But did she want to?
She packs up her new clothes, checks her reflection one last time, and resolutely walks out the door.