The Climb – by Jacqueline Masumian

From the parking lot I see the class building with the cell towers looming ahead of me. I’m not sure it’s tall enough, but I have to try. At the crossing a red van slams on his breaks to let me walk. Why bother, I want to yell, just run me over, please. I march head down, seeing the dusty mulch at my feet, dead rose thorns grabbing at my ankles. A pole sign reads “Emergency.” You bet. My heart is whamming away inside me. I look up. Theology, Philosophy, Science, Art carved into the building. All crap, nothing but crap. A car booms rap music. I enter through the side door. The glass wall ahead of me is as clear as my intentions. I pass the cases of decrepit artifacts, the tear-stained face of an ancient marionette, the Rorschach painting, the fliers on the bulletin board—orange, blue, chartreuse—a maddening mess of color screaming at me.  I see a painting of Madonna and Child. Even she can’t save me. The elevator door is shut. I pound on the button, but it doesn’t come. I start up the steps, turn at each landing, march up and up and up. At one landing a flier asks “Something bothering you?” Yep. Another: “Have you heard of Head Start?” Who cares? Up and up. I fight to catch my breath. They all despise me. I can’t do anything about who I am. Fifth floor, sixth floor, seventh floor. My heart hammers, my legs ache, my lungs burn. Almost there. Will it be high enough? At the last landing a red sign reads “Not an Exit.” I turn for the final set of steps. There’s the door. Another sign screeches “NOT AN EXIT.” Screw that. This is my exit. I turn the door handle. Then I see it, the padlock. I pull on it, I tear at the hasp.  “To hell with this!” I cry. Gripping the padlock, I twist and yank until my fingers drip blood. Where is my exit?

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