A Jump From the 13th Floor

viewfrom13thfloor View from the 13th floor.

Earlier this week, a 57-year-old woman jumped to her death on University Place. Even when such suicides don’t make the news (and they usually don’t) they leave an indelible impression on those who encounter them. Such was the case in April when a woman, also 57, ended her life at the Salvation Army’s Markle Evangeline Residence for Women. Today, her would-be neighbor tells the story. 

July 1, 2012
When I first stepped into the Markle Evangeline Residence, I felt it: a peculiar darkness. Yet this was the same bright cheerful woman’s dormitory on 13th Street I had been coming to for years, each semester I came from Paris to teach at NYU.

Was it the downturned lips of the receptionist? Was it the fact that the new manager of the place, which was run by the Salvation Army, had just sent me a curt e-mail, in response to my request, if possible, for a firm mattress: “You may need to look into another place to stay while you’re here in New York.” Signed Major William T. Bender, and cc-ed to his staff.

I took the elevator up to a room that was inauspiciously on the 13th floor: 1309, in fact, an odd number I did not like. I was afraid of what I would find. I turned the knob – and there, a grim disappointment.

The room faced south, the way I had asked, and the window showed a skyline of the city. But it was dark. How could it be dark? It was shining with light, the walls painted yellow.

The room needed something, but what? I asked for an air conditioner to be placed in the bathroom window, so as to not block my view, but the Major instructed the custodian to put it in the bedroom instead. You may need to go elsewhere… 

Let it go, I told myself. After all, there was nothing wrong with this room. I moved the bed around by the window and with a screwdriver I opened the flaps of the air conditioner, to let in a slice of view. I put a poster up, of the Eiffel Tower. I moved the bed around once more. I pushed back the desk.

I stared out the open bathroom window. There was a patio below, nine stories down.

I wondered where the body would land if one threw oneself out.

I had been in this Markle dorm three times, each time on higher floors, never as low as 13, and this was the first time such a thought occurred to me.

Had anyone had ever thought that thought before? Had it ever occurred to any of the other women living here?

That evening, and again the next morning, I found myself once more peering at the patio below. Would the body land to the left or to the right? Was it better odds to throw oneself from this window or from one that did not have this landing below on the fourth floor? How would the body land?

How lucky I was that I was not feeling suicidal. Because how easy it would be to open that window in the bedroom and…

The next morning, I sat with two young women at lunch. Both had been living in the Markle for years.

“A good deal,” I said. “But since the new management came, I feel something a little strange… and also a bit empty.”

I had wondered what had happened to the older women who lived here, the ones incongruous in this residence that attracted graduate students and young professionals from all over the world, fresh in the city to study theater or politics – or to work in science, finance or fashion – here just for a short stint. The 80-year-old woman with a walker with the huge black hair and sunglasses, who rebuked me one summer when I told her to turn her radio down. The fairy-sprite blonde who piped up every morning in the elevator, in a cheery soprano: “Good morning! Good morning! A good morning to you, Karin!” They had been there for years, these eccentric women, lone strivers in the rat race of New York, pleased – delighted even – to have found a welcoming home. Some had sons and daughters whom they never saw, while others had never been married, all women on their own who had, with great joy, found their place and community in the Markle.

That fairy-sprite, I was told, was kicked out because she started a petition about the room inspection policy. The excuse was that she had made alterations to her room.

The woman with the walker had asked to leave.

“Oh,” I quipped. “I had thought they had all met an early death. I’m relieved…”

“Well one met an early death,” said one of my lunch companions, hesitantly.

I stared at her.

She shrugged uncomfortably. “Well, it’s better not to talk about it.”

“Was it a suicide?” I said.


“Did she throw herself out the window?”


My lunch companion had been up at 3 a.m., doing taxes, when it happened. She had heard the body thud.

That night, I had dinner with a longtime resident – one of the few older women left. She spent her days painting in a studio downtown.

“Might I ask you something indiscreet?” I said.

She nodded.

“That woman — the woman who committed suicide this year — did you know her?  Do you know what floor she lived on?”

The woman nodded uncomfortably.

“Was it the thirteenth floor?”

‘Yes,” she said.

“Was it 1309?”

She squirmed. “Oh, either 1311, or 1309.”

The woman’s name was Marion Jeeves. She was British, estranged from her family. Her dream of buying a condo out in Long Island was dashed after she lost her job as a legal secretary and, in her early 50s, was unable to find work.

“She planned it,” said my dinner companion. “She had tied weights on her hands, so she would be sure to fall. And the saddest part: it seems nobody from her family came to claim the body.”

July 28, 2012
The thumping on the walls woke me. The thumps were coming from Marion’s room. The woman who committed suicide had lived in the room right next to mine, on the other side of the wall, where my bed used to lie, before I moved it. Her room was empty now. No one lived there.

I had just learned it was her room. Now when I looked out the window, down at the patio, I could see the rusty reddish stain on the ground, where the body landed.

