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Chapter 17

  • Once the blood coursing from my shins slows and clots, I take an opportunit_o inspect the damage more closely. The cuts are relatively shallow, certainl_ess serious than they were in my runamuck imagination, which had vivi_lashes of white bone visible through the divided skin. I cautiously pick ou_he larger grit and gravel and turn my attention spinewards.
  • I have done a number on my back, that much is certain. My old friends, th_acroiliac joints, feel as tight as drumheads, and they creak ominously when _hift to a sitting position with my back propped up on the chimney’s upende_utt, the aluminum skirting cool as a kiss on my skin. They’re only jus_tarting to twinge, a hint of the agonies to come.
  • My jaw, though, is pretty bad. My whole face feels swollen, and if I open m_outh the blood starts anew.
  • You know, on sober reflection, I believe that coming up to the roof was _eally bad idea.
  • I use the chimney to lever myself upright again, and circle it to see exactl_hat kind of damage I’ve done. There’s a neat circular hole in the roof wher_he chimney used to be, gusting warm air into my face as I peer into it_epths. The hole is the mouth of a piece of shiny metal conduit about th_ircumference of a basketball hoop. When I put my head into it, I hear th_hite noise of a fan, somewhere below in the building’s attic. I toss som_ravel down the conduit and listen to the report as it pings off the fa_lades down below. That’s a good, loud sound, and one that is certain to ech_hrough the building.
  • I rain gravel down the exhaust tube by the handful, getting into a mindless,
  • shuffling rhythm, wearing the sides of my hands raw and red as I scrape th_ebbles up into handy piles. Soon I am shuffling afield of the fallen chimney,
  • one hand on my lumbar, crouched over like a chimp, knees splayed in an effor_o shift stress away from my grooved calves.
  • I’m really beating the shit out of that poor fan, I can tell. The shooting-
  • gallery rattle of the gravel ricocheting off the blades is dulling now,
  • sometimes followed by secondary rattles as the pebbles bounce back into th_lades. Not sure what I’ll do if the fan gives out before someone notices m_p here.
  • It’s not an issue, as it turns out. The heavy fire door beyond the chimne_wings open abruptly. A hospital maintenance gal in coveralls, roly-poly an_raped with tool belts and bandoliers. She’s red-faced from the trek up th_tairs, and it gives her the aspect of a fairy tale baker or candy-seller. Sh_einforces this impression by putting her plump hands to her enormous boso_nd gasping when she catches sight of me.
  • It comes to me that I am quite a fucking sight. Bloody, sunburnt, wild-eyed,
  • with my simian hunch and my scabby jaw set at a crazy angle to my face an_eality both. Not to mention my near nudity, which I’m semipositive is not he_dea of light entertainment. “Hey,” I say. “I, uh, I got stuck on the roof.
  • The door shut.” Talking reopens the wound on my jaw and I feel more bloo_rickling down my neck. “Unfortunately, I only get one chance to make a firs_mpression, huh? I’m not, you know, really crazy, I was just a little bore_nd so I went exploring and got stuck and tried to get someone’s attention,
  • had a couple accidents… It’s a long story. Hey! My name’s Art. What’s yours?”
  • “Oh my Lord!” she said, and her hand jumps to the hammer in its bandolie_olster on her round tummy. She claws at it frantically.
  • “Please,” I say, holding my hands in front of me. “Please. I’m hurt is all. _ame up here to get some fresh air and the door swung shut behind me. _ripped when I knocked over the chimney to get someone’s attention. I’m no_angerous. Please. Just help me get back down to the twentieth floor—I think _ight need a stretcher crew, my back is pretty bad.”
  • “It’s Caitlin,” she says.
  • “I beg your pardon?”
  • “My name is Caitlin,” she says.
  • “Hi, Caitlin,” I said. I extend my hand, but she doesn’t move the ten yard_he would have to cross in order to take it. I think about moving towards her,
  • but think better of it.
  • “You’re not up here to jump, are you?”
  • “Jump? Christ, no! Just stuck is all. Just stuck.”
  • Linda’s goddamned boyfriend was into all this flaky Getting to Yes shit,
  • subliminal means of establishing rapport and so on. Linda and I once spent a_fternoon at the Children’s Carousel uptown in Manhattan, making fun of al_is newage theories. The one that stood out in my mind as funniest wa_ynching your breathing—“What you resist persists, so you need to tur_esistance into assistance,” Linda recounted. You match breathing with you_ubject for fifteen breaths and they unconsciously become receptive to you_uggestions. I have a suspicion that Caitlin might bolt, duck back through th_oor and pound down the stairs on her chubby little legs and leave m_tranded.
  • So I try it, match my breath to her heaving bosom. She’s still panting fro_er trek up the stairs and fifteen breaths go by in a quick pause. The silenc_tretches, and I try to remember what I’m supposed to do next. Lead th_ubject, that’s it. I slow my breathing down gradually and, amazingly, he_reath slows down along with mine, until we’re both breathing great, slo_reaths. It works—it’s flaky and goofy California shit, but it works.
  • “Caitlin,” I say calmly, making it part of an exhalation.
  • “Yes,” she says, still wary.
  • “Have you got a comm?”
  • “I do, yes.”
  • “Can you please call downstairs and ask them to send up a stretcher crew? I’v_urt my back and I won’t be able to handle the stairs.”
  • “I can do that, yes.”
  • “Thank you, Caitlin.”
  • It feels like cheating. I didn’t have to browbeat her or puncture her ba_easoning—all it took was a little rapport, a little putting myself in he_hoes. I can’t believe it worked, but Caitlin flips a ruggedized comm off he_ip and speaks into it in a calm, efficient manner.
  • “Thank you, Caitlin,” I say again. I start to ease myself to a sittin_osition, and my back gives way, so that I crash to the rooftop, mewling,
  • hands clutched to my spasming lumbar. And then Caitlin’s at my side, pushin_y hands away from my back, strong thumbs digging into the spasming muscle_round my iliac crests, soothing and smoothing them out, tracing the lines o_ire back to the nodes of the joints, patiently kneading the spasms out unti_he pain recedes to a soft throbbing.
  • “My old man used to get that,” she said. “All us kids had to take turn_orking it out for him.” I’m on my back, staring up over her curves and roll_nd into her earnest, freckled face.
  • “Oh, God, that feels good,” I say.
  • “That’s what the old man used to say. You’re too young to have a bad back.”
  • “I have to agree,” I say.
  • “All right, I’m going to prop your knees up and lay your head down. I need t_ave a look at that ventilator.”
  • I grimace. “I’m afraid I did a real number on it,” I say. “Sorry about that.”
  • She waves a chubby pish-tosh at me with her freckled hand and walks over t_he chimney, leaving me staring at the sky, knees bent, waiting for th_tretcher crew.
  • When they arrive, Caitlin watches as they strap me onto the board, tying m_ighter than is strictly necessary for my safety, and I realize that I’m no_eing tied down, I’m being tied up.
  • “Thanks, Caitlin,” I say.
  • “You’re welcome, Art.”
  • “Good luck with the ventilator—sorry again.”
  • “That’s all right, kid. It’s my job, after all.”