The bottom of the unfinished metal skeleton fell away as we rode the rattling elevator all the way up to the 75th floor. Each bump and jostle of the steel cage made the tools in my belt rattle against each other. Open space stretched out on all sides: below, above, left and right. The only thing between us and a bloody death was a welded cage and a series of cables.
The door scraped open and Lee and I stepped on the metal plank. If you stared down at it, you could see the interlaced girders and beams of the floors below. I didn’t look down.
Hooked up by safety cables, we walked along a beam to our post and began to set up our gear for the job. The wind was fierce but we were used to it by now.
I noticed something was off about Lee. He was slamming his gear down and cursing more than usual.
“What’s eating you?” I asked him.
“Nuthin’.” He slipped his visor into place and picked up his torch.
I shrugged. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen Lee like this and it surely wouldn’t be the last.
“Jess is gone again,” he said at last while flipping his visor back up. “This time for good.”
“That’s what you say at least once a week, Lee. She always comes back.”
“Not this time. Went to the bank this morning and the clerk said the account was cleaned out. She’s gone, Marcus.”
I pulled the collar of my work shirt higher against my neck. The sun had dipped behind a cloud and the wind took on an extra bite.
“You know, Marcus, we’ve been building these skyscrapers for years together. Hotels. Casinos. High-rise apartments. Ever strike you as ironic that we’ll never, ever live in one? That your kids’ll never work in one?”
“They might,” I answered, but that’s not really what I wanted to say. I had thought about that, many times in fact, while me and the family huddled together at night in our dingy flat, rationing the meat for our meals and sharing blankets. But Lee was off today, and I wasn’t about to feed whatever evil spirit was ailing him by agreeing with him. Especially not with so much open space all around.
“This time hurt, Marcus. He even came to our house to pick her up! Drove right up in his damn fancy car. Friggin’ engine rumbled so loud it woke half the neighbourhood.” He turned on his torch but cursed when it didn’t light. “Musta forgot to fill the tank. Be right back.”
I watched him get up and head back to the lift. Then I looked around, saw the sea of skyscrapers rising into the sky like steel arms reaching for heaven. Some reached higher than others and their tops gleamed golden with sunrays. The rest huddled in their shadows, just glad to be there, high above the nasty gutters where the rats and vermin lived. I thought of Lee and of the betrayal he’d suffered, watched him skulk along the beam. Watched as he unhooked his belt–
“Lee, what the hell are you doing?”
He didn’t answer, just continued unwinding the belt from around his waist before tossing it aside. The wind blasted just then, and he grabbed hold of one of the bars on the front of the lift’s cage for balance.
I got up as fast as I could and crossed the beam before bending to reach for the safety line. I held it out to him.
“What the hell are you doing, man?” The wind was so loud I had to shout to be heard.
“Marcus, open your eyes! We risk our lives to build these damn buildings but one day, they are all going to be knocked down for something bigger, better and taller to be put up in their places. What we do is useless. Pointless…”
I tried to grab hold of him but he shoved me back. My boot just missed the edge of the beam but I managed to regain my footing.
“Don’t, Lee. She could still come back. She might realize it was all a mistake. She might–”
His look cut me off. We both knew my arguments were weak, just desperate attempts to save a desperate man. He turned away and all I could see was the back of his yellow safety helmet.
His hand loosened its grip on the cage. “Marcus, I’m a man. If I can’t choose how I’m going to face the wrecking ball when it comes, then what the hell’s the goddamn point?”
Copyright@ 2013 by Dyane Forde