The thumps were getting louder. Something heavy banging on the wall, another sound of something dragged across the floor. The thuds echoed.

I was still in my nightshirt. I cracked open my door and looked out. The door to Marion’s room was open. Light streamed out. A trolley lay in the hallway with boxes.

I looked in, towards the window. It was a simple white room, astonishing in its simplicity. Pretty, with one single bed, and a wide-open window. Two janitors were packing up boxes. An iron. A laundry basket. A box of books and papers.

“Are you….” I pointed to the trolley with the boxes. “Are you throwing everything out?”

“Yes, everything is to be thrown out.”

Marion’s life sat on the cart, neatly boxed, to be tossed in a bin.

I spied the title of one book through the plastic lid of a container. “Collected Works of William Butler Yeats.”

It felt wrong. My hands were shaking. I felt her – the pain – coming from the trolley cart.

I went back to my room. Thump, thump, thump.

“Go back out and ask,” I said to myself. “Ask for the papers, the books.”

I remained lying on my bed. Eventually the thumping stopped.

I opened the door to the hall. The trolley was gone. The door was closed.  A new red sign hung from the door knob: “No Housekeeping.

Marion had committed suicide on April 15 – nearly four months ago. Why had they waited so long? Why was the story still next door, next to me?

Perhaps because nobody had claimed her.

That night, my buddy Devon and I read Proust out on the patio chairs of the NYU library. It was a muggy summer night.

“You know,” I said, lifting my eyes from Marcel’s madeleine. “I saw a woman’s life thrown out today. A trolley of boxes in the hallway.”

His eyes widened. “And you didn’t take anything?” He paused, musing. “She must have been in such pain. You could have brought her back to life again. Found her diary. Found out who she is.” He winced. “Now nobody will ever know.”

That night, at 2 a.m., I pressed the elevator button to the basement floor. I was very quiet. The Salvation Army has video cameras everywhere. I could not be caught. Not with the new Major running the place. I walked down the basement floors, searching room after room. Where was the garbage?

I went back up to the lobby. “I have thrown out a book by accident,” I said innocently to the receptionist. “Might it be possible to check the garbage?”

She told me the garbage was put in the back of the building, then crushed in the compacter. “It might not yet be compacted,” she said. “Check with Carlos tomorrow.”

The next morning, I went back down to the basement. Miles of long dingy corridors and big empty rooms with cleaning supplies. No Carlos.

But then I heard it. The thumping.

I ran down the tunnels.

Carlos. Standing over a trash bin in a whole room of trash bins. Taking the contents out and pushing them in the compacter…

“Carlos, that room – you know, the one you cleared – I really wanted those books! Might I be able to take just a few books?”

He pointed at a bin—the very next one to be compacted. “It’s all there.”

It was all there. Yeats and Robert Pinsky and Marianne Moore and the Chinese poet Li Bai. Hundreds of books of poetry. Not one underlined. No comments. All like new.

But several had mysterious blue sticky Post-Its, marking pages.

I collected all the books with the Post-Its. I took as much as I could carry.

Curious: why did this residence run by the Salvation Army not think to donate her books – the only prized possession she had – to the Salvation Army?

All that was left of Marion were the blue sticky notes.

But this trail of blue was all I needed.

Sylvia Plath’s collected poems had the most sticky notes, rising out of the pages, neatly, ominous blue flags. “And now you try Your handful of notes; The clear vowels rise like balloons” had a sticky note next to it. “The woman is perfected. Her dead. Body wears the smile of accomplishment.” Then lines by Creeley about a lake. “Oh to throw oneself in the lake! To be vast in the lake.” The anguish in Louise Gluck. The acute desire in Dickinson.

“I will not come back after death,” was one line from a favorite book, “to ask for my papers back.”

Marion, I discovered later, was a published poet. Under a pseudonym. One she told nobody.

She was also a genius. Along with the poems was book after book of Mensa puzzles. One was a discourse on mathematics. With sticky notes next to puzzles she particularly liked.

She had been a legal secretary all her life. She had worked in a law office in the day, and read poetry at night. She had lived at the Markle for over 20 years. “She was a reserved tall British woman in fantastic clothes, with long red hair, bangs, and these flowing gauze skirts,” said one woman who used to speak with her. “She was brilliant. You could tell she was brilliant.”

For the last year, however, she had not spoken to anyone. She had smoked secretly in her room, taping up the walls so the smoke would not trail out. Her neighbor, the previous occupant of my room, used to hear her cry through the walls.

She had read book after book after book, leaving a trail of blue sticky pads.

Now she was tossed out.

A scrap of paper fell out of a poetry book. The only piece of her own writing I salvaged. The last handwriting from Marion.

Time leaking out of yr bones
burns like love
in the back of a car
feverish, frantic
each second
minutely realized


Marion Jeeves wrote under the name Marina Lee Sable.  Her poetry can be found online, published in many journals.