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.