“Would you catch me?” She asked. The wind sucked past her, gnawing at her skin with cold gums.
“Hmm?” Was the only response.
“If I fell, would you catch me?”
He shrugged, and came up beside her, until his toes were on the very edge of the building. She wondered what made him get so close; how he seemed so unafraid. Glass crunched under his shoes; she couldn’t tell how it had gotten up there.
The sidewalk looked up at them both from seven stories, with a very strange sort of grin. The manhole covers were eyes; the open storm-drain was a mouth, with a psychotic grin. Small clusters of things living and things once alive trickled along, spent or spending. Debris tumbled out from down steep alleys, and crawled into the gutters with leaves a decade old. People tumbled out from long tramcars and collected in the corners, with the leaves.
“I’m not sure,” he said finally. “From this height, I don’t think it would save you. It would probably just kill both of us.”
She nodded, eying the cracks in the sidewalk that scattered like veins, or the gaping mouth of the storm-drain wanting to swallow her. What would it be like to land on the cracks? Would she make more? Or was the cement too sturdy, too weathered, to notice the last sigh of one more person? Or what if she landed in the drain itself? Would she fall straight into the sewers? Into the river? Would she survive?
They did not speak for a while, as they stood at the very edge of the building, knowing full well that if the wind picked up, it would sweep them over the edge. At least, she knew it. She still wondered if maybe, somehow, he didn’t. Maybe that is what enabled him to stand so close. Maybe he was just an idiot.
He took a cigarette out of his pocket and tapped it against his jeans for a few moments before tucking it into the corner of his mouth, and fishing for the lighter in his shirt pocket. “You gonna have to jump?” He asked calmly.
Loosening a tight fist, she glanced at the paper wadded between her fingers. Her sweat had made the ink run, but the words were still there. “Yes,” she said quietly. “But I will wait until you are gone so that they won’t suspect you.”
He nodded. “Handy. Thanks.”
Silence. And then, she inched forward. One of her toes was hanging off the edge. A strong wind would ease her off. A strong wind. That’s all she needed. She should jump, right now. But instead, she took a step back and turned towards him. “Tell me again,” she said.
He eyed her for a few seconds, took the cigarette out of his mouth, and bounced it against his leg again. “Eyes like chocolate. Hair like old coffee. Tall, bony. Pretty, I guess.”
“Do you know me?” She asked.
He shook his head. “Never seen you before in my life.”
She moved a little closer to the edge and threw the paper note out in the wind. It fell before her, but would not land until long after she did. The wind would play with it for a while, first. “Where will you look first?”
He shrugged, and bit the cigarette, working it between his teeth. “Probably the wharf. After that, maybe Pete’s Pit. Those are my first guesses. They like to keep you moving around.”
She nodded yet again. How many times was that? Three? Maybe more. She was nervous. Seven stories seemed high. Higher than anything had ever seemed before. Debris tumbled or walked by, tossed by the wind or by the current of the side-walk. There was nothing in her mouth to swallow, but she tried just the same. “I’ll see you soon,” she said.
He grunted, and then turned and moved towards the fire escape on the far side of the building. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Avi.”
The wind stole away the sound of rust as he made his way to the alleys, and darted quickly away from the hotel. She was alone. She took a deep breath, heart hammering inside her, hands knotting and loosening. She had done this a dozen times; why was she so afraid?
It’s just a fall. You won’t even feel the ground.
She bit her lip and leaned out. Headfirst. She kept her arms pinned to her side as the air rushed past in in a stampede, the sidewalk opening like a mouth to swallow her, closer and closer and closer. Catch me, she begged. But there was nobody there. Just sidewalk veins and sewer mouths and debris in gutters. Catch me. She did not crack the cement when she hit it.