When I was very young, the gravity inside our house was accidentally reversed. Upon crossing the threshold a person, unless he was prepared, would immediately fall upwards, cracking his head on the ceiling. On one occasional, this effect paralyzed a mailman. Those of us who knew what to expect partially rotated our bodies so as to land on our feet. There we would find a whole living room set resting upside down—though of course it appeared right side up once you were up there—on the ceiling. My mother took this quite within stride, but my father could usually be found, after work, strapped in a harness and hoisted up to the floor, where he could pretend the house was still normal, but when his favorite television show came on, my father would usually return to the ceiling and say, “I’m not going to sit on the ceiling like some damn savage, but if the TV’s up here, I suppose I can make an exception for an hour or two.” My mother cautioned me not to let anyone at school know about our lack of gravity. “If they know we don’t have gravity, they won’t take us seriously,” she said.
Our rabbi visited and, munching on a knish, explained that just as God tested Moses, so we should bear our misfortune in good form. But, upon leaving, when he stepped out the front door, instead of dropping heavily onto the pavement—for the rabbi was a rotund man—he sailed upwards into the sky at an ever-increasing pace. We could only hear him shout, “Aiiiiiiiiieeeeee!” before he was expelled from the atmosphere. From that day forth, we knew the lack of gravity had become contagious.
Sometimes I amused myself by tossing pennies out my bedroom window, watching their downward motion abruptly reverse itself and then fly upward. One time my brother accidentally pushed a chair across the threshold, and my mother severely berated him. “If that chair gets sucked into the intake of a jet airplane, it could kill hundreds of people, and you’ll be responsible,” she warned.
No longer able to leave the house,my mother tried to keep us up to date on our schoolwork, but it was difficult, as the words in any textbooks brought in from the outside also reversed polarities, and you could only read them by looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Also the history in the textbooks seemed to contradict when my parents knew, in that it said that civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome originated thousands of years ago, when really they were thousands of years in the future. The textbooks said things like, “Thomas Edison invented the light bulb,” when we knew that in reality the light bulb had invented Edison.
Then the people whom I had formerly called Mom and Dad began calling myself and my brother Dad, and my sister Mom, and the three of us began calling them Joel and Helen. It was clear the younger of us were actually the parents, and the older ones were our children. My sister especially liked the new arrangement, as she was only three years old and enjoyed feeding applesauce to Helen.
Then, one day, with no warning, the gravity returned to normal. It happened just as my mother was pouring a margarita, and the green concoction, instead of flowing obediently into the highball, flew upwards to splatter all over the carpet. Soon the rest of the furniture, as well as ourselves, returned to the floor.
“Well, I guess things like this just happen,” my father said